I should have known that kindly voice when he asked a woman across from me whether she minded him sitting beside her. When he sat down, I looked him square in the face and recognition dawned. "Harold P.," I declared, although I used his full name.
This was the man who baptized me as a 9-year-old girl, who had performed my wedding ceremony and officiated at the funeral of my dad and my maternal grandfather. We hugged for at least a full minute. I was so excited, because I hadn't seen him in 10 years. We reminisced about the time when he was pastor of my childhood church. He and his first wife were good friends of my mom and dad, and our families got together often, even after he left that church.
A funny thing happened as we chatted. The years melted away, and so did the lines in his face and the white of his hair. I was transported back to the time when any problem I encountered could be solved by crawling into my daddy's lap or calling Harold. When I first met my husband, I told my parents that he was a combination of Elbert Hobson (my dad) and Harold. And Jack really did favor Harold, with his dark, wavy hair and receding hairline.
I couldn't believe how much he had changed. The last time I saw him, his hair was still dark and wavy. He had lost a lot of weight, too, and his clothes hung loosely from his large frame. He had always battled with obesity. He explained that the walker was temporary, that his left thigh had been in a cast for several months and he had lost muscle strength. When he got it back, he felt he would be able to discard the walker. When the service man told me my car was ready, Harold and I hugged again, and I didn't want to let go. We exchanged telephone numbers and promises to stay in touch. I intend to keep that promise.
I left his presence with a sense of sadness that I find difficult to understand, much less explain. I was saddened by how old he looked, how fragile, and by the realization that my parents would look like that were they still alive. They were two or three years older than he was. I was saddened by the fact that I hadn't kept in touch with this man who had been such a strong influence on my formative years. I didn't know his second wife had died four years ago. He's 82, so on the way home, I wondered whether anyone would know to inform me when he died.
I wanted to call someone and say, "Guess who I ran into today?" And that's when the sadness nearly overwhelmed me, because there was no one to call. Mom and Dad are dead. My husband is dead. My brother wasn't close to Harold, and my children barely know him. I was overcome with a strong sense of nostalgia. You might even say I felt homesick. What is nostalgia, anyway, but a form of homesickness? Seeing Harold and not being able to tell someone who knew him or who would care made me miss my mom and dad, my husband, my grandparents, even the aunts and uncles who were once such a big part of my life and who I thought would never die. It made me feel so mortal and so alone.
Ever since our chance meeting, a gospel song written by Dottie Rambo keeps playing in my head. "See the bright lights shine, it's just about home time, I can see my Father standing at the door," she wrote. "This world has been a wilderness, I'm ready for deliverance, Lord I've never been this homesick before."