Home after two weeks away. After we unpacked the car and walked Nola, Dave said, “The last time we came home from a trip, we thought we’d see John in the morning.” Instead, we’d gotten a text from Gale about his stroke, and never saw him again.
Things I want to remember before another trip goes by: How kind John was. How good at evading pointed questions. How he brought us Red Vines and Snickers bars before every road trip, and sometimes for no reason at all.
How each morning, when he stopped by with Bud, he’d tell what he and Gale were up to that day—grocery shopping on their bikes, or taking a day trip to Valparaiso, or painting a table.
How just after we moved in, he gave us an ornate birdhouse he’d rescued from the alley.
How he knew the history of each house in the neighborhood and had a wry name for almost everything. “Missing Pines” for a certain house where they’d been chopped down. “Bubble” for a dog bath.
I want to remember his morning visits, though sometimes I complained about them. They occurred anywhere between seven and ten, and the unpredictability messed with me. In the days before Covid, a visit was signaled with John’s trademark whistle, though masks put a stop to that. Nola would find me in the middle of yoga or about to go into the bathroom or trying to journal, and whine until I went down to let her out. If the weather was cold, I’d also need to find a coat and boots, all of it, and in a bad temper if I was in the middle of something.
And then as soon as I stepped outside, my mood instantly lightened. “I hope you’re having the best day ever,” John would call, as Bud barrelled up the stairs to say hi.
John had treats and praise for Nola no matter how she behaved. “She’s the best dog in the manor,” he would say as she demanded biscuit after biscuit, and “She’s a little angel,” when she barked at passing dogs.
This summer, I moved a writing desk to the back porch, so I’d be right there when John and Bud arrived. By then, he was already weak with the illness that eventually took him. I realized his morning whistle would likely never return, and knew enough to treasure the mornings I had left.
No big life lessons. No personality clashes that left me ego-bruised but ultimately wiser. Just five or ten minutes, almost every day, of off-hand comments about nothing in particular. “Your lawn is looking great.” “Saw Bette Rosenstein at Galter this morning.” “Thinking about giving Bud a bubble.”
His parting message was always the same. “Hope you have the best day ever.” If we saw him later in the neighborhood, he’d say it again. “I hope you’re having the best day.” He said it so often, and to everyone he saw, that I think it’s what he would want us to remember most.