The flowers were planted, all the bushes trimmed. The man stepped back for a moment as he would invariably do. He spent time thinking about each of the six.
As always, the man was overwhelmed. Thoughts, history, sadness, joys, tears, laughter. They all flicked through his mind, in rapid fire sequence like the riffling of a stiff new card deck by a Vegas dealer. These were all very strong people. He could never measure up to them, the man knew. He could be weak. And weakness was a sin. Particularly in their presence. Even here. They would forgive him, of course. They always had. But it was a pardon he never could accept.
He focused for a minute on the grand old man. Some are born patrician. The grand old man was certainly not cut from that cloth. A working man his whole life. Shaped by the trenches. The gas. And then the massive industrial accident that shocked a region. The grand old man knew he had cheated death more times than could be counted. It was precisely because of this that he cared only for and took pure pleasure in simple matters … the warmth of family, the long deep draw of a carefully crafted roll-your-own, an icy beer after a drudgery filled day on the factory floor, a weekend card game with his mates. He wasn’t a religious man to be sure; he had seen more horror in his early years than most have ever witnessed. The grand old man may have been on speaking terms with his Maker, but they weren’t the best of friends. He would begrudgingly forgive perhaps, but he would never forget the horror.
Wiry, often profane, though a friend to all, he would give no quarter. Especially when crossed. If you crossed him, you had better hope Hell was shortly in your future, for surely it was less painful than angering this man.
The child usually perched near the grand old man. The bond was there from the very beginning.
“Come here Sunshine” the grand old man softly called to the child. The tot climbed down from his mother’s knees and quickly covered the few paces to the old man’s easy chair. As the 2-year old watched, wide-eyed, the grand old man poured from his tea cup into his saucer.
“Oh, Dad, don’t give him your tea! He’s too young, he’s still a baby,” the Mother scolded.
“He’s fine,” the grand old man guffawed. “This one can handle anything you throw at him. He’s going to be as tough as nails. He’s one of us. I know. You’ll see.”
But the Mother never did get to see. It wasn’t her fate.
Of all the tragedies he had witnessed, this was the one the grand old man could never forgive his Maker. There would be a reckoning for this. When the time came and he met his Maker, he hoped he still remembered how to use the bayonet.
“Listen, Sonny. You blow across the saucer like this, so it’s not too hot”. The old man gently blew across the liquid laden saucer. “Understand?”
With both hands the child firmly grasped the filled saucer. He nodded and then he, too, in perfect imitation slowly breathed out across the rippling tea. Eagerly the child slurped it down, with gratitude and pride in the gift, being especially careful to spill nary a precious drop.
The grand old man smiled and chuckled at his grandson in approval.
Staring at the names and the dates chiseled into the granite, the man smiled, too. At that first memory, no less permanently etched than the letters and numerals in the stone. Forever a part of him.