Aug. 14, 2019
Bits and Pieces
Everyone who knew Butch at all can remember one of his silly remarks. He was always trying to get a smile out of people, even if it was because what he said or did was outlandishly out of the box.
When the hostess would seat us at a restaurant and say, “Your server is _____ and they’ll be right with you,” Butch would say, “We are your customers and we’ll be right here.” Not knowing whether he was teasing, or was expecting some response, they would freeze in place for a second before wandering off. His waitress teasing included asking whether the coffee was Columbian, if the sugar was organic, or meaninglesssimilar minutia. If someone said, “Thank you for waiting.”, Butch would say, “Patience is a virtue.” If a phone receptionist asked, “Can I tell them who is calling?”, Butch would say, “No, thank you.” Since announcing the caller was mandatory, not optional, the receptionist would pause in confusion and then tell him she had to have his name. He would then happily reply, “No problem. You should have said that in the first place.”
When you smashed your finger, stubbed your toe, or banged your shin, he would say, “That will feel better when it stops hurting.” When someone he knew bought a tiny, gas-saving car, he would ask them if watering the car seed would cause it to grow into a real car. If it took me a couple of tries to back into a parking space right, or back the boat onto the ramp, he would ask, “Do you get paid mileage?” If we were attending something in a large space and he was standing far away as I approached, he would put one hand over his eye to designate a “long distance wink” as soon as he could see that I had spotted him.
He once put on a new pair of reading glasses and our friend gave him grief about not removing the little sticker in the corner with the magnification number. She would spend the night at our house once a week when she was in town for a class we were taking. Afterwards, he left the tag on to bug her and then left them on forever even after she was no longer coming. I still have a pair of his readers with the tag on it.
Whenever we passed in the hallway as we were getting ready for work in the morning, he would stop me for hug, saying, “There is a toll here.” He loved to touch the kids on the chest when they were little, then nose flick theira nose they looked down to see what he was pointing at. He and the boys loved “Pull my finger” and “Made you look” jokes when boredom overtook them. When he drove under a train overpass, he would hold up the ceiling and tell the boys they had to help with that in case the bridge collapsed to keep the train from smashing the car. At least one of them still does that, grinning as he does.
He loved pepper on everything, as did I. He drilled out bigger holes in a pepper shaker in our house to
facilitate application without eternal shaking. I still use it. In restaurants, he would unscrew the lid on the pepper shaker so he could sprinkle it on faster. His mom once did this and then left the lid unscrewed, assuming he saw her do it. When he picked up the shaker to use it normally, the lid came off and emptied onto his eggs. The list goes on and on....
A life together consists of a million small moments that gradually become our history. We may not take note of these things while we are together. The journey of grief will include many of these memories, quick, involuntary glimpses back in time. Fleeting memories float through our mind and heart. The dailiness of life without them leaves us with only these fragments where the person we loved used to be. Each is bitter-sweet. Some remind us of our favorite parts of them, forgotten and now retrieved. Some
remind us that they were human and flawed like everyone else and dissolve the idealized version of them we tend to create. On good days they feel warm and tender like little hugs. On bad days they are jagged and brittle pushing the pain buttons in our hearts. Wanted or not, painful or pleasant, they come.
Becoming us without them means finding a way to carry these memories forward into the future without becoming bogged down in them. We gradually integrate the gifts they brought to our lives into the new life we are building. Only our grieving mentors can help us see a future full of joy and where these memories come as gentle reminders of what we had rather than painful reminders of what was lost. It is a winding journey, filled with switchbacks, detours, and unforeseeable hazards. The promise of our memories is that everyone arrives. Just stay on the path. The challenges we overcome make us wise and strong. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, we are mentors. We find ourselves guiding others through the journey of grief that no one ever volunteers to begin. Miracles do happen.