Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jack

"You're Cathy Athquith," he says, and I tumble back into my childhood. I am seven years old, gap-toothed and lispy, long blond curls tumbling down my back, false waves that have been painstakingly created by my mother using hundreds of bobby pins in damp hair. Jack's daughter and I are friends, twins in name and circumstance, holding hands with the teacher in the yard, shy little girls in a middle class neighborhood. The 1950's are not so Leave-it-to-Beaver-innocent as they would have us believe, but we don't know that yet; we're well fed and well dressed and well loved. Jack is a tall, handsome, gentle man who teases me with such affection that I can't help but smile back, un-offended, knowing the source is kindly mischievous.

Years later I spend some time with my mother, getting her used to a new retirement residence, showing up every day for a couple of weeks. A tall, still-handsome gentle man sits with his walker, elegantly thin, eyes alert, and I recognize him immediately. "You look so familiar," I tell him. "Do you have a daughter named Cathy?" He remembers instantly, the tease still there on his lips.

Over the next couple of months, he is often in the lobby when I bring my mother downstairs. We meet in the dining room. I talk with him outside in the sunshine. He tells me about his son, his daughters, his grandchildren, and I share my journey too - or at least we tell each other all the good parts. His wife has died and I can see that he still misses her.

One day I realize that I have not seen Jack for at least a week. Finally I ask at the front desk, only to find that he died the day before. I decide to go to the funeral home, to see if I can re-meet Cathy. She hugs me so well, as though we still fit together as friends after all these years. It's delicious leaning back and reaching those little girls again. Cathy remembers that we used to write stories all the time and I forget to ask her if, like me, she still does.

Every day as I continue to visit my mother, I will miss the teasing and appreciate the memory. Thanks, Jack!
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