He had a hearing aid, wore it everyday but never turned it on. Maw Maw Ruth made him go to the doctor and get it because she said he couldn’t hear her anymore.
“Hilding! Hilding!” she’d yell while he tinkered in the workshop; lawnmower parts, carburetors, transistor radios and his cat named ’CAT’ his company. I’m not quite sure if Maw Maw ever realized that the volume was always turned off on his hearing aid, but that’s probably why they stayed married forever. Paw Paw Hilding had a knack for taking nothing and turning it into something. He was the kind of man who knew how to do most anything and everything. Cat watched him, never helped but it didn’t matter. She sat in his lap, silent.
He was a soft spoken Swede with a heart of gold but none in his pockets. He worked hard at every job he had and never complained about doing whatever it took to put food on the table, grateful for what he had. He lived in the same house with the same woman for fifty one years. It was a modest house and it suited him. Every door and baseboard was stripped, stained and finished with his own hands. He had a big garden and a small tool shed. He wore overalls stained with motor oil and his socks smelled like stale Frito corn chips. He had no grand aspirations that I was aware of, but then I never asked. I wish I had…
Fixing lawnmowers on cool mornings and having luncheon meat with rat cheese at 4 o’clock in the afternoon was what made him happy. He was a man of few words, not demonstrative but his beautiful blue eyes spoke volumes. He may have hugged me, but I really don’t remember when. He sure did love me, though. His eyes lit up when I walked in the door.
Maw Maw Ruth passed away in spring and Paw Paw lost half of himself; cancer was taking the rest. Cat had to remind him at 4 o’clock every day that it was time for luncheon meat and rat cheese. He lost interest in tinkering with tools and retired his riding lawnmower inside the dark, sad workshop. He closed and locked the door.
Cat disappeared one day. Night after night he called for her. Night after night, she answered him but he never heard her. One week turned into two then nearly three…
The last time I saw him, I said,”Paw Paw, why don’t we take the lawnmower out of the shed so you can work on it for a while. I think it would do you good.” We opened the workshop and Cat ran out. She had survived weeks on just rainwater and the occasional rat who was unlucky enough to be within paw’s reach. He picked her up, placed her in his lap and started up his lawnmower for the last time.
Paw Paw Hilding passed away one month and 3 days after Cat died. I often wonder if they ever discussed the meaning of life when they were all alone out there in that workshop. I wonder if they ever spoke at all. I doubt it.
They didn’t have to.
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