Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Giant of a Man

A good man died. I know it happens every day, but I knew this one. I knew his wife. I fell in love with her. Back in college, I thought I knew everything, because what Junior in college doesn't? Taking a 200 level English course would be a walk in the park, in fact I planned to phone it in, this was my easy A. She'd be lucky if I showed up.
In walked this five foot nothing snow haired coke bottle glasses woman with the warmest smile and she introduced herself. She started as an associate professor, teaching French and Social Justice, and now 19th Century Short Fiction. I'm still not listening. I'm daydreaming about the date planned for that evening. Tuesday nights we went for pizza and to watch tv in the student lounge. Most people wanted Moonlighting, we liked Remington Steele. She mentioned her husband taught law at Notre Dame. I registered this fact, maybe he taught my Dad. She said she'd lived in France. They'd raised seven children.
I sat up. Seven? Who has seven children? This tiny woman. She saw she had my attention. She winked. I don't know why, maybe she already knew she'd caught me. She went on to talk about how we'd be reading Emma and Madame Bovary and Wuthering Heights, and discussing rationalism, romanticism, and reality in the context of all three. I took notes. She wanted an essay comparing the three women's concept of love by the end of the month, five pages. I'd give her ten.
We became friends beyond the class, phoning and talking for hours, girlfriends across the decades. I'd meet her for lunch whenever I made it to the campus. She'd laugh when I had another kid, and delighted when I lapped her, finishing at ten. She'd tell me stories about trying to manage four while her husband Bob was teaching at the campus or in Italy. She recalled the parade of the children into the ancient homes of the church, their patent leather shoes clacking on the elegant tile floors, and the time when one daughter fought with her brother in front of the priest. (We were trading war stories about going to mass with a large young crew). We'd hit all the important topics, food, Catholicism, poetry and our families. Every conversation ended with wanting to make sure we did this again soon, though soon came less and less when health compromised her memory.
We'd still talk over the phone, but I knew he was managing her, protecting her, not telling me, but knowing I knew, not everything was alright. When we dined together last, he sat next to her and though we talked for three hours, the malady never came up. He kept steering her when she'd get lost, and I knew, this was his opening of the door, courting his Emma by walking her in the garden, letting her not be the victim of her maladies. He finished the stories she couldn't. He told her jokes to keep her from dwelling too long on the knowledge she didn't know something she knew she used to know. While sharing dessert, I felt struck by the reality, this was a courtly love, and his eyes still delighted on his beloved even as she ate or spoke or sat silent.
Last January, he had a fall and couldn't care for her anymore and I lost contact with my funny snowhaired coke-bottle glasses poet friend. She'd been put in a home to get around the clock care, and not being a family member, I didn't know how to find her. Today, one of their sons contacted me through Facebook. A giant of kindness and chivalry no longer walks the earth, and I'm very sad I can't be there to hug my friend through the fog where she walks, hoping again to meet her knight that always walked with her up to now.

Prayers for all of their family, and for the repose of Bob Rodes' soul. I hope he and my dad are having a great conversation with C.S. Lewis.

1 comment:

BobR said...

Thank you, Sherry, for a beautiful story. -Bob Rodes

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!