It was on a Monday morning in western Minnesota when my wife and I were having breakfast at the deli of a grocery store along with her mother, my mother-in-law.
Christmas Day was the Thursday before the weekend and we had held the last Christmas family gathering on the following Sunday.
We were having our final meal together before making the 210-mile drive home.
Sunday’s family celebration had gone especially well with lots of food and much visiting. Even the Minnesota Vikings won the football game that afternoon.
Most of my wife’s siblings and their spouses are in their 60s now and the afternoon conversation seemed to center on retirement or approaching retirement.
It was the first family gathering since the funeral of my wife’s sister, two weeks earlier, which was another topic of conversation.
As we ate our breakfast at one of the tables of the grocery store deli, our conversation continued with my mother-in-law telling about her life during her late teens.
My wife left to get a few grocery items and my mother-in-law and I kept visiting.
A man wearing bright purple and yellow Minnesota Vikings jacket asked if he could sit at our table. There were plenty of empty tables and booths scattered around the room so I was a little surprised at his request.
My mother-in-law has always been a gracious person and told him he was welcome to join us.
I was sitting so I could look directly at my mother-in-law to my right and he took the chair to my left, hooking his cane on the chair next to him.
I had been thoroughly enjoying my mother-in-law’s reminiscing and was not too happy about this party crasher who was going to change the conversation.
I continued facing her as I did not want to encourage any more conversation from this man than I had to listen to. I did not have my back to him, but I had not changed my position since he sat at our table.
He told us that his children had given him his Vikings jacket for Christmas which explained its shiny appearance.
My mother-in-law asked him where he was from and he said he lived in this same town.
Then he told us his wife passed away last Easter. I asked him if it was sudden.
He said it was not sudden. She fell and died four days later.
I told him that sounded sudden to me.
The number was called out telling him his food was ready and he picked up his cane and went over to the pickup window.
As he walked away, I said to my mother in law, “He’s lonely.”
I was realizing this was his first Christmas without his wife. My resentment at his joining us was replaced by sympathy for a man who was adjusting to life after losing his spouse.
I shifted my position a quarter turn when he returned so I could see and hear him.
Over the next 10 minutes I learned about his growing up in central Minnesota and that he was known as a trouble maker at the Catholic school he attended.
He found pleasure in tormenting the nuns who were his teachers.
After high school he went to work in northern Minnesota where he worked on the Iron Range.
“I was a cat skinner,” he said.
“Oh, you ran a bulldozer,” I said knowing that the cat part referred to a Caterpillar.
“I enjoyed that job,” he said and told how he eventually became a foreman.
After retirement he and his wife moved to this town where we were now because he heard “it was a good town.”
He told us a little about his wife of 52 years and that a person should just hug his wife even if it was no apparent reason.
Because she was careful about money, they were able to provide for their six children the things they needed when growing up.
By now my wife had returned with her purchases and he figured out we were together. He told me I should remember to hug her.
It was time for us to leave so my wife and mother-in-law and I stood up to go. I asked the man his first name and he answered, “Bob.”
I leaned down and told him, “I have to go because pretty soon we will both be crying.”
We shook hands and I said, “God bless you, Bob. Thank you for asking to sit with us. The next time I am here I will look for you.”
As I walked away, I was grateful for my mother-in-law’s kindness to a stranger’s request when I was not as receptive to this perceived intruder.
And I thought to myself that while Christmas had ended as far as the calendar was concerned, it needed to be with us all year.
Peace on Earth.
Goodwill to men.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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