“If you had asked me ten years ago I would have told you that she would die of a heart attack in ten years” a much loved customers upbeat but still soulful voice when I asked how his mother was doing. He had come in last week and actually kind of apologized that he and his wife had missed my sparkling wine tasting because his mother, the one that had just been released from the hospital for some other old person issue had suffered a heart attack. My own heart sank, both when he first told me and as he spoke to me this evening about the very real feeling of actually losing the mother he had been preparing to lose for ten years now.
“I can’t stay long” famous last words for this particular, sweetly engaging man that my whole staff adores and even this less than pliable store manager cannot resist. “I can’t stay long. I’m making dinner for my mother” a slow Sunday afternoon at the shop, a regular customer and I sharing tastes of wine, sharing laughs and sharing stories….our stories. Part of me fell in love with him that day, the way he just sipped away and as each drop of leftover wine passed his lips his barrier, or maybe it was mine…fell apart in chunks about our feet. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this” his words landing on my full ears as sweetly and innocently as the stories that he spilled. My heart full of him, his stumbling, the chuckle in his voice as he spoke of his mother getting turned around and how his teenage son had to rescue her and help her find her way home. That first Sunday of he and I was fluttering around in my chest as we spoke tonight…
“So what ya making your mom?” I asked, “Pot roast, she loves pot roast” he responded which led into me asking about the dishes he grew up with, what this woman he was making dinner for made him. “Pies. She makes amazing pies” he told me and as he and I stood in the tasting room, his pours slightly deeper than mine, (I had math to do later with that whole closing business) me falling, he just spilling and our hour of true introduction bringing us closer than I’m guessing either of us was expecting.
“Come with me” I told him after he had run through the wines at this afternoons tasting. I had a bottle of Champagne that was aging, a bottle that had been opened four days ago and had just enough “spark” to massage my recovering palate, just enough sparkle to distract him from where he was headed. We slipped into the kitchen, me sliding my time card into the time clock, punching out…this time was for him. Not about the store, not about me, it was a moment for him to talk, for me to listen, ask questions…be there with a cold glass of Agrapart Blanc de Blancs, laughing, pouring and hearing…feeling with him.
“I thought I was ready but…” as those painfully honest words landed upon me it took everything I had not to wrap my arms around him but that was not what he needed from me. Not what he expected and not what I would ever think of imposing. “My husband’s grandfather used to say, They should line us all up…everyone eighty and older. They should line us up and shoot us. We are a drain on the system and on our children.” Me sharing my own remembrance of the one “grand” that stole my heart. My husband’s grandfather, he was like eighty four when he said it and watching that big eyed, old east cost macaroni factory worker turned nursing home curmudgeon rail against the fuckers that told him meatballs and sausage were bad for his health were in my head as I watched that sweet man struggle with the realization that his very own laughable oldster might not be around much longer.
Loss I know…know it better than most. Lost my father at six, lost my mother at twenty-nine…the less than laughable oldsters long before that. I became the matriarch of the family before I was thirty…soothing others is a role I can slip into without even batting an eye but tonight I found myself longing. Longing for wisdom, words…can you believe that, I was aching for words to heal this man that wanted nothing more than to stand in that narrow kitchen with me, eat little leftover bits of cheese…drink Champagne and not visit his mother who had taken a turn for the worse. What could I give him? What could I say….how could I keep my tears from flowing as I sucked in my breath and thought of this man making pot roast, sending his son to help grandma find her way home and his lifelong love of her pies?
Agrapart. I just kept pouring the Agrapart and let him talk. The conversation shifted from his woes to my writing, (Gawd how humbling) his wife’s writing and the shifts he has made in his life since his kids are now off to college. Just there. I was just there and cannot think of another place I would rather have been. An honestly open and exposed heart is a rare thing to be invited into and through all of his anguish and avoidance of what the rest of the evening held, this man found something in my adoration, in those bits of cheese…in those shared glasses of Champagne. I in turn found a massive reminder that selling wine is second to what it is we do at The Wine Country.
Bill, as I told you in the parking lot before we both went our own ways…I could not think of anything but you all evening. Thank you. Thank you for letting me close enough to feel this, for sharing your heart, for being that customer that we all love. We are all thinking of you and will be here with a glass of bubbles, Malbec, Petit Chablis when you need us.