I can’t remember when we met, but no doubt he would. Pudge’s memory is legendary.
On Friday nights Pudge would saunter from his bar stool to our table with his beer in hand. The Cozy Corner was the lone spot in Irwin for a bite to eat. John and I often stopped in before heading to the rundown farmhouse just outside of town that served as our retreat from city life.
Pudge a consummate cosmopolitan living in a community of a few hundred. He could connect current events with detailed knowledge of presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan while eliciting a good laugh. He had a baby grand piano and people claimed he had a successful system for playing the horses and the dogs, too.
Over time we sold our country home, John died, and I lost track of Pudge.
Years later, I had my first date with Kevin, whom Google told me grew up in Irwin. “I only know one person from your hometown,” I say. “Perhaps you know him?” revealing I’d not grown up in a small town where of course everybody knows everybody and their business, too.
“Pudge is my second cousin” he said. Looking into his gentle eyes, I could see
Last Sunday Kevin and I returned to Irwin for the memorial service of Mr.Paulsen, the fourth generation owner of the grocery store who’d died at the age of 90. Like all events of import, the rows of chairs at the folding tables throughout the community hall were soon filled with people who’d known one another for a lifetime, their plates filled with barbeque pork and potato salad.
“Here he comes,” Kevin’s brother Steve announced. An afternoon summer sun poured through the double doors as they opened. Moving slowly with others by his side was Pudge, shuffling with the help of a walker. Never a large man and now in his 80s, his back was hunched, and his movements made small by years of living with Parkinsons.
With my Styrofoam cup of coffee and brownie in hand, I took the seat next to Pudge. “Hello,” I said, giving his forearm a squeeze. “Hello, Susan,” he said, looking upward from his bowed neck.
His hand shook as his plastic fork traveled from his plate to his mouth below which his blue mask remained.
How are things in Omaha?
How are your sons?
How are things at the firm?
Despite his capacity for talking on topics of all nature, Pudge always displayed a generous curiosity about the lives of others.
Our talk turned when I was a child going downtown in Omaha and he was a young man coming to the city. We took turns naming the stores, restaurants, and theaters. Brandeis. Woolworth. Neisners Five and Dime. I remembered the buffet my uncle liked; he remembered it was called Bishops. I remembered the deep-fried Cheese Frenchee at Kings; he reminded me the furniture store next door was Orchard & Wilhelm.
Before we knew it the folding chairs were being folded. Pudge’s friend and helper asked if he was ready to go. Using the bright blue belt around his waist, others helped hoist him from his chair to his walker. We said our farewells.
Pudge lost many things since receiving his diagnosis. But what he remembered best was how to be the engaging, curious, and delightful man he’s always been.
Who are the longtime friends you treasure?
How do you enjoy sharing your history?
How do you connect with others in conversation?