I ran into an old friend at the supermarket this evening. Not really a friend, just someone I knew when we were both a lot younger. I see her there every few weeks, just by chance, and we usually spend a few minutes blocking the aisle, catching up.
V's father was the first boss I had who really taught me how to be an adult. I was just out of college with my worthless liberal arts degree, and I'd been working at various jobs for a few months when I answered a classified ad for a clerk in a family shoe store. It was the only interview I ever had where I whined my way into a job. I told Mr. L all the reasons he probably didn't want to hire me, and I guess he took it as a challenge.
We were together for four years, until he closed the store and retired. Mr. L gave me the confidence I needed to face the public. It was a small business in a small town, where everyone knew each other by name, and that made it easy for me to lose some of the shyness that could have held me back. I found out I was better with people than I thought I'd be, and I never forgot where that feeling was fostered. It really was like a family; I was at his daughter's wedding.
Mr. L died a week before Christmas. Tonight V and I talked about the kind of man her father was, blustery and opinionated, hard-headed but big-hearted. Mrs. L had passed away three months earlier, and some of the spark went out of his eyes, but in his last week he had started to feel like himself again. V had taken him shopping, and out to lunch, in the two days before the end. On that day, she found him serenely resting in his chair, a glass of milk at his side. There was no sign that he'd done anything besides sit down and drift away peacefully. He was 87, and he was aware and alert until he died. What more could a person ask for?
V had quite a year, losing both parents, nursing her kids through two automobile accidents, and having a cancerous tumor removed herself. But they are people of faith and she is convinced that her parents, who were married for 62 years, were reunited for Christmas. And she was able to find out something about herself and her family during the ordeal. Her husband and children were at her side while both her parents were ill, taking their turns at caring for them.
Her mom, bless her heart, left her some money, and she's using it to take her family on a Caribbean cruise this summer. It's something she's always wanted to do but could never afford. It's what Mr. and Mrs. L would have wanted for them.