Oh my gosh it's hot out there. Right now it's 93, and getting hotter, but it's the humidity that is really doing us in. Doug says that the dew point is a billion, or maybe a million billion, and that might be about right. (Actually, it's 80, with a heat index of 114. Wow.) The air is so heavy and moist that nothing dries; the sidewalks are still dark from the rain of two nights ago. The doors and windows are swollen, and they stick. My hair looks like damp cotton candy, all fuzzy and fly-awayey.
The dogs do not want to go out in this heat, which is a good thing, because neither do we. Riley got a walk of 1/2 block this morning. Boscoe made it as far as the alley before making it clear he was ready to go home. Just now I took him out again (he had needs) and when I opened the front door and he felt the blast of heat he turned around and tried to run back in the house. Not much makes him run these days, but that wall of hot air did.
Inside, everything is shut up tight, the shades are pulled, we bump around in the dimness, trying not to trip over the fans that whir away--from the ceiling, on the floor, balanced on stands, propped in windows.
This weather makes me think of my father, who loved it hot, the hotter the better. He would lie out in the back yard when the sun blazed white and read for hours without sunscreen, without sunglasses. Sometimes he'd go down to the beach at Park Point where the sun's brilliance was magnified by the glittering water, and read there on a towel in the hard-packed overheated sand.
And it makes me think of his cousin Verne, another Missouri boy. Like my dad, Verne grew up in St. Joe. He moved to California to teach, and came back to St. Joe when he retired. The last couple of times I saw him he was still living in his childhood home, an aging, smallish two-story house with magnificent woodwork and a garden overrun with bright orange daylilies.
He was always glad to see family, and he invited us in for tea. This was Missouri in July, Delta-hot, and muggy, and Verne's house was closed up and airless. Not only was there no air conditioning, but there were no fans that I could see. The drapes were closed, the windows shut, and it was hard to breathe. Nothing stirred the air.
At the first sip of tea I started sweating; it rolled down my face and trickled down the back of my neck, and I looked at Doug and could see he was suffering too. But Verne sipped calmly at the steaming cup, and had a chocolate cookie, and then another chocolate cookie, and talked with great interest about family news, and about his last trip to Ireland, where he had tried without success to find records for the Monahan and Sayles sides of the family, and, because he is old and has outlived nearly everyone he knew, about death and graves and Mt. Olivet Cemetery, where we were headed later that afternoon to visit the graves of my brother, my sister, and my father.
I tried, as we chatted, to memorize his house and its contents, knowing that he would not be there much longer. His manual typewriter, which has needed a new ribbon for about 20 years, and on which he pounded out letters to me and to many other people; the crosses hung on walls at various levels and in odd places, as though he just reached out and pounded a nail wherever was closest: Verne is a lifelong devout Catholic.
The gateleg table that had been his mother's; the ancient computer he had never used and which was hooked up to nothing; the piles of paper and the many, many books, and the VHS tapes (documentaries, mostly), and the framed old black and white photos, some with flat brittle glass from Walgreens, some with heavy curved glass that you could see yourself in.
His doorways all had transoms, and the one between the living room and dining room was fitted with a beautifully carved, lacy wooden detail from which he had hung a brass bell. I have to include a picture, because I can't describe this well--I don't know what it's called. There must be an architectural term.
He was kind and funny and generous, making time for us, taking us to lunch at his favorite spot (not a sweet old diner in town, as we had imagined, but a plastic-chair place "up at the mall"), guiding us to Mt. Olivet Cemetery where we stood and looked at the graves, and then on to Krug Park, where he showed us the tree that we had had planted after my father died.
That visit was in 2004, and I saw him again two years later when some of my siblings and I met up in Kansas City and made the drive north to St. Joe once again. As we stood in Mt. Olivet, staring at all those graves--not just the three I've mentioned, but those of my grandparents, and Verne's parents and brother and other members of that big tribe of intermarried Germans and Irish--he said, quite sensibly and matter of factly, without any fuss, "I'm ready to join them."
It is a shocking thing, to hear that someone is ready to die. The first impulse is to reach out, grab an arm, say, "No, no, no, we can't do without you." But he just smiled enigmatically.
In the five years since, he has moved out of that airless little house and into an assisted living home, and, just a couple of weeks ago, into their Alzheimer's unit. He likes the Alzheimer's unit, my aunt tells me, because it is locked and secure and he is able to roam as much as he likes, unlike assisted living, where they were always catching him and hauling him back to his room. Verne, like my dad, has always been a walker.
It is not likely that I will visit Verne again. He wouldn't know me, even if I explained that I was Leo's daughter. I have sent him cards and boxes of his favorite chocolate cookies, though I am not sure any of the mail ever arrived; he is not capable of writing back. But I think about him--fairly often, really. He is the last of that generation, and he has secrets and stories and history locked up in his head which we will now never know. A courtly man, a gentle man, polite and charming. A man who, to this day, enjoys a chocolate cookie with his cup of tea on a hot July day.