Thursday, June 26, 2014
I honestly didn't know the guy. We share a college alma mater, but little else really. He's a tradesman, I'm a retired prof. We live in the same neck of the woods, basically, and he was over, a repair man. Nice guy. He seemed more than a little interested in yakking. Younger than I am, but not by decades.
It's clear he knows what he's doing. I watched him for a while, just as I'd watched oodles of tradesmen in the last year--dirt movers, concrete layers, frame carpenters, dry-wallers, insulators, finish carpenters, painters. I watched 'em all when our house went up, and I loved it, thought about how incredibly far I'd been away from the trades for so long, from the crowd that does day labor day after day, across the country--and here. Makes things.
One of 'em told me he charged $15 an hour labor, $30 if I hung around, $45 if picked up a screwdriver. Yesterday, I told the guy that and he laughed, comfortably.
Like I said, nice guy. Didn't know him by family or town, by college class or any kind of reputation, only by business, his business. He's told me that long ago he went to Dordt. Somehow--maybe simple prejudice--I simply wouldn't have guessed.
It was late in the afternoon. He finished up after six, and I couldn't help but imagine that his wife was rolling her eyes in some tv room back at the house, wondering how long she was going to have to wait for him--again. But he liked to talk, and he seemed to appreciate me standing there beside him going on and on. He seemed almost oblivious to time.
That morning, we had picked more than our share of strawberries. My wife had made muffins and jam and a yogurt souffle to die for, smothered in 'em. Oh, yeah--and bread too, strawberry bread. Sounds strange, but I could eat half a loaf in one sitting--that good. Anyway, it's in the freezer because we just couldn't eat everything she was cooking up with that motherload of strawberries.
I thought I'd pack some along with him. Be nice, right? We had way too many. I came back into the house, asked my wife whether she could part with a few. She looked at me and rolled her eyes, then pulled out one of those little green baskets the hard ones come in when you buy 'em at the store. You know.
"Does he want to eat 'em on the way home, you think?" she said. "If he does, I'll pluck 'em and wash 'em up."
So I went back out to ask. "We got a ton of strawberries," I told him, "too many for a couple of old farts. All day long, my wife's been putting them in everything but summer sausage."
He looked up, smiled.
He looked at me as if he thought I was kidding.
"You going to eat 'em on the way home or you going to save 'em for your wife?" I said. "Makes a difference, Barb says."
"I'll eat 'em on the way home," he told me. "Nice of you."
"Like I said, we got tons."
"I love strawberries," he said.
"You sure you're wife won't be mad?" I said, joking.
"My wife left," he told me. "About nine months ago already. She's in California, and she's not coming back. At least, I don't think so."
I didn't say a thing. Maybe I should have. I went back in the house.
"He's going to eat 'em on the way home," I told my wife of 42 years, 43 tomorrow, in fact. "He told me his wife left him nine months ago already. She's not coming back, he says."
Stopped her cold. She plucked the berries, ran 'em under the faucet, and rolled them into that little green basket.
I brought them out.
I didn't know what to say really. I mean, he wasn't my friend, not a close friend. Do you just haul off and ask him how he's doing with being left behind? If you don't even know him at all, not really, doesn't questioning seem like just walking into his house without knocking? Should I have prayed?
I went back into the house for supper. He was finishing up. Couldn't have been long and he and the strawberries were gone. He texted me later, said he left the bill and thanks so much for the strawberries.
I couldn't help but think I let him down somehow.
"She's not coming back, I guess," he told me, screwdriver in his hand.
And I didn't say a thing.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:07 AM