I ran into one of my father-in-law's friends at the collection center for the local battered women's charity recently.
As we stood by the open hatch of my minivan, he couldn't help but survey the boxes and piles of things I was dropping off: the packages of baby-blue adult diapers and the old textbooks, mismatched coffee cups, ashtrays, serviceable kitchen tools, clothes. The remains of a household. The scraps of a daily life.
Naturally, it's not one of my own friends I see. Nor one of my mother-in-law's pals, whose understanding I can rely on -- woman-to-woman, we've all faced this chore. We've teamed up to get the job done for widowed and orphaned acquaintances. More than once. We joke sometimes about the pile we will ourselves leave behind one day.
But of course it's one of Pappa Joe's pals here outside the thrift store. He was one of the guys who visited often during the weeks of Joe's short, sharp decline, and whose practical kindness I remember fondly. Still, he was part of the salty crew of characters -- the Bad Boy Carving and Tuesday-Night Rum-Drinkers Club -- who kept egging on Pappa Joe to continue his testosterone-fueled adventures. The gang who, from my vantage point, anyhow, never permitted a graceful exit off the podium of alpha guys even when Joe turned 65, 70, 80 and looked a hundred years older.
This is the man who shoots the breeze with me in the parking lot while casting an eye over the cardboard cartons and the garbage bags of clothes.
I washed them, I want to say, but no one wanted this stuff. And besides, I want to explain, it's been more than a year. It's just things, and someone else needs to be putting them to use.
But he inhales, ponderously, and holds his breath for a long moment before telling me why he's here.
He's careful to explain how he's dropping things off from the other branch of the shelter's thrift store. How things have to get moved between the stores. Rotating stock keeps the customers shopping. It's important.
I feel my shoulders relax as I read the subtext. He wants me to know that he's not throwing out someone's beloved collection of treasure either.
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