I do not often drive two hours to sit in a pew and mourn someone whom I barely knew. Today was such a day.
I drove first to Concord, a town to which I do not believe I had ever previously been. There, I scored a worthy and welcome road mate, Spike Schau, erstwhile sailor, avid Harley rider, and one-time neighbor to me and the decedent whom we planned to honor. My route to Spike’s home had been somewhat disjoint, due to some weird setting in my phone’s GPS that strives to avoid highways when possible.
With Spike as editorial navigator to the cheeky GPS lady, we made our way in turn to Modesto. Spike slipped from the car before the engine quieted to stroll over to Candice, daughter of John, standing in the parking lot looking strong and somber in turns. As she gathered each of us to her, we murmured what we could. I never know what to say. I remember my mother’s funeral, when people repeatedly told me at least she’s out of pain now. Really? But what about my pain, I wanted to scream. I imagined Candice felt the same, deep inside, so I kept my mouth shut and just patted her shoulder.
As we sat in the airy room, we heard comforting words from a chaplain, the playing of taps, and tributes by John’s brother, sister, son-in-law, and a lovely girl from the facility where he spent his last days. I watched the slideshow and thought about John Adrian as I knew him in my five years of living on ground he relentlessly tended.
I will always think of him in wrap-around sunglasses, with strong tattooed arms and a ballcap turned backward. He would travel the gravel road in his golf cart or ease through the meadow on a tractor. I’d holler his name and he’d raise a hand, though he would never turn his face in my direction. Sometimes he’d dart the corner of his mouth upward, in something like a smile. He’d focus on his destination. He’d pause to let me pass, bob his head in a brief, courteous nod, and then continue.
Once in a while, I’d come home to find that my lot had been weed-eaten or my flowers watered. I’d dart around the house and look east, towards the back of John’s rig. I’d see that golf cart headed home, and know that John had been by. The next time our paths crossed, I’d try to thank him but he’d shrug and raise whatever he held — a cup, or a can, or a rake — in a brief salute.
Occasionally, a backflow in the sewer line would bring John to my row of a Sunday morning. With my composting toilet, I could not be the culprit, so I got a pass from his good-natured grumbling about working on his day off. I’d stand on my porch to watch him toil. He’d provide me with a running commentary about whatever struck his fancy. He had strong opinions and did not mind sharing them. While the sun shone; and the breeze lifted the bright green leaves; John Adrian would opine on the problems of the world, the country, and the plumbing.
John and I did not see eye to eye on politics. He’d call out to me as he passed, “Oh, Corinne, I got you that Trump sticker for your car; put it on for you, too!” I’d grin and answer, “Thanks, John!” If he came upon me standing by the office where his daughter worked, he’d go one better, making a point of connecting some societal malady with whatever Democrat could most easily be blamed, usually the California governor. He’d groan about it loud and long, then laugh and say, “You know I’m just kiddin’ you, right?” He’d chuckle and add, “But not really.” And we would smile at each other. I’d say, “I love you too, John.” He’d raise his shoulders and his eyebrows and then get on his golf cart and away he’d go.
John Patrick Adrian had strong arms, a determined spirit, and a heart with unlimited room for his children, his grandchildren, and his life. I did not know him long, or well. But I had only to see him with his daughters and their children to know the quality of him. I need only see the gleam in his eyes when he looked at them; the husk of his voice when he talked of them; the tightness in his brow when he worried about them. To know John, I can look into the faces of those who loved him. He lives there. His light, and his love, will linger in his family’s gaze long after the end of this difficult day when they stood in a Modesto funeral home and strained to make sense of his death.
It’s the third day of the one-hundred and tenth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.