“Hey sweetie, I was just telling your friend here that we do have that cheese so I added it to both your burgers.” Hmm, he ordered it, too. Interesting.
“Thanks, Grace. You’re the best.”
“Anything for my little brother.” She was easily a foot shorter than him and when she said it, the comparison in their sizes made me smile. She saw him as she saw her own brother.
As she returned to the kitchen, I leaned in to speak softly across the table.
“She told me her brother died in Iraq. I’m so sorry. I hope coming here doesn’t bring up old memories about which you’d rather not think.”
“Not at all. I was with him when he died. He was full of life up until that very moment, not too much unlike his sister. When I returned home, I tracked her down and we’ve been close ever since.” His recollections flowed easily and comfortably, and yet he never mentioned the war all weekend. “Coming here reminds me of him, but it also reminds me of what has changed since my time in service, and that’s a rare thing, but something I need.”
This may have been the first time he mentioned feeling a need for anything. Even when we talked about meals, he never implied that he needed to eat. He certainly was not the type to draw attention to himself, and it’s probably one of the qualities I admired in him.
“Plus they have pie, and I hear that fixes everything.” I tried to make him feel like it wasn’t so serious a topic he couldn’t share it with me.
“I’ve heard that, too. And their pies are incredible.”
The food arrived shortly and the burgers were incredible in their own right. Mine even included crunchy bacon, but after the third bite, the bun completely fell apart in my hands and the juice ran down my arms rendering my napkin both saturated and incomplete for the task at hand. He held an equally sloppy challenge despite his large hands, but by their size and usefulness, it left one of his hands free. While the juices trickled down between his fingers, he snagged a couple napkins from a nearby table and proceeded to wipe us both down. It was a joy not to have fish, but the burgers were by far the messiest meal we ate all weekend.
Grace swung by a couple times, usually when I had food in my mouth, and so I left the two of them to interact. They talked about changes to the forest, the visitor center being closed for a second season, and updates on mutual acquaintances. I liked when he opened up and talked, even if it was out of character for him. Maybe until now I just saw his character wrong.
With the burger mess finally cleared away, I decided to investigate the contrast between the two personalities I witnessed.
“It’s a treat to see you so talkative with Grace. It’s almost like there is another side of you I haven’t seen.”
“You’ve heard me talk a lot. Probably too much.” I disagreed, even if I didn’t tell him so.
I guess I knew more than I realized, definitely more than probably someone like Bonnie knew, but then why did I feel like he was holding back from me, not sharing with me as he did with Grace? And now the weekend was ending and I was just getting to find out the bits and pieces of a massive jigsaw.
“For what it’s worth, I’ve enjoyed getting to know you.” I didn’t leave time for commentary, because he shouldn’t feel obligated to say the same. “So what kind of pie do they have?”
He turned and look at the carousel behind him. “I think we might have to ask Grace.” He waited until she reappeared and then waved her down.
“Hey sweetie, you ready for that piece of pie yet?”
“I think we are. What do you have today?
“Oh we’ve got a bunch today. We’ve got apple, mountain berry, chocolate cream, coconut, lemon, pecan, and peach.”
He looked at me and waited for me to make a selection. “Mountain berry, please.” It sounded perfect given our surroundings.
“Do you want that a la mode, honey?”
“No, thank you.”
“How about a cup of coffee?”
“No, but do you happen to have a glass of milk?” Grace looked at the Lumberjack and he shrugged his shoulders.
“Whole or two percent?”
“Two percent, please.”
“And how about you, sweetie? The usual?”
He nodded and off she went.
We sat waiting for our dessert, and much like the drive up, I couldn’t think of anything to say or ask that wouldn’t sound forced and lame. Maybe the one thing he taught me this weekend was how to sit in silence, with no pressure of what should happen next or what ought to be happening or what really didn’t need to be spoken. My mind wasn’t rating him or evaluating him, or making mental pro and con lists, or measuring how much he liked me versus how much I liked him. I just sat quietly, still emotionally drained, watching out the window at the meadow, waiting for pie to appear and fix everything I may have messed up this weekend.
Grace returned with two pieces of pie, one apple and one mountain berry, and two glasses of milk. I guess we had more in common than I realized. She set the check upside down near him, and started to turn away when I stopped her.
“Yes, honey, whatcha need?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to thank you for everything. I hope we’ll see each other again soon.”
“Honey, you just come back here any ol’ time you like.”
“Maybe you can show me a picture of your brother.”
“Oh, I have one if you want to see him.”
“Sure, I’d like that.” She left us with our desserts and came back a few minutes later.
“Here he is. He’s the one in the middle. And I’m sure you know that one on the right.”
I looked closely, and behind the moustache and combat gear, I recognized the Lumberjack. I glanced across the table at him, but he lifted the glass of milk to his lip and was looking down. I turned the picture toward him briefly as his eyes peeked over the glass rim.
“Your brother has a wonderful smile in this picture. He looks really happy here.” The Lumberjack looked pretty good, too.
“That’s how Johnny was, always laughing, always cutting up. It was hard to remember that about him at first, to talk about how funny and crazy he was, but once I saw this picture, and once I had someone to remind me of all the good things about John, it was easier to laugh again.
“That’s the thing about good people,” she continued, “I wouldn’t have known all the great things he did in combat, and even in the communities where he served, if I hadn’t had someone to share those memories with me. I also would never have known how he died, or how to heal, or how losing my brother changed me going forward, and for the better.”
She touched the Lumberjack on the shoulder. He looked up and they smiled at each other affectionately. He patted her on the hand. She hadn’t been speaking abstractly about good people, she had been talking about the good person sitting across from me.
I took my first bite of pie and waited for its healing properties to begin.