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August 4, 2010: Little Old Men (Part 1) August 5, 2010

Filed under: Life,Uncategorized — Annie Maier @ 10:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have a thing for men. Not just any old men, but little old men. You’ve seen them, fiery eyes, white hair, mischievous grin. Some are tall, some are stooped, some are thin, some not. Most wear long sleeves in the heat of summer and carry some kind of stick–a sheleighly, a cane, an umbrella–anything they can poke you with to get your attention. Many have blue-eyes (does that come with age or wisdom?), but some have gray or brown. None of that matters. What’s important is the age: 75 is the minimum, but over 90 is best. I have a history with these men. They seek me out in the most unlikely places. Church was a hot spot back when I went to church. Hospitals, nurseries (the plant kind), Target, I’ve even been approached in nursing homes. I used think I emitted some sort of little old man beacon, one  that shouted, at just the right little old man frequency, “Good Listener Ahead!” or “Geriatrics Welcome.” Today, I know better.  

I met my first LOM when I was in my late 20s, separated from my husband (I don’t know if that detail is necessary to this story, but at this second it seems important.) and living in College Park, MD. Mr Helwig lived a few blocks down the street in a rambling brick house with decaying floors and no central air. Pulling up in front of this house was like stepping back in time fifty years. A gravel drive led to a lean-to garage with an ancient, rusting car parked beneath crumbling beams. The property, unique in a neighborhood of .25 acre lots, resembled a park more than a yard, with a long, deep lawn, rows of old-fashioned rhododendrons and flocks of  birds fighting and calling in the enormous oak and maple trees planted when the Helwig children were small. 

I’d read about Mr. Helwig in our church bulletin. No longer able to drive, he needed a ride to the doctor and the grocery store. The day I met him, on a sweltering day in July, he wore a white collared shirt, a brown canvas jacket zipped to his throat and grey dress pants. His hair was wild, white and straight and pouncing off his head in all directions, and he had those blue, blue eys. I was smitten. After that, I left work at noon every fourth Tuesday to drive Mr. Helwig to the commisary where he bought frozen dinners, Cheerios and milk for himself and Nicolodean tv dinners for my daughter. (Lauren had long begged for those  toxic-stews in a box, but I’d always refused on the grounds that she’d be better off eating garbage from the street. When Mr. Helwig entered the picture though, I caved. If he wanted her to eat garbage, then by god she was going to.) 

Always concerned about “not being a bother,” Mr. Helwig never accepted any other overatures (lunch, dinner, help in the garden) from me than our monthly drive. Over time, though, and dozens of glasses of warm lemonade or tepid tap water shared in his airless kitchen, I learned about his life–his wife of 60 years, who had recently died of cancer, his children, all living far away, and his career as an engineer. He’d attended Perdue University and was one of the smartest man I had ever met with a long list of impressive jobs and degrees to commend him. Nonetheless, except for his birds and a wiry neighborhood cat, who Mr. Helwig assured me never ate a single other critter, he was alone. 

Two years later, when I decided to move to Arizona from Maryland, I had a harder time telling Mr. Helwig than I did my own parents. But he was nice about it, assurng me, as my father had, that this was the way of the world and wishing me luck. I cried when we said goodbye.   

Next up: Herman

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December 7, 2009 December 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Annie Maier @ 10:48 am
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In Honor of Joe Rizzo (December 6, 1936 – May 27, 2005)

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. I still miss him, but I’m glad he’s at peace, whatever that looks like. Sadness comes and goes, along with my notions of death. Mostly, I invision him as floating around with me – little particles dispersed in the eternity of air and earth and water that surrounds us all. As comforting as that idea is, the whole invisible thing is a drag. I wish I could see him if even for a moment, to make sure he is okay and that he could hear me when I talk. And if he could, what would I tell him? How much I love him, of course. But that’s an involuntary reflex generated by loss. One thing my father never had cause to doubt was the love of his children. (If I couldn’t sit here and know I did everything I could to communicate my love to my father, I would never accomplish another thing. I would be too busy consuming and being consumed by remorse. Not being a huge fan of regret, I try to keep that in mind.)

