“It ain’t the same without old Harold,” Walter said, between sips of coffee.
I looked up from my apple pie, but before I could say anything, Walter followed his pronouncement by asking Trudy for a slice and more coffee.
We were sitting at the counter at Trudy’s Donuts and Pies. The place tended to get crowded with farmers and business people early in the morning, and teenagers later in the day, but at noon we old-timers ruled. Trudy, with her bleached blond hair, bright red nail polish that matched her lipstick, and indeterminate age, had been baking pies in Eldora, Iowa since long before I moved here twenty years ago. She knew just about everyone in town, not only by name, but by pie preference and what they liked in their coffee.
“It’s too bad about Harold,” she said. “Two creams, a half spoon of sugar and blueberry pie. If I didn’t have blueberry, he’d just sip his coffee and sulk like a kid who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas.”
“Harold sure loved his blueberry pie,” Walter said.
I wondered if that was what they would chisel onto his tombstone. The man had lived seventy-five years, buried a wife, raised four boys, ran a hardware store until Home Depot opened in Cedar Falls, and all we could say was the man sure loved his pie.
Trudy dished up a slice of strawberry rhubarb for Walter with one hand while simultaneously filling our cups with the other.
Walter turned to me. “Gus, you going to the funeral?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m writing the eulogy.”
“How’d you rate that?” Trudy asked.
“Guess I’m the family’s all-purpose writer.”
After the success of my third novel, “Alive and Well,” I had moved to Eldora to get away from the hoopla of New York, the book tours and interviews. It got even more hectic once Hollywood picked up the rights. I imagined myself living anonymously in a small mid-western town, where I could get to know real people and be left alone to write.
It worked for a while, until someone in town recognized the photograph on the back of one of my earlier books.
From then on, I became Gus the Writer. I got to know Harold when he asked me to help him with an advertising insert he wanted to include in the Herald-Ledger and the Hardin County Index. He planned to expand into gardening supplies when Edgar Yoder closed Yoder’s Seed and Feed. I told him I knew nothing about advertising.
“You’re a writer, ain’t ya?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“I’ll give ya twenty percent off at the store. I ain’t asking for free help.”
How could I turn that down? Until the day he closed Harold’s Hardware for good, he subtracted twenty percent from every purchase I made, no matter how much I protested.
“A deal’s a deal,” he’d say.
He also got me to help his boys with their English homework, and when Jackson, his youngest son, applied to college, I wrote a letter of recommendation.
When Ruthie, his wife, was diagnosed with leukemia I took them to the hospital in Waterloo and explained as best I could what the doctor was saying. He’d hold onto Ruthie’s shoulder and wipe away her tears with his bear claw of a hand. The closest he ever came to showing emotion was a sniffle or two.
At the funeral, I grabbed his elbow when I shook his hand. He looked at me like I’d gone insane.