Time Well Spent
Terry walked slower each time I would go see him. I mean he was old, but his mind was still sharper than mine. He always wore the same blue denim jacket except during the summer. It seemed like as much of a part of him as his deep brown eyes, or the few wisps of hair still clinging on, out of sheer stubbornness. Stubbornness was a good word for him, he wasn’t afraid of change, just didn’t see the sense in replacing things that already worked. He was from another time, when things would break you fixed them. His house was always clean except for the book cases. It seemed he had built a better collection than the public library, of every kind of book you could imagine. There wasn’t a subject you could bring up that he didn’t know something about, the original Google in person. He walked across the old hardwood floor, that he proudly told anyone who asked, he built himself. The floor used to creak just a little as he walked over it to the door but now it was silent.
He smiled when he realized who was knocking at his door, looking through the glass before opening it. That smile was something, still his original teeth with one slight chip on his right incisor, only slightly yellowed from his coffee even now. “Hi Terry!” I chimed as he opened the door. I had to speak a little louder now than when I first met him. “And a good day to you Trina.” he said cheerfully as he waved me in the door. I stepped into the house smelling the familiar scents of the old books, coffee, and aftershave. All of the furniture would be considered antique. I am sure some enterprising antique scouts had visited with no luck whatsoever of leaving with anything except a few good stories. I walked with him to our usual spots. He eased into his red arm-chair, well-worn to fit him when he was heavier, me on the couch that was still springy from disuse. The fireplace that kept a steady warmth in the room, covered with pictures ordered from old to new on the mantle. There were three new pictures since my last visit. Christmas card pictures that showed very modern families with very modern children. You could see the outline of smartphones in all of their pockets, as if they had just put them away long enough for that picture to be taken. He saw me looking at them and when I turned around he had a smile on his face again. “That’s my youngest’s family, their in LA now. The other two sets ya already know from before.” I looked again at the other two pictures and recognized his sons and their wives but their kids were nearly adults now too. When I started visiting they seemed like babies to me. When I looked back I noticed a distant look that he always got when remembering something a lifetime ago. “So what do I owe the honor of this visit from the always inquisitive miss Trina?” he asked. He knew I worked for the newspaper, but I never visited him for writing purposes, well not anymore. I did a story on him fighting the eminent domain taking of some of his land to build the highway. He didn’t win, but they never built the highway, it just wasn’t his land anymore. He was such a character that I asked if I could visit once in a while just to talk. He acted like it would be an inconvenience at first but I knew he enjoyed it too.
“I have something you don’t know, and I know how you hate not knowing things.” I said as I brushed a stray lock of brown hair from my eye. “Let me see if I can guess.” he replied. It was a game we played when I thought I could catch him finally not having a piece of information. He looked me in a steady pattern, from my black flats, comfortable jeans, white blouse, all the way to the top of my head. He never missed a thing but I think I got him this time. “I’m gonna say, you’re gettin married.” he said and sat back into his seat comfortable in his conclusion. My mouth fell open and he laughed, he still had an amazing strong laugh. “OK, you have to tell me how you figured it out.” I said as I made sure that my left hand was still primly covered by my right in my lap. He held up his hand, it shook a little now, but he counted off as he talked “Well first, you got that smile only someone who has the best news of their life to tell, would have. Second, when ya brushed yer hair outta your eyes, like ya always do, your ring was blinding my old eyes.” he lowered his hand back down slowly. I smiled like a mad woman and he laughed again. “whated I miss” he asked, leaning forward in his seat in anticipation. “I want you to walk me down the aisle and give me away.” I said with hope he wouldn’t see it as a silly notion. He sat back and smiled, then got the pensive look he wore rarely. “And when and where would this weddin be happenin?” He asked with a little more of a draw to his voice. “Next month, here in town at the old Baptist church.” I replied quickly after saying it to so many people at work who had asked. He sat for a minute thinking, “Did I ever tell you where me and my Rebecca got hitched?” he asked.
I was used to his back and forth, as something I said reminded him of something else. It was like he was reliving his best and worst memories when we would talk. He had told me of his wife passing, we cried together softly as he kept going with the story like he was afraid to not finish it. He told me of the story of his parents giving him presents even when they were barely surviving. He even told me about deciding he could ride a bull even though he had never done any such thing before when he was twenty. “No sir, You haven’t told me that one yet.” I replied and he started into his story as if that was his cue. “It was spring nineteen and forty-four. We had been courting since high school. Oh, my Rebecca was such a vision. We couldn’t afford pictures back then, but I can remember the way she looked as if it were yesterday. She wore a beautiful yellow dress with little blue flowers on it. I told her it was too cold for such a light dress, but she wouldn’t hear of gettin married in anythin else. We wanted the family to be there but there was so much goin on. People couldn’t travel like they can ta-day. Ya know those old silly cartoons where the cat sees the girl and his heart comes completely out and his tongue hangs out. That was what I felt like seeing her walk down the small aisle. The place coulda been filled ta overflowin with people and I would have never known. I couldn’t see anything but her, bathed in light like she was some sorta angel being brought down by Gabriel hisself. I don’t remember a single word I said other than I do. She said my wedding vows, that I had made up on the spot, were the most beautiful words she had ever heard before. It’s probably the only time I forgot anything, but I am still surprised I remembered the need for oxygen. I floated through the rest of the ceremony as she sang a song she wrote for her vows. Back then she had what we called pipes, my Rebecca could out sing anyone on the radio or in the church choir. Then we exchanged some cheap rings we managed to sell enough firewood to get, and she kissed me before I could even lean in. That kiss was better than anything I had ever felt before or since. She made me feel my whole body vibrate from my toes to my thick brown hair.” he waved a hand across his nearly bald head at the few strands of hair like it was all still there. I was messing my makeup but I didn’t even care. I had heard a hundred stories about his Rebecca, but I actually felt that one. He may have not been a writer but he was definitely a poet. Only a poet could have made me see everything as if I were there with just his words.
