So little of the sharing has stayed with me.
Specific stories, short strings of words. Things I heard from behind me, close and far; one at my knee.
“He was my Uncle and I loved him.”
“The closest thing to a brother I will ever have.”
A short story told by a woman Jeff trained as a delivery driver, driving toward Detroit. “One thing has always stayed with me,” she shared. “I was nervous and needed to get over a lane and couldn’t. Jeff was calm and patient. He told me to use my signal. Then, he gave me this advice.”
“Always signal your intentions,” Jeff said. “On the road and in life…’ ”
I’m sure there were more, but lastly, a drily humorous heartfelt summation both true and appreciated by all. “Ketchup was his friend.”
In the few moments’ gap, while volunteer speakers I was still dwelling on “dwelling places” when it happened. So fast I don’t know that anyone else caught it or could have caught it. An ever so slight chin bob, a direct look. Within the same second, I mirrored. That is how it came to be that I would, in fact, be reading my eulogistic … tribute (I guess).
I slid from the pew, stepped up with the help of our minister’s hand. He spoke softly, slightly offering the microphone. “Do you want to stand here?” he asked, then immediately continued, “… or…”.
The following “… would you …” was accompanied by the float of an upturned palm. It was the sort of go-ahead gesture offered at a held open door, only it was offering me something more. Significantly, the pulpit. Pastor Dave must have had quite the confidence that I would command myself. So, must have I, only I don’t believe mine came from me.
I’m not at all a public speaker. I say as little as possible whenever possible. So, I wasn’t considerately thinking, showing confidence, displaying emotional control or anything that could be ascribed to … anything.
I didn’t stop to consider. I don’t recall even the barest hesitation. I just continued on to where I would be.
I liken it to arriving at home, shifting the car into ‘park’ and not recalling if you actually stopped to pay the necessary exit toll. You must have, though, because there you are in the driveway. No flashing lights to be found.
Since then, I’ve self-rationalized. Only because it seemed everyone’s interpretation of the step-up was getting out of hand.
I’ve believed for years that I made a choice based on the perceived comfort of the podium; separating myself from the situation, hiding my girth and assuring I had something to hold onto if I couldn’t remember not to lock my knees.
That belief was shattered, last week.
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I almost believed him.
“Oooooo – k.” I took my time stretching it out.
“If you’re sure…” I added, in an identifiably skeptic tone. The one Jeff had come to recognize as my ‘that might not be the best way to handle this‘ voice.
“Actually,” he hedged. “Mmm. Maybe, you should pick me up.”
The thing was, until I was picked up for the ride home, I’d forgotten that my other end-of-the-line back-up driver wasn’t with me.
I decided to stop at the store on the way home, to see for myself. When I got there, he was sleeping. He woke up immediately, but was mildly disoriented for a few moments.
I couldn’t take him in the commuter van – that was an unauthorized no-no, which could have disbanded the van pool.
I considered parking the van at the store and driving the Buick home. But, we had a visiting trip planned for Saturday, and wouldn’t be able to pick-it up until Sunday.
The thought of leaving it in the parking lot made me nervous. If anything happened to the van while it was parked there, I’d be responsible.
I asked Jeff to call around, and see if someone could meet me at home in Adrian, and then drive me back to Tecumseh., so I could turn around drive him home. That wasn’t easy, either. After a lot of attempts, Jeff finally found someone.
There ended up being some sort of confusion; some sort of delay. Jeff announced he’d just drive himself home. He didn’t want to put anybody out.
I put the ka-bosh on that, attempting to entice him with the promise of stopping anywhere he wanted to for dinner on the way home. He said he’d wait, but he wasn’t really hungry.
My whole trip from the store to home, and back to the store, took about an hour. By the time I got back there, Jeff was feeling better, and feeling badly, that he’d cause so much concern.
Our rescuer was a sweet, new-ish driver, whom Jeff had been giving cooking lessons to, and who happily referred to him as ‘Uncle Jeff.’
I gotta tell you; this. It never ceased to amaze me how kids gravitated to him, and how strong those bonds became. Little people didn’t look up and see a huge, hairy scary giant. They instinctively recognized him as a big, loveable kid. There wasn’t a single one who was afraid of him.
In fact, there was one little boy, we were about to meet who had developmental problems. We’d been told he was terrified of new people, and had been known to throw himself on the floor in tantrum when faced with an unfamiliar situation. We’d been warned, it probably wouldn’t go well.
We were prepared for that. Actually, I was prepared for that. Jeff wasn’t prone to pre-conceived notions. He’d just step into any situation, and wait and see how it’d go.
What I wasn’t prepared for was for the little guy to walk right up to Jeff, shake his hand, and say, “Hello.” It was truly special.
And, a profound moment for me. I didn’t suddenly learn something new about my husband. There was no Godly beam of light or angels chorusing, but my heart swelled, as if there were.
I know some of those kids still remember him, because they still talk about him. About all the silly, outrageous, playful things he did. About his patience and the knowledge he loved to share.
As I’ve told you before, he was kinda unforgettable. Even more so, to a kid.
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