Blake's retirement party
After finishing a 16 hour shift, I hustled to my P.O.V., and raced out to my friend's retirement party, already in progress.
I met Blake and JoAnn when I was 4 years old. They were friendly, educated Southern stock. She, a former lab technician and tech person. He, a former Army mustang and now a USDA extension agent. They stepped into our church, and were soon lay leaders. They had an easy, non-invasive, infectious manner that implies that service to others is FUN. In the 30 or so years that I've known them, I've never had any reason to doubt their sincerity on any subject, and have never been preached to. They have a successful marriage, and begat a pair of daughters that are as fine and talented as any ever seen. I happen to regard those daughters very much like sisters.
When I was in 3rd and 4th grade, I used to catch the bus over to their house after school, along with Blake and JoAnn's daughters. We used to play Horse on their driveway under a hoop that Blake had put up for the girls. I almost bankrupted them with my daily after-school consumption of peanut butter. Sometimes I would "help" Blake with his garden before my mother would come to pick me up. Blake has always loved to grow things. That degree in botany came in handy.
When I got married, Blake insisted on cooking for the reception, and wouldn't take anything for it. Blake showed up with his own barbecued beef briskets, and smoked barbecued hams, and smoked chicken, and his beans, and Gawd knows what all. Blake has always loved to cook things, and while he's heard of bland cooking, he wants no part of it. Blake's Sunrise Service breakfasts are famous in our church, and I guarantee you that over the years they've accounted for thousands of early appearances to church by backsliders.
Blake also tells the truth. A federal employee and by this time a man of some rank, he was called upon to support a claim that our region had undergone a horrible drought, so that aid could be provided. He embarrassed some when he did his job and dutifully reported that in fact, we had more rain than usual, that year. Blake was trained as a biologist specializing in botany-- science is science.
When Blake and JoAnn were diagnosed with cancer a little while ago, they didn't feel sorry for each other; they supported each other, and beat it into remission in each of them.
Are you beginning to get the idea that I respect this guy? That I respect JoAnn? Good.
At the party, I reunited with my wife and kids, whom I hadn's seen in three days, due to all the overtime I've been working. (I'd been staying at my Dad's and Holly's.) There were about 40 cars there. Barbecue, and potato salads, and good beans were laid out on the back porch. Also good bottles of wine, and sweet tea, and cold beer. Blake was chatting and enjoying himself, which made me glad. I looked around and found JoAnn, who had arranged this party for Blake, but also a little for herself.
Their older daughter, Shannon, is a dentist in Eugene, Oregon. Shannon has a husband and a pair of beautiful girls, and a stepson there, in a sprawling split-level mountain house. Their younger daughter, a professional ballet dancer and licensed physical therapist, lives in Washington, DC and has yet to produce them some grandchildren, so they looked around Eugene, and found a nice place with some land for Blake to garden on.
Just before I left, Blake stood up and gave an impromptu speech to his assembled friends:
"A lot of people have asked me how we can just pick up and move after having built a life here for 40 years in Texas. And it's true, we've made friends and relationships that we can't ever replace. But 4 years ago, JoAnn and I each had a little touch of the C-word. And we came to a realization. You see, JoAnn and I don't save the good wine. The good wine is for drinking with your friends and your family. We've quit putting off any happiness. And frankly, if I waited too much longer, I wouldn't be able to make this move."
I went up and gave Blake a hug, and hugged JoAnn before leaving. My daughters and my wife walked with me down the driveway on which I had played basketball on so many lazy afternoons a quarter century ago. I realized that I may never again tread that ground, and I found myself steadying against my older daughter's shoulder; because the world had gotten a little blurry.
Must be sleep deprivation, making my eyes water.