So, what would I say?

 I would tell him that life is short. That blood pressure is still undervalued and Rizzos are not inherently unlucky. I would tell him he deserved every bit of love he received in this life, and more. That death isn’t, I hope, as bad as he expected. That Lauren and Cat and Bon are doing great; Eric less so. Mama is Mama – that shouldn’t surprise him, and hopefully my saying so would no longer anger him. Finally, I would tell him happiness is not impossible.

My dad was a silent man, though, in the manner of those uncomfortable in their own skin. We share that, and the sharing made conversation between us sporadic and trivial. I don’t imagine he would care much for post mortem postulations any more than he did pre-death small talk. In my dreams, whenever he reappears, healthy and unchanged, it’s always with an air of nonchalance. No one comments on his long absence or on his former illness. It’s not that I don’t recognize both, I just decide to leave well enough alone. “He’s back,” I think, and that is enough. Sometimes, at the end of the dream, he gets sick again. Sometimes I realize I am dreaming and that he is dead. Even then, I don’t comment, I just watch to see how he takes the transformation. He doesn’t usually take it well. Neither do I. In this life, my waking life, any words would depend on time and circumstance. If we had a few days I’d say too little; a few minutes and I’d most assuredly say too much. Caught unaware – Daddy, hey, what are you doing here? – there’s a good possibility that I wouldn’t say anything of consequence. So, how’s it going? See anyone you know floating around the universe? If, implausibly, death had changed him, made him relaxed and confident, I’d let him take the lead.

But maybe none of that is important.

Maybe all I would really need to tell him is Happy Birthday, Pate. Hope you’re enjoying the afterlife. 

 

November 11, 2009 November 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Annie Maier @ 11:07 pm

Listening to Kathleen Purvis at the Charlotte Writers’ Club meeting last night, I was surprised (and delighted) to hear her say that not enough blogs “told a story.” Too many, she said, are devoted to “quick” information. I feel like I’ve been given licence to be as wordy as necessary. And from a professional no less! Not that such licence is free. With it comes an expectation that said stories will be good – interesting, well told and compelling. That’s the hard part.

Anyway, here’s part two of my story. If you haven’t already – please read Part 1 (November 10th).   

A John  (Part 2)

Soon, I could see the man’s eyes beneath his dirty black baseball cap. Although I was now within shouting distance, his gaze didn’t waver.

“Sir?” I called. No response. I got closer. “Sir?” Close enough to touch him. “Sir?”

That’s when I realized we were in a test of wills. He didn’t want me there and I had no idea how to gracefully extract myself. Cars were zinging past. My mother, who, despite offering the ten dollars had asked me not to do this, was in the car watching. And I, notorious meddler from way back, was standing in the middle of rush hour looking and feeling ridiculous. I stood there, wondering about the etiquette of accosting strangers in the street. Should I place the bag of food at his feet, a silent almsgiving to my guilty, comfortable conscience? Should I thrust out my hand and introduce myself? Offer him tea? Damn, what does one do with reluctant recipients of kind-hearted, misguided gestures?

As I contemplated shriveling up into the hot pavement, he turned. He didn’t acknowledge me in any way, but the slight movement of his head was enough to loose my dry and pasty tongue.

“Hello,” I offered a lame and wilting smile. “I thought maybe you’d like some food?”

 No answer.

“Sir?”

“No,” he said. I felt my heart jump higher in my chest.

“No?”

He shook his head, once again training his eyes just above the cars that flashed across the horizon. Confusion and embarrassment prickled my spine. It was as if I had disappeared. As if I had, in that one moment, ceased existing. Everything went silent – the street, the cars, the voice in my head. Then it all roared back to life.

Damn! What do I do now? Speak? Walk away? Run away? Somebody help me here!

And in that second, he relented. I don’t know why. He just did.

 

 
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