*see previous post for part 1
There were, of course, plenty of little old men in Arizona and I befriended what was probably more than my fair share (including an artist, a priest and a man I sold birdseed to every Saturday afternoon but whose name I never knew), but I never really attached myself to any of them like I had Mr. Helwig.
It wasn’t until Connecticut, where I moved next, that I met my next true LOM. His name was Herman Depass and he lived at Ridgefield’s Congregate Housing (CH), an independent community for people able to live alone but not able to provide their own meals and cleaning. Herman was an angel—coming into my life at a time when opening a vein seemed one of my better options. Shorter and plumper than Mr. Helwig, he had longish black hair shot with defiant streaks of gray, an evil grin lit with kindness, and very blue eyes framed by thick, black glasses. For a woman newly transplanted from the warm, red desert earth and lonely beyond reason, Herman’s appearance was like a beacon amidst New England’s white winter gloom.
As is quite common with LOM, there wasn’t a reserved bone in Herman’s body. The first day we met (I served meals in his dining room every Thursday), Herman grabbed my hand and asked me to marry him. When I showed him my wedding ring, he asked if my husband “would share.” Thereafter, he greeted my on each visit with an enormous hug and a plea for just “one little kiss.” (He eventually got the kiss, but not till his 88th birthday!)
I adored this man, and went so far to show my devotion as getting a job at CH just to be near him. In the course of our afternoons together, he told me stories about his wife, his son and grandson and his hopes of remarrying. I met his friends (Al, a cantankerous old man with greasy hair and a bit of an attitude over Herman’s wild ways, was my favorite); we exchanged Christmas presents; I told him about Lauren.
Occasionally, I asked my husband Billy if Herman could come live with us. This plea wasn’t new. In the course of our 20-odd year marriage, I’ve petitioned the adoption of a dozen different old men (as well as that of children, kittens, horses and even the odd little old woman). THough generous, he has never once agreed (at least not on the LOM front–I did get a cat).
A year later, it was time to move again, this time to North Carolina. I was delighted to leave Connecticut, but heartbroken at leaving Herman. I tearfully gave my notice at the center, then told my LOM I had to leave. This time, he cried too. We promised to stay in touch, and for two years we did, sending one another cards and letters and calling on special occasions. But Herman was not well and when I mailed a present for his 90th birthday, it was his son who sent me a thank you and pictures from the party. Herman looked happy, but smaller and very frail. A year later, I received another letter from his son, this one thanking me for my friendship and including a copy of Herman’s obituary.
North Carolina has been like Arizona. Men (of the little old variety) have appeared in my life at weddings, in line at the grocery store and choosing plants at Young’s Garden Center in Fort Mill. A few have become my friends—another artist, and oddly enough, another priest, but both of those relationships ended abruptly when I left the church in 2006—but none as close as Mr. Helwig or Herman. Feeling lonelier than usual lately, and again missing the West after a month-long stint in Boulder, I’ve been on the lookout, keeping my eyes peeled for that familiar gray hair and those blue blue eyes.
Next up: Jack