A homage to my father-in-law, as he starts looking beyond the horizon.
My father- in-law is a classic curmudgeon. For one thing, he's old. In his mid-eighties, he's earned a head of bright white hair, stiff as a Brillo Pad, thick with waves, not a bit of scalp showing. This crowning glory sits atop his eyebrows. And his eyebrows! Well, they are a point of personal pride for him, obnoxious caterpillars that have developed some sort of magical power to grow long tufts of steely threads, and take up most of his forehead.
His hands are slender bones surrounded by leathered flesh, brown spotted, marbled with milky blue veins, knuckles like walnuts in their shells. They are either folded demurely on his belly as he croaks out some life dissatisfaction or other, or are busy scribbling away at a New York Times Crossword puzzle.
His commentary is the on-going hum of various complaints, usually pertaining to "foolishness" of some kind or other (he is confounded at the foolishness of fresh flowers in vases, for example. To which I respond by ensuring they are strewn about when he visits).
But this gruff and thorny exterior, houses the interior of a gentle and complex soul, and of a mind that is bright with wit and intelligence. He is a singular man, whose life has touched so very many.
He served in the Navy after high school, taught English on the steamy Island of Guam to dark eyed students, bringing along his slender new bride. Then travelled the world with her back to Small Town Minnesota, to build the house he raised his five children in. He worked multiple jobs, but always managed to take a summer vacation with his family, touring the country for weeks at a time in a dilapidated station wagon crammed with kids, a worn pop-up camper trailing behind, eating cold cereal for breakfast on cold mornings, and hobo dinners in tinfoil over fires at night.
He retired as a high school English teacher from Small Town, in which even today, middle aged men and women will seek him out to thank him for having been such a good and memorable teacher, all those years ago.
One of his life markers, what made his life, was his sincere and loving marriage with his wife, whom he lost last year. Taken first in mind, then in body by that undiscriminating and heartless villain, dementia. And when Death came for her in the early hours of day, my father-in-law was there too. Just the two of them. Peacefully holding her hand as she set sail.
I watched him at a wedding recently, sitting at a beautifully decorated table, his hair combed and oiled in his usual fashion, severely parted, neat as a pin. Too old to move much, I could see him slip into memory from time to time, come back to the present moment, shining love at his family, quietly. Proudly.
I sense in him at times, his wistful yearnings for the misty Grey Havens, beyond the horizon. He's lived a good life. A long life. Even so, my future loss at his leaving one day feels like a heavy stone. He may mock my sentimentality at this blog, but I also know he will appreciate the common courtesy I’ve shown him, that allows him to read this-- while he's still alive…
When he leaves, the world will be lacking. I will miss him.
And all of his foolishness.