This was one of those mornings that remind me how much I can love winter. Blue sky, deep white snow, four degrees above zero, no wind. If you were dressed for it--and for once I was--it was perfectly warm.
The parks department had plowed the path down to the lake, and Boscoe insisted on following it. Once there, he insisted on going all the way around the lake, trotting along in Toby's old red booties, making a shuffling/clomping noise like a heavy old man in carpet slippers. When I tried to turn back, worried it was too far for him, he dug in and glared at me with his border collie glare. So around the lake we went.
Riley snuffled along, sniffing every mark, every twig. It was completely silent, but for the occasional screech of a bluejay or a crow.
While we walked, I thought about Verne. He turned 90 yesterday, in his little room in the care center in St. Joe, Missouri. He's my dad's cousin and grew up on a farm outside of St. Joe. They were pals when they were kids, but as a young man Verne moved to California to teach, and for most of my life he was just a Christmas card on my parents' mantel.
After retirement, he moved back to St. Joe, into an old house on Third Street, with pocket doors and transoms above the doorway, and colored-glass windows. Doug and I visited him there a few years back, on a sweltering Missouri July afternoon, and Verne served us pots and pots of hot tea and chocolate butter cookies.
He was a true gentleman--kind, courteous, thoughtful, with a twinkling, wry sense of humor. He is devoutly Catholic, deeply interested in his Irish heritage, and traveled two or three times to Ireland to search out his ancestors.
But as a teenager, my father said, he was something of a hellion. They had all kinds of adventures on that farm out Amazonia way, and one time Verne decided to hang-drop off a 50-foot-high railroad trestle bridge. He ended up hanging but not dropping, and my father, who was several years younger, watched from safety as Verne swung from his arms above the open gully. (That's Verne, in the overalls and glasses. Doesn't look like a hellion, does he? But you can never tell by looking.)
His memory is failing him now, and sometimes he remembers things with clarity and other times he needs lots of prompts. And so when I packaged up the chocolate butter cookies to send him for his 90th birthday, I included a card that read "From Laurie Jo (Leo's daughter)." It's sad to think of him in that care home, his life reduced to one small room, no more transoms, no more colored glass, his old typewriter that he wrote letters on ever since his stroke gone, his trips to Ireland long past, most of his loved ones--my father among them--long dead.
I hope that even if he cannot recall the present, he can recall the past. I hope he remembers the days on the farm. I hope he remembers hanging from that trestle, swinging free on that muggy Missouri afternoon, the world above him, the world below him, his life in front of him. Happy birthday, Verne, with love from Laurie Jo (Leo's daughter).