After a few minutes, he finally came back to the here and now. “Ya know where we got hitched?” he asked. “Yes Sir, the old Baptist church when it was just built.” he seemed to take this information in and catalog it in his head like he always did. He knew I had no family of my own. My mom and Dad had been gone for a while, and I was the only child. My adopted mom had passed a few years ago. He kind of reminded me of her at times. Maybe that is why we clicked so well. “Next month ya say?” he asked then added, “Yeah I guess I can push back a few things on my calendar and make it.” I got so tickled that I could help but jump up and hug him. I made sure to keep it light, I know he would never admit it, but he got hurt easier now. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and sat back on the couch. We talked about Robert, and my wedding dress, and he told me stories until it started getting dark. I told him that we had already planned a car to be driven for us, and we were going to have to drive by his place anyway to get to the church. I didn’t give him a chance to say it wasn’t a problem. I knew he didn’t drive anymore, and he was stubborn enough to try to walk there. We said our goodbyes and I walked to the door with the creak of the floor under my foot as I left.
I was already in my dress and my maid of honor, Julie from work, was beautiful in a soft lavender dress she had picked out. We pulled up to Terry’s house, and he was already standing outside, looking down at his pocket watch wearing a slightly faded but perfectly creased black suit. The driver opened the limo door for him, and he climbed in holding on the door as he did to steady himself. He was smiling like I had never seen him smile. I noticed an old tie pin, that you never saw men wear these days, on his black tie. It was shiny as if brand new, so were the cuff-links on his sleeves. I had seen the cuff-links before, he had polished all of them just for today though he wouldn’t admit to it. I introduced him to Julie, and told her in rapid succession some of the highlights of things I knew about him from ten years of stories. He took her hand softly when I introduced them and then settled back into that relaxed posture still wearing that smile. He never took his eye’s off me while I went from one story to the next as we drove.
The wedding was small, just the way I wanted it. Candles instead of overhead lights, a single harp player the preacher had recommended. There were only co-workers on my side, and just the five family members and some co-workers for Roberts side. Julie went on her queue to walk up the aisle leaving me with Terry waiting for our queue. Terry leaned down and softly whispered. “Now you’re his Rebecca, don’t ya hold it against him if all he remembers is you.” he gave me a light kiss on the cheek. His lips a little rough from the winter’s wind and working outside too much. It was still warm on my cheek when the song started and we began our walk down the aisle.
We went to Bora Bora for our honeymoon, swimming straight from our room into the brilliant blue sea. I won’t turn this story into something a child shouldn’t hear with the rest of the details other than to say it was magical.
When we arrived home it was an incredible rush to get all of our stuff into the new house, and get back into the swing of things at work. Robert said he had over a thousand emails just from one week off, and they were of course all marked urgent. We were still working on the living room, trying to figure out what should go on the long wall when someone knocked on the door. Robert went to get the door as I kept measuring everything that might fit there. He came back in with a look I had never seen, hopeless, hurt, confused. I am still not sure and have never seen that look on his face since. Behind him was the preacher. My first thought was there was something wrong with our wedding and we weren’t officially married. Then I saw the look on his face. It was the look I got when the social workers came to tell me mom and dad were gone. He didn’t even have to say anything before I started crying, my knees forgot their job but Robert was beside me like he could fly, holding me to his chest. I heard the preachers words, though I didn’t have to listen. Terry had passed last night. None of his family could make it and would I be able to make it to his services. Terry had already taken care of everything two months ago. Robert held me and I felt like he didn’t let me go once even after Terry’s last story was told with dirt filling in over him. His suit still perfectly pressed, tie pin gleaming.
A week later, there was another knock at the door, I recognized him though we had never met. It was Zachary, Terry’s oldest. “I found a note my dad left, it had a list of everything he wanted you to have.” he said “I didn’t know he was going to do anything like that I am sorry, keep what you want to remember him by, I am truly sorry for your loss.” I said not sure what a loss it was to the Christmas card son. “No, it is your loss I am sorry for, he and I had our differences a long time ago and said our goodbyes twenty years ago.” I could see Terry’s stubbornness wasn’t lost completely. “What did he want me to have? I can’t think of anything he ever mentioned.” I said, now curious what he had felt important enough to leave to me. “His chair, though I doubt it is actually worth much, a lamp he had behind it, and his books and bookcases. They are far too heavy for any of the family to transport home with us all living so far away, and he used to write letters in his Christmas cards about you and your visits. We all knew you were there for him, when we should have been. Can’t think of a better person to get the books he spent so much time devouring.” He finished with a few pleasantries and that someone would bring everything by in a few hours.
I had everything set up by the time Robert got home. He smiled as he saw me scrolling through the books titles as I put them in order, he didn’t ask about the new addition, and went to get a shower. One of them caught my attention, I had never seen it on his bookshelves before. It was large and a few pages were sticking out slightly. I opened it to find Terry’s handwriting on every page. Story after story about his life, many he had never told me, starting with his childhood and the pages sticking out slightly in the back with a little lower quality penmanship were the stories about our time together. Nothing in between, as if the only stories that mattered then, were my visits.