There are relationships that are so admirable, you can only watch in wonder as the two people love one another. My parents; grandparents; a handful of close friends. A few months ago, I started reading Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” I can hear her rusty singsong voice in my head as I take in her words, as if she’s narrating the prose only for me, sitting across from me in my little homespun living room. When she writes about her Paul, it rings of a love so true it’s tangible; the comfort of it folds you into its embrace. If only we were all so lucky as to find our Paul.
The “how it began” is simple and true. My parents were visiting, and on a drive with the kids, my mom spotted a 1974 Chevy C20 for sale at the end of a winding country driveway, on the same road that I had come to call home. She mentioned it in passing to my dad and I that night as we worked on our latest project and cleaning the barn. The next day en route to the hardware store for the third time, we purposefully headed the opposite direction, toward the old truck. I called and he answered. “I’ll be right down,” the friendly voice said.
A few hours later and the truck came home with me to the ranch. Then down came the man we had been calling Jim (though turns out not his name) and his mom, who owned the truck. She told me of its original owner, Uncle George, who would take the truck camping with his beloved wife Helen. Aunt Helen had a lucky rock that had, as legend has it, helped bolster her winnings at the casinos a few times. Somewhere in Uncle George the truck was Aunt Helen’s rock. We talked for about an hour about livestock and goats. He tipped his white hat to me and set off to drop his mom back at her home.
In the months that followed, I used Uncle George for darn near everything. Trips to the dump, runs to the feed store, a quiet drive in the country with my dog. I’ve bought lumber and built projects thanks to Uncle George’s industriousness and mobility. My children played in the bed while he’s parked under the big shade tree that abuts the front pasture. Life couldn’t get much better.
Over those months, I went on a handful of dates with seemingly decent men. Some were worse than others. After a while, I put it all aside, focusing instead on my children, work and animals. I started training Stella to walk beside me holding her collar; rode horses; felt free.
He showed up unannounced one day in my driveway. I was getting ready to go to a concert with friends, and had just finished a long day of farm chores and had jumped in the shower. I was in a towel when I answered the door; he was standing over by a quad, the white cowboy hat catching my eye. “HI! Five minutes, give me five minutes!” I darted back inside, threw on some clothes and ran outside. He was there with an offer of fence posts and railroad ties, free to a good home, complete with an offer to dig holes using heavy equipment that’d be on hand in a few month’s time. I mentioned it to my mother the next day. “He said to tell you hello,” I relayed.
Days later, I texted him a question about watering systems. “I’ll come take a look. Are you around tomorrow?” Of course, Fourth of July. An invitation to join my children and I and our close friends was extended. He accepted gladly. His white hat gleamed in the Independence Day heat, but the conversation flowed as if already an old friend.
I had been mowing the next day when he came by on a tractor to deliver help in the form of fencing materials. Giant fence panels and ties to stake down rusted, rolling fencelines. To me, they gleamed like diamonds. He sledgehammered stakes into the ground beside me, not batting an eye at my ensemble of camo shorts, tank top, old hat and work boots, complete with white socks showing. But on his way out, he slowed his rig down and grinned. “That’s a good look you know. You wear it well!”
A few days passed and I texted him to thank him for his help and generosity. Country folk help one another out, but this was beyond the call of duty. I offered to take him to dinner in an attempt to at least show gratitude for the materials he gave without pause. Somewhere, that dinner turned into a day of dining and horse races, laughter and fun. Somehow, that day turned into weeks. But there is something about the way he wears his heart on his plaid-shirted sleeve, his relentless knowledge of livestock and the country that’s in his blood, and the way his cheeks catch his dimples as he grins that gives me pause and makes me smile with each passing day. Jimmy Durante’s “Make Someone Happy” streams relentlessly through my head.
This man I called by the wrong name for days. My neighbor and friend. Somehow, some way, I just may have stumbled across something of wonder.