Monday, August 24, 2009

Kansas City, MO

On May 27, 1995, I found myself sitting at a small table in the middle of a long-forgotten restaurant in Chicago’s western suburbs, speaking with Don. Don was the second husband of my Aunt Barb, my mother’s younger sister. I didn’t know Don very well, but on this occasion I found myself speaking with him about my desire to join my girlfriend in Kansas City. Don was a good person to talk with because he understood from personal experience the opportunity of finding the perfect person for your life at possibly the most inopportune time. Somehow, he and Barb made it through that challenge. They were made for one another. I was speaking of plans for the future, a month or three down the road, responsibly planning for all my needs in relocating to another city. Don listened patiently and asked me one simple question.

“When does school get out?”

I was a full-time substitute teacher in Cicero, Illinois, and the school year was about to end. “June 9th,” I replied.

“On June 10th, gooooooo!” he told me, without a hint of humor in his voice.

No matter what sentence I began from that point on, Don answered with the same line. “On June 10th, gooooooo!”

He repeated it over and over until I finally understood his point. “If I wait until the timing is right, the timing will never be right,” I explained. There’d always be a reason to stay a little bit longer.

He smiled for the first time in the conversation. And then, in a tone of voice that clearly indicated I understood his message, he nodded and said, “On June 10th, go.”

On June 9th I go’d. I have never regretted that decision.

The Boss met Don for the first time on that very same day. He looked at her across the table as my Aunt Barb asked us a gazillion questions about how we had met and what were our plans. Don sat there shaking his head slowly, side-to-side.

“Kaaansas City, MO,” he said, emphasizing the "Mo."  It was his mantra for the rest of the conversation, a one-liner with a secret story that only Barb knew. He repeated himself so often that the Boss was a little freaked out, a fact that Don found infinitely amusing when we saw him a year later at my grandmother’s funeral. He apologized, and shared with us a highly embarrassing story about doing a favor for a friend by flying the friend from Chicago to K.C. in order to visit family, and spending the night in a home that was so frighteningly filthy that they were afraid to close their eyes lest something ate them while they slept. They escaped the visit without major damage. And with lice.

Don very quickly became the Boss’ favorite member of my family. We didn’t see him often, but when we did we always enjoyed ourselves. I listened to one of their conversations during the reception at my younger brother’s wedding. The Boss explained that she really didn’t need the company of very many people in her life, but that I was the one person with whom she wanted to spend all of her free time. Don understood this because Don understood her. They were cut out of the same cloth, except his preferred companion was my aunt. When the four of us spoke it was clear that we had a lot in common.

Don passed away Sunday morning. He suffered a fatal heart attack while asleep in bed. From the description that my aunt gave my mom, the attack was long and extremely painful. I don’t believe he ever woke up during the event. I received the call about an hour after it happened. Sometimes that’s how our broken world works. I woke up. He was gone.

Don was smart and funny. He was in love with my aunt and he treated her very well. He was a good business man who experienced times of great success and times of business failure, but he always worked his way through the challenges he faced. He was an accomplished private pilot with a calm resolve that allowed him to not only survive a catastrophic plane crash but to walk away from it with his three passengers. And he was the one person in my family besides my aunt who understood that I had to leave Chicago and I had to join the Boss in Kansas City and we had to start our lives together alone.

We will miss him.

Right here.

In Kansas City, Mo.


Bleu said...

He sounds like a wonderful man who understood what really matters in life. My condolences to you and the Boss.

Eat, Fart and Bark said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful man to help push you onto the path of your new life. I'm glad he did. The Boss and you belong together. I'm also glad you two are right here in KC, MO0.

TeacherMommy said...

I'm so sorry, Arby. I'm glad you had him in your life.

CrossView said...

Guy had an Uncle who was my very favorite member of his side. He died a year ago and I still miss him. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm so sorry for the Boss' loss. But I'm so glad that you both knew how wonderful he was.

Kathleen said...

I'm so sorry for your loss (and the Boss's). Don sounded like a wonderful man!

Kellie said...

I'm sorry for your family. It sounds like he will live for a long time through your fond memories....