This is John

John was waiting for me outside in a toasty warm minivan.  He was the driver of the car dealer's courtesy car. I'd dropped my car off at the dealer with a battery that stubbornly refused to hold a charge and I'd been stranded three times in 24 hours. Though I've patiently waited for a car repairs previously, I really just wanted to go home.

I've been unemployed for months and was starting to feel the financial strain and the loss of a sense of purpose.  I'd starting doing some substitute teaching but often felt like a fish out of water. My skill set is high school counseling, yet I found myself surrounded by elementary school children- some as young as five.  It's been a few years since I've had a five year old and I've never had 23 at once.  It's a daunting task.  The sheer exuberance, the strength of a five-year old's will, the cacophony of sounds were all new and uncharted territory.

John put the van in reverse and I gave him my address.  We started the fifteen minute drive to my home and along the way John told me a little bit about himself.

His children had been the third generation in his family to live in that town- a sprawling town with blue collar roots.  He said he'd complained about the town as his parents had but still they stayed. "Any town has its problems," John said.  He married and raised his own children there, though his children had settled elsewhere in other towns and in other states.  I asked if they came home much to visit and the answer was, "No."  He sounded accepting rather than sad.

John became  my tour guides as we traveled through town.  Past the cattle pens that no longer existed, down the solitary road lined with trees absent the California style ranches that had sprung up in a row- if you only looked through John's eyes.  The travelogue through time continued for the next ten minutes or so.

We didn't pass where he'd once lived but he told me it'd been nearby. Six rooms on one and a half acres.  Trees dotted the property and he had always been so careful when he mowed not to scab the trees- he loved those trees so.  But then his wife died.

His kids didn't want the property and it was too much to maintain. So, he sold it and whittled the contents down to what might fit in three rooms instead of six.  He'd been single, then married, then a father and grandfather.  Years of a blue collar job to raise children; one an attorney and another a small business owner. The third chose a vocation maybe closer to his father's- a carpenter.  I imagined his life, all of our lives, like a balloon- inflating with great force and purpose and then slowly losing air as we end closer to how we began.

We got closer to where I lived.  He pointed to the left and said, "My wife and I used to live in a farmhouse on that land before all those houses were built.  We lived on the first floor."

That farmhouse must have been gone awhile because I don't recall one standing there though the stone walls still stood guard.  It's estimated about 260,000 miles of stone walls meander throughout the Northeast and Connecticut surely has its fair share.  Some have been maintained but others, others have gone "wild" wandering through the forests that have sprung up once the land used for agriculture was abandoned. Their purpose gone.

John asked how long I had lived in the area and surely any answer short of 50 years would have met with the same response, but  I told anyway  knowing how he'd answer.

"19," I said.

"Newcomer," he said.

He looked at the new development and mentioned how big all the houses were and how much maintenance that must take and how he could clean his three rooms in a flash.

But sixteen years ago, he wasn't so quick with the answers.  What's a retired widower to do?  He didn't know. He rose far later in the mornings than he'd ever had and filled the hollow in his days with food-until he decided to go back to work.

The dealership hired him to ferry customers around or fetch parts from other dealers. He mentioned he lived very close to work. I said, "Oh, so they call you when they need you?" He sounded surprised and said, "Oh, no.  I go in every morning."

Every morning for the last 16 years.  John wasn't ready to meander through the rest of his life. Purpose and the passage of time, John had figured out how to handle both.


  1. You have purpose and commitment and a real gift for writing. Redefining what you need to feel like you are making a contribution will come. I have no doubt


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