|Jinny has been very ill and is currently undergoing rehabilitation in a Bangor facility so she will not be writing her article for awhile. She is making excellent progress and hopes to be able to return to writing her column in the near future... Adele.
I found myself in the local mall the other day searching for an item for my son that, sadly, could not be purchased elsewhere. I really don't like the mall. It isn't that I particularly dislike this mall and am fond of other malls - I hate them all, and I will do whatever I can to avoid them. Too much humanity wandering aimlessly in pursuit of nothing meaningful to me.
I have no idea where any particular store is in the mall because I never go there, so I usually just look for one of those big central signs advertising sunglasses or vacations in Bimini on which they include, almost as an afterthought, a schematic rendering of the place with a red star that says, 'You are here'. It is problemactic whether they actually keep the thing updated since stores seem to come and go like subway trains. On more than once occasion I have found myself following the map faithfully only to end up standing in front of a dark storefront with a steel gate locked down tighter than Attica. I was standing in front of the sign looking for the store I needed when a well groomed but frazzled looking middle aged lady in full and expensive LL Bean regalia charged up to the customer service desk and informed them, in a voice heavily laden with fear and emotion, that her elderly father-in-law had taken off while she was in the ladies' room and was wandering about the mall without a keeper which, she suggested would expose him to all number of unthinkable dangers such as pickpockets, ruthless sales people, ill-mannered children, and inconveniently located kiosks. She was obviously quite distraught and gave me the impression that the gentleman’s break out was the fault of the mall's inadequate security. The nice customer service lady expressed the appropriate concern and kindly suggested that everyone remain calm. The frantic woman responded negatively and turned to me. "Would you be calm if it were your elderly confused father-in-law?" She asked me.
Personally, I never could stand my ex-father-in-law so I probably wasn't the best person to ask. "Calm is always best." I intoned philosophically. I try to not commit to anything. For all I knew her father might be the victim of white slavers and half way to Sri Lanka by now. But maybe that was just something I would have wished on my own father-in-law.
Security was contacted and the great lost relative hunt began. They were all told that he was wearing a red cardigan, a particularly bright article of clothing she insisted he wear so she could spot him like a construction flagger. Shouldn't be hard to locate the old gent. I wandered off to look for the store I didn't want to shop in which seemed like more of a challenge to me. I ended up at the end of the mall by a set of side glass doors and through them, I noticed an elderly gentleman wearing a bright red cardigan and sitting ramrod straight on a low wall. I opted for Good Samaritan status and went outside to join him. I sat down next to him and said, "A bunch of people are looking for you, in case you’re interested."
He turned and looked at me. He looked anywhere between 70 and 100. His hair was white as snow and his eyes were bright blue. He was slim and obviously very tall and he didn't look even remotely confused to me. "It must be this hideous sweater that gave me away” he sighed. “ You aren't with the mall stormtroopers. You must have seen my daughter-in-law. I assume that she was being typically hysterical and unpleasant." Oh well, not caring for your in-laws isn't an indication of poor judgment. I ought to know. I told him she was a little tense.
He looked out at the parking lot. "Made everyone around her 'a little tense' as well, I imagine."
I shrugged. "I generally opt for an attitude of sophisticated ennui in these situations."
He raised one hairy eyebrow. "If you know what ennui is the sophistication part is probably easy enough to pull off."
I put my elbow on my knee and my chin in my hand and joined him in attempting to find something fascinating in the parking lot. "I don't know, she might have thought that I was just too stupid to know that I should panic."
"If she was panicked it wasn't out of any tender regard for me. She was probably wondering how she was going to keep her daughter-in-law of the year status and get my stuff when I die." Ouch. "I was an historian and worked for 35 years in the diplomatic service.” He continued, “Traveled all over the world and collected some excellent art. I live on the coast in a house my late wife and I bought a long time ago. I like my books, I like my garden, I like my cat. He's good company and doesn't demand much. I have a nice woman who comes in to clean and do some cooking. I'm content. They drag me up here for a visit on occasion and I go along with it if only to see if the world has suddenly become more interesting than the last time. I never has. She brings me here for some 'exercise', which in reality is the opportunity for her to casually mention stuff my grandchildren need in the hope that I will buy it on the spot. I don't, of course. I go home, call my grandchildren, ask them if they need anything. They usually don't. If they do I order it online and have it shipped to them."
I looked at his bright blue eyes and swore I saw a twinkle. "She said you were confused. That's pretty good planning for a confused guy."
He smiled and shrugged. "Truth be told I do get a little forgetful at times. Part and parcel of the whole last lap before death. Mostly I just pretend I'm so old that I can't recall who she is and consequently don't have to talk with her." This man was a brilliant strategist.
"What about your son?" I asked. He had pretty much summed up the daughter-in-law.
"He's a financial consultant." I got the impression that being a financial consultant rated just below being a hired assassin. "I love him, but he has neither taste nor imagination. I knew his mother was grieved by it, although she would never have said so. She died 25 years ago."
"Sad." I said simply.
"It's sad now." He agreed. "25 years ago it ended the best part of my world forever.” I saw a security guard coming in our direction from the parking lot and stood up. "Unhappily it looks like you've been run to ground. I'll just leave you to your dazed and confused routine."
He looked up at me with one long fingered hand shading his eyes to keep out the glare. "Why aren't you my daughter-in-law?"
"Because your son has neither taste nor imagination”" I reminded him.
He nodded. "I think I'll remember you. Will you remember me?"
I smiled into those startling blue eyes that spoke so eloquently to intelligence, experience, charm and wit. He silently reminded me that now and then, against all odds, we meet someone with whom we share an instant and real empathetic connection that blossoms in a moment and never leaves us. I dislike the mall because I don’t often connect comfortably with humans, but this man in this mall had given me a moment of extraordinary humanity. Of course I’ll remember him. How could I not?