It was the morning after and with only about an hour’s sleep I needed espresso. I stopped at the supermarket to get a Starbucks before heading to my Mom’s. I looked like a shell of myself. When I was ordering someone brushed past me in the line. It was a slim man with a baseball cap and for a minute I thought it was my brother. It would be just like him to give me a shoulder check when he walked by.
I did a double take and watched him turn the corner. Had the last twelve hours been a dream? I wanted it to be but my bone chilling fatigue said no. That guy wasn’t Craig. He was on his way to the funeral home where I’d be later in the day making his final arrangements. Growing up I could have never imagined doing that—maybe for our parents but not him.
When I picked up my latte at the counter someone had left a penny. I picked it up because that’s all I knew to do, but I wasn’t happy to find it. It felt like a stark reminder that somehow life was going to have to carry on. My brother’s legacy wouldn’t be served well by me lying in bed until I felt better.
In the weeks that followed out of sheer willpower I did just that—I carried on. Often that involved going to what I call my “hub” aka Horizon Plaza. It’s where I buy groceries, fill prescriptions, go to the bank, get gas, pick up a bottle of wine, and let’s not forget coffee! I’m there so often that if I’m not for a few days, somebody will ask where I’ve been.
Of course, it’s not just my hub. It’s my Mom’s too and it became my brother’s after he moved here. So much so, that I really didn’t need to stop by her place to see him. I could just wait to run into him. This was the beauty of living close. His wit made what was routine more fun, because he couldn’t just run into me—he had to make his presence known.
Like at the bank drive through when he snuck up on me and jumped in the passenger seat asking if he could borrow twenty bucks. Scared the daylights out of me but cracked me up too. Another trick was to walk by when I was ordering coffee and say something like, “She’ll have a mocha-licious-delight with an extra shot of love hold the whip.”
Bumping me with his cart was a given and he always inspected mine asking what was for dinner and what time he should come by. If Mom was with him she’d say, “Leave your sister alone she has enough mouths to feed” which just opened the door for him to say, “so what’s one more?”
Subconsciously, this is what I knew I would miss that first morning when the guy in the ball cap brushed by me. I’d miss all the laughter my brother brought to the most ordinary of situations. That was his gift and you could always count on him to share it.
I suppose that’s why this week when my Dad called and I could hear his heartbreak I told him,
“You know what you need Dad—some “Mechanical Boy”.
“Mechanical Boy” from the television show H.R. Pufnstuf is the official soundtrack of what could be called the “Van Stories” from our childhood. As kids our Dad tortured us with road trips every summer in an orange Volkswagen van that had no radio.
As a form of protest we sang that irritating song hourly. Even when the van was retired and Dad got a Camry we still sang it. As allies it was our way of saying, “You know we have the power to drive you nuts if we want too.”
“No, not the Mechanical Boy,” my Dad said pretending to be horrified.
“Yeah, that’s it. You need it. Craig would want me to sing it so expect it on Friday if you call.” My Dad laughed and I thought my job was done.
Then Friday came and marking the anniversary of Craig’s death proved harder than I expected. I was in no mood to sing and by late afternoon when my Dad hadn’t called I figured he was too sad to hear it.
There were groceries to be bought so I headed to my hub thinking it was a good distraction. Of course that’s when my Dad does decide to call.
“Okay” his voice boomed. “I’m ready. Hit it.”
“Dad I’m at the grocery store.”
“Even better,” he said. “Let me hear it.”
I hesitated for a moment and when a guy in a cap squeezed past me I knew I had to go for it. My Dad wasn’t waiting as much as my brother was. So, I summoned his sense of humor, got the motions going, and sang my heart out on aisle three.
The salad dressing didn’t seem to notice but more than a couple shoppers steered clear. It was hilarious. My Dad laughed like crazy and in that moment I found the sacred in the mundane—which is exactly how my brother would want to be remembered.
In hindsight I realize, that’s what the penny I found the morning after he died was saying. God was reminding me that He would find me wherever I was at—just like Craig. A year later I know this to be true, and there’s a world of baseball caps out there to prove it.