When his son and I divorced, he decreed I would not be allowed to divorce them.
“You’ll always be family,” he said.
And they, he and my mother-in-law, always treated me just like I was. Calling to check up on me and the boys, advising, commiserating or even to celebrate. There’s no counting the times there were checks in the mail to see us through to the end of the month, or for the co-pay on the latest emergency room visit or tucked inside a birthday card. And always, always, about the 10th of December, a Christmas check would arrive, and within the week a fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, and a tin of Fannie Mae hard candies from Chicago would be delivered. Those were good constants.
Some of my great life lessons came from Loren’s wisdom. Some of my toughest times I weathered remembering his sympathetic encouragement, “It will get better.” Loren was a listening ear for all sorts of life’s chew-us-up-and-spit-us-out pitfalls, a phone call away – despite the fact a thousand or so miles that separated us geographically these last nearly 40 years.
“I like to fix things, solve problems” he told me once. “When you’re a grandparent you’ll understand.”
I do. I honestly do.
One freezing winter day when we were living in Peoria, and my car wouldn’t start after work, he came to get me. I was fretting about how much the car repair would cost, how long I’d be without a car – and by the way I really hated cold, icy winters.
Loren told me, “It will be what it will be. It will cost what it will cost. And you’ll make it through, and it will be fine. This too will pass.”
He told me, he’d reached a place in life where he’d learned not to let stuff and things be so worrisome. It was a good place, he warned.
The winter’s rough, he said, but not all bad. Plenty of things to appreciate, he said. Seasons bring a change to our routine. In Illinois, winter is a respite to summer’s heat; summer’s a respite to winter’s cold; fall and spring are perfect. Not a bad way to go.
Loren’s wife, Marilyn, died in 2011. Three weeks later, his son Alan died, and three years ago, his oldest son died. All victims of cancer. Loren moved to Orlando to live with his youngest son and wife and not too far from his daughter and her husband. He’s 92, and recuperating from a broken hip in a nursing home.
We – my son Tyler, his fiancé Stefanie, Tyler’s daughter Kylah and I – went to visit him for the afternoon when we vacationed there last week. I hadn’t seen him since 1992, but I think I would have known him. His voice was weaker, but still wise.
Truth be told, we may have used Disney World as our excuse to go to Florida, but our reason was for Tyler to talk to his grandpa. Loren asked him to come, and I told Tyler we should make that happen.
Loren talked of the good times, the old days, and we listened more than we talked. But I thought as we sat there, Loren and I are the only two who remember life as it was those decades ago. Marilyn and Alan and Jeff are gone. I had a realistic sense of the brothers’ glory days playing on Dallas Thomas Jefferson’s state championship basketball team and had seen them play college ball. I remembered the life-is-good, owe-our-souls-to-the-company-store of Caterpillar Tractor Company’s glory days, when Loren worked in marketing for the company.
One day, no one will know how it was, or why we were how we were. People will keep reinventing the wheel, making it faster, rounder, more durable, but somehow, never quite getting it to the quality it was of the “before” a few of us remember.
We’ve lost some things from the life where phones had cords, and were plugged into walls, where letters were an exciting form of communication, where things could be fixed, saved, passed down and used again. We may not know we’re missing them, but we are.
When Loren told us he was tired, and ready to go back to his room, we hugged long and tightly. “Candace,” he said, “We did a lot of living, had a lot of good times.” He choked on tears and said, “You remember them. Most of the rest are gone now and I miss them.”
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .