My godfather passed away overnight. He was 83 and had been ill for quite a while. I am the only one in my clan who lives upstate, so I haven’t seen him too much these past few years. I heard how things were going, so I went down over the holidays to visit him at the nursing home. I didn’t expect him to recognize me, but he did. I didn’t think he’d be able to hear me either (he wasn’t about to spend money on a hearing aid when he was old and was just going to die anyway—this went on for about 15 years), but he could. My dad was 18 years younger than Uncle Walter and they had been close all their lives, so Dad spent a lot of time taking care of him and doing for him toward the end. When Dad knelt down by the bed and told him I was there to see him, he replied, “Yeah, they told me she’d be here soon.”
I told him about my recent wedding and showed him pictures of my children. I told him about all the dogs and cats and sheep and chickens we have now, and the turkey, and this led to a conversation about the nursing home’s chicken management strategy, somewhere in the ether between how my grandparents did their annual flock planning and what turned up on the lunch cart at the nursing home. We rhapsodized a bit about roasted chicken on Sundays, and were just getting on to roasted rabbit when the nurses came in to help him dress and give him his medicines. This process must have been exhausting, because after that he went inside himself and was apparently too tired to come back out.
Today I have been thinking of another thing he said to me that day. I asked him whether they’d gotten snow a few days before and he said, “Yeah, when I seen them high cirrus clouds, I knew snow was coming.” I know there is snow coming to us tonight, so I went out to see whether I could tell that from the clouds. Sure enough, they were high, wispy bands. Then I realized that he'd learned to read the weather because he was a pilot, flying his own little Piper, whose engine he had rebuilt himself. Yes, his house and barn and the yard in between were crammed with boxes and piles of junk, but maybe that was because you never knew when you would have to build a flying machine from scratch, go taxiing down the driveway and sail off over the cornfield across the road.
This is a good time to resort to the Elbow song Weather to Fly.