I was sitting at the desk for my shift, reading a book, as the computer died. (You know, if I was more superstitious, I might be worried about this. Fortune would have it, the person before said it was acting up for her...) I heard the bing, bing, bing of the front door, and looked up, standing and putting on my "professional attitude".
May I help you?
The man smiled, almost shyly, and then piped up, showing me a flyer. I am wanting to learn how to get the book for the boating class. I smiled. This was going to be easy. I reached below the desk and pulled out one of the manuals we hand out.
He wiped his cottony hair from his forehead, and then looked a bit befuddled. Can I take a class? Or is it online? I would like to take it online. I told him about the different methods he could use, and pointed out the phone number on the flyer where he could call the State Marine Board if he need more information.
He fiddled with a shirt button. Opened the book. Then he looked at me, and said, you know, I haven't ridden in a boat for years. My wife has been sick for almost 8 years. She just passed away.
I murmured my condolences. He nodded, sniffed a bit, wiped his hair back again, then said, you know, she was a wonderful woman, even if she did say I had rocks in my head. I chuckled. He started looking through the book. He asked how to find the test. I explained it had a review in the book, not a test, and showed him the pages. He glanced at it and saw the question, "Port is the _____ side of the boat." He harrumphed, and said, never could remember which is which. I piped up, port left red.
The short ones are together, so it's port left red. The other is starboard right green. He nodded, smiling. My wife did memory things like that. His eyes were filled with tears. I said, well, that wasn't my idea, my Daddy taught me that one, Navy man. He nodded, then started talking about some other things in the book.
Then he would drift back to his wife. Things she'd said, (encouraging him to go to a group, rather than stay home all the time), pictures, (from a picture when they were wed, to one a short time before she died), and the fact he was just lost without her.
My professional manner was starting to get a bit sniffly here, folks. I told him that he was getting out, if he was going to go boating, and he agreed, and asked a few more boating questions. Then he drifted back to his wife, and telling about a simple dessert he'd made of a muffin with jelly he had made for her, and then he was short of crying again.
I didn't know what to add, so I just listened. He talked, seeming to look... Lighter than he had. This went on for some time, until another person came in, and I very carefully touched the old man's hand. Sir, I am more than willing to talk more if you'd like, but I need to help this other gentleman. He looked surprised, Oh! I will just go, then.
But he didn't. I helped the other gentleman with a problem, which was quickly solved with a phone call to dispatch, and the young man left.
The older man stepped back, and sighed. You know, I started a sentence, and my wife would finish it. We had 66 years and 9 months together. I winked, and said, well, that makes me a puppy, I've only been married 20 years. He looked surprised, then smiled. Yep.
Then he talked some more, about living through good times and bad, and how he missed her. I told him that of course he did, no one could be together that long and not hurt. He told me he had some male friends that he would talk to that had lost wives as well, and that they told him it would take a while. I agreed.
He then started talking a bit about the book again. Then with a final wipe of his hair, he smiled, and said, Thank you so much miss, I needed some help. Thanks for this, holding up the book. Then he walked out, wishing me a good day. I looked at the clock, and realized he'd been there for 2 1/2 hours, talking.
I hope I helped him have a good day, too.
Husband got a big hug when I got home. And I am still a bit sniffly. Stupid allergies... Ahem.