I can just imagine it: the way his usually rigid jaw and tight lips would soften in a half-smile. When told, he would query quietly, “Am I?” His blue eyes would twinkle and he’d pause just a second then say, “Well, I guess I am,” and chuckle softly. He was not a man to wallow in his accomplishments but this is something he wanted for so long. He would have turned 100.
You would have never guessed his age. His appearance, like the rest of him, was both an open book and an enigma. Stripes and plaids, a copper bracelet, a belt of twisted cable, the watch he wore upside-down. Though he offered no pretense, you never knew him well until you read between the lines. He did not waste words but neither did he mince them. A single glance spoke volumes. He did not lavish praise but conveyed his love unfailingly.
Strong as a mountain, soft as limestone through which a river cuts a path, he motored through life on a vehicle of his own making. Crooked nails, unpainted wood, rolling bales of wire. Short Sunday drives, long dusty roads. Striding on 6-foot stilts. He worked with what he had and went where life took him. He strapped together all that was useful and discarded that which was not. He righted himself when things went wrong. He bridged the gap. He traveled light.
His was a quiet way that said so much. He was a man of conservatism with a bold stripe of eccentricity. As curious as a cat, a zebra of a man, a lion king… a dying breed?
For all that he lost, he never lost his way. What he couldn’t remember was trivial compared to all he held on to. His memory of wife and family could not be wrestled from his grasp. What he couldn’t see was inconsequential to him, for he then listened more and sat at peace among the shadows and outlines left to him. Life in black and white. Somehow it suited the colorful man that he was.
Yes, he would have peered curiously at the cake we placed in front of him. “For me?” he would ask, a thick finger itching to swipe a swath of frosting. He would have loved it when we reminded him the celebration was for him. He would have loved it, again and again, 100 times over.