A hundred meals flashed in my memory: some packed for two, with care and attention to detail, others for one, before, and then even more frequently after she was gone, and still others shared around our chaotic and banged-up kitchen table. And of them all, I think, the latter mattered the most.
That table wasn’t fancy. Extendable and bought for a fraction of its value from the “As-Is” section of Ikea; when we bought it we had thought it a steal. But ten years of scratches and spills, three kids with grubby hands and math homework later, and it had seen many better days.
And the meals, though homemade with love, fell far short of gourmet: turkey for Thanksgiving and ham at Christmas, yes, but mostly soups in the winter: boeuf Bourguignon, butternut squash bisque and pasta e fagioli, and simple dishes the rest of the year: ratatouille, tacos, Bolognese and baked chicken.
“Thank you for carrying me,” said the man who had jump-started my car when it had died on a winter night, filled with children after a visit to a friend’s house, who took out my trash and changed my flat tire while my husband was away, who often met my daughters at the bus stop while my son napped and chatted with them all the way home, who delighted in watching my son grow and always greeted him with a smile and a hug.
I’m still mulling over all that our friendship with him has taught me. I’m still deciding what it means.
There is a gate in the fence that separates our yard from the one that used to be his. We put it there with hope that we would use it for years to come, not wanting to believe that maybe we wouldn’t get the chance. If pressed to consider the possibility of different neighbors, he joked, “Maybe we could write a provision into the contract,” but more seriously, “You could always lock it.”
So before he drove across the country, his Mustang trailing behind, while he stayed in our guest room, the one tucked into the eaves and overlooking the yard and garden next door that had not two days before been his, I heard my daughter in the back yard calling to someone I couldn’t see: “Sure, come on over!” I could almost taste the bittersweetness on my tongue as I saw the beautiful blonde child walk through the gate, from her new yard into ours. Can a gate be a legacy? A legacy that lets in a little girl with flip flops and a shy smile, who has a little sister and brother and parents who invite my husband to share a meal with them while I’m away?
I know what we gave him, I think, because he would thank us for it all the time. But I’m still coming to terms with what he gave us, along with the bags of empty food containers no longer waiting to be refilled. Sometimes it seemed that, to him, maybe I was a bit of every woman: mother, sister, wife, daughter, friend. But I think I’ll always remember him as the one who reminded me that I can live and love with intention and my days can impact others right here, over the fence-- right now-- not only in a someday down the road when my children are grown and not only back then, when my days looked different. Now. Around my banged-up kitchen table, with my tired eyes and bickering children, eating my ordinary food.
We'll miss saying, "Come on in," and a half-hearted, "excuse the mess," even as we get to know the warm people who have bought his home but could never take his place.
It’s not clear to me who did the carrying, but that gate in the back yard will always feel like hope and love. It brings us comfort to know it will continue enabling us to say, "Sure, come on over," even now that he's gone.