He was handsome. With horn-rimmed glasses, bright eyes, shiny black hair and a smile to melt your heart. And he stood there looking fervent but free, leaning against his brand new Studebaker in a button-up polo shirt and black trousers, grinning up at me from a yellowed scrapbook page resting on the kitchen table. I turned my head toward the man showing me the photo. He was frail now; his black hair thinned and grayed; his glasses a little more practical. But then he smiled and the young man was both in the picture and by my side. His eyes glistened and it was almost like the shiny Studebaker was right there in the living room begging to be driven.
He was not an old man, I realized as I looked at more yellowed scrapbook pages. He was an added-upon being. He was a small toothless boy sitting with his mother in a living room in Holland. He was the father proudly wrapping his arms around three giggling little girls. He was the grinning groom holding hands with a beautiful curly-haired bride. He was the soldier in uniform at a camp in Vietnam. He was the cheerful man with the accordion, playing the tune of a place and time long gone, but not forgotten. He was the smiling person by the sea, in the desert, in a castle, in a garden, in a small apartment. He was the grandfather in a fishing hat, chatting with a grandson at the lake. And he was here on this page before me, the proud owner of a brand-new car, ready to take on the world.
And all of these people – the boy, the soldier, the father, the grandfather, the handsome man in a polo – they look out at me when I look into his eyes. They sing to me when he whispers an old melody. They beg to not be forgotten, even when the body they live in has grown frail and the laughter that comes out of it isn’t as loud as it used to be. They plead with me to remember all the people inside this one man, so that when I look at him, I will not see an old man, but a great man; a collection of so many experiences that looking at his stature does not do him justice. To see the boy soldier father grandfather handsome man, you have to look at his soul. Look in his eyes. And then when you hug him, you know you’re embracing decades of memories and experiences and darkness and light and pain and beauty and love.
And you feel so very glad you came.