He calls just to hear himself talk. At least that’s what it seems like. It seems like he just wants someone to say, “Uh-huh, yes, wow” at all the appropriate places. He has a deep need to talk and talk and talk. And talk. I feel like I know all his stories and can predict which one he’ll tell right before he does. Sometimes he asks me the same question more than once. It seems he doesn’t really listen to the answer. He ends every call with “Lots of love!”—his way of saying he loves me.
Sometimes I imagine him as the little boy he was, the little boy who had to cook his own dinner because his mother wouldn’t get out of bed.
He has a high tolerance for clutter, a high tolerance for messes. He reads at least two newspapers a day and piles of them tend to grow around the places he sits. He doesn’t take his own dish to the sink after eating. He holds onto things—tools, bits and pieces he might need someday, and papers. Filing cabinets full of papers. I sat with him once when he was going through some old files. He didn’t throw anything out, he just went through them—tax forms from the ’60’s, my sister’s papers from school, documents from work, old bills. Every page had sentimental value.
He grew up poor. I have the impression that they didn’t always have enough food. He told my mother when they first got married that he would never complain about a high grocery bill, that she should keep plenty of food in the house. She does. There is always plenty of food in their house and she is the one who shops for groceries, yet he will still arbitrarily buy ketchup, or crackers, or cans of beans.
Sometimes when I’m with him, and he’s talking, running over my words with his own, I think, “He doesn’t even see me.”
He gets to know store clerks and mechanics and waitresses. He talks to everybody. When I was younger, it would embarrass me that he would do this. Now I feel differently about it.
A dear friend I grew up with was killed in a car accident when I was nineteen. He whispered to me, “I’m so glad it wasn’t you.”
I haven’t seen him angry often, but somehow we all tiptoe around him at times, as if trying to avoid his irritation. He generally gets his way.
I will never forget the trip I took with him when I was fifteen. We drove seven hours to his aunt’s funeral and the car broke down on the way back. We waited by a field of cows for the tow truck as the sun went down and we stayed overnight in a small town I had never heard of before. I sat in the mechanic’s office all day with the wife, while he went with the old man on a three hour round trip to the nearest city to buy the part for the car. Everyone who came through told me that the old man would talk his ear off. He could hold his own, I said.
He planted apricot trees one year and the hungry deer almost killed those baby trees. They never grew very big and they never bore fruit, but he watered those trees for years, hoping.