He’s Not Dead Yet
By Todd Crickmer
“Oh My God,” Melissa said to herself, as she tapped her brakes for the umpteenth time. A sea of red lights illuminated the freeway in front of her. She had just read online that Austin’s traffic was supposed to be getting better. But no one would know that during the morning rush hour on MoPac at… “What time is it anyway,” she mumbled aloud? As she glanced at the clock on the dash, the green LED display glared 8:48. “Oh My God, I’m going to be late; I’m going to be late.”
“I hate being late,” she repeated to herself, over and over. And that was especially true for a meeting that she had actually scheduled. And to meet a new client that she’d never laid eyes on before. She couldn’t help but think of her grandfather. “God, he was never late,” she said out loud, though no one was in the car to hear her. Everyone in her family was well aware that if any invitation said 6:00, you could be guaranteed he’d be knocking on your door by 5:55. Her grandfather even set all the clocks in his house five minutes ahead to ensure he’d never be late for anything. “Wow, I guess I didn’t get that gene,” Melissa said aloud.
“Oh good, finally, here’s the Enfield exit,” she mumbled. “Let’s see, I turn right on Enfield and follow it until it dead-ends at the lake – and then which way do I go?” Jeremy, her boyfriend, always drives, and besides, they are usually coming from the other direction. They always loved sitting and relaxing on the deck at Mozart’s on Saturday mornings and sipping a latté, munching a bagel, and watching the ducks slowly circle on the lake in front of them. Cursing one more red light, Melissa now questions why she had suggested their favorite relax spot for a business meeting. “What was I thinking?” She said to herself, hoping the light would change at any moment. “God, my mind is a fuzzy mess this morning.”
“Oh no, it’s 8:59. Which way is Mozart’s? Is it to the left, the right? Oh, there it is! Jeez, the parking lot is packed,” she fumed. “What’s going on? Is it always like this on weekdays?” But once parked and out of her car, another crisis floods her brain. “What does Mrs. Ferguson look like? How am I supposed to recognize her?” Melissa thought back to her phone conversation from the day before. “Let’s see, tall, gray hair… Oh God, she didn’t say that! Oh well, a distinguished looking woman in her eighties, who is looking for a millennial with a notebook. She’ll find me; just relax, Melissa; relax.”
Mozart’s was dimly lit and a little more crowded than she expected. But the robust aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air, and the dark wooden floor and low light actually seemed to ease her stress. She looked around for Mrs. Ferguson and didn’t spot anyone looking as lost as she was.
* * *
That was when I first spotted her. She was a young, slim, twenty-something, with a leather-bound notebook in one hand and tightly pressing her purse against her hip, which was already safely strapped over her shoulder, with the other. Looking extremely nervous, she scanned the room for whoever she was supposed to be meeting. Suddenly she realized she still had her sunglasses on and quickly whipped them from her face, hoping that no one noticed. “No wonder it’s dark in here,” I heard her mutter to herself as she shoved them into her purse. Her nervousness intrigued me, and I was curious to see the cause of her anxiety.
Now apparently confident that she had arrived before whoever it was she was to meet, she noticeably relaxed and began casually surveying each person as they stepped in from the bright morning light. Over the next several minutes, half a dozen people passed through the door, each making eye contact with her and then looking away as they proceeded to the counter. I felt like she was wondering if she had missed her expected connection or if she had totally screwed up the date or time or something. Then, suddenly to her relief, a very well dressed, elderly woman stepped in and immediately approached her.
“Mrs. Ferguson?” the young woman, nervously asked.
“Yes … Melissa?” the older woman answered, with a friendly smile as she extended her hand.
“Yes,” Melissa said, gripping her hand in a nervous but grateful handshake. “I was afraid I was late. I’ve heard that Austin traffic is getting better, but you’d never know it from MoPac. I thought I’d be early, but I had to dodge and weave….”
“Oh, I know,” Mrs. Ferguson said, reassuring her young acquaintance that she was actually the one that was late.
“Where did you have to come from?” Melissa asked.
“Oh, I live right here in Tarrytown. It’s just five minutes away.”
Melissa was clearly beginning to relax. When I first spotted her, I had been standing at the cream and sugar table, adjusting my coffee. But now that she had met up with the apparent, Mrs. Ferguson, I was very curious about the purpose of their meeting. So, as they headed for the counter, I fell in behind them so that I could eavesdrop. I already had my coffee, but I was now suddenly hungry for a scone. I envisioned that the young Melissa would start the conversation by explaining how she and her millennial friends love to come here for coffee. But their awkward silence was graciously broken by the voice of the barista, “What can I get started for you?”
Melissa ordered a double mocha latté with a touch of cinnamon, which was apparently her usual. And the more traditional Mrs. Ferguson ordered a simple brewed coffee.
As soon as their drinks were served, they headed for a window table, presumably to have an unobstructed view of the lake. “Hopefully, the ducks will be out,” I heard Melissa say. “I always thought they added such a serene and peaceful quality to the place.”
As they seated themselves, I quietly took a small table adjacent and behind Melissa. “This is such a lovely place,” I heard Mrs. Ferguson say. “Melissa, did you see the Sweet N’ Low anywhere?”
“Oh, I’ll get it,” Melissa immediately responded, as she jumped to her feet. “Anything else while I’m up?”
“No dear – oh, maybe napkins,” she responded with a reassuring smile.
Now more curious than ever, I settled in with my coffee and began nibbling on my fresh scone.
Once Melissa had returned to the table with the requested Sweet N’ Low, she opened the conversation with, “My boyfriend and I come here almost every weekend. Sitting here with a latté and a hot buttered croissant, and watching the ducks, is always so peaceful.”
Slowly stirring her coffee and staring out the plate glass window, Mrs. Ferguson reflects, “You know, Melissa, I don’t think I’ve ever been here before, but I’m so glad you suggested it.”
“Oh, Mrs. Ferguson, you’re welcome,” Melissa said, as she opened her notebook and nervously clicked her pen. “First, let me say how sorry ….”
Mrs. Ferguson quickly cuts her off with a wave of her hand.
“Oh yes, I understand,” Melissa quickly said, trying to recover from her opening faux pas. “Okay, now I’d like to know more about your family’s wishes for the actual service. Have you picked any Hymns yet – or does your husband have any favorites?”
Mrs. Ferguson paused as she seemed to be searching for words. “Yes, well… Do you have any suggestions? Or what do you normally do?”
“Well,” Melissa started. “There isn’t a standard list. We want to make every service as personal as possible. Now, I understand the service is to be held in the larger chapel. That way, we’ll have lots of options, including live musicians – if that’s what you want?”
“I just don’t know, Melissa. That’s why I’m here – I’m hoping you can give us some ideas.”
“Well, Mrs. Ferguson, many families now hold a Celebration of Life with the passing of a loved one,” Melissa said, as she continued to click her pen nervously. “If I may ask, how many years have the two of you been married?”
“Sixty-one years,” the older woman said with a smile.
“Mrs. Ferguson, that is a truly amazing testament to your love for each other.” I could not see Melissa’s face from where I was sitting, but I could tell from her voice that she was genuinely touched. “We don’t have to do hymns. We could do songs from when the two of you were dating. Do the two of you have a special song?”
Now it was Mrs. Ferguson’s voice that began to crack, “That was over six decades ago. But I’m sure there were several.” She wipes her eyes with a napkin, “I’ll ask him – you know, he’s not dead yet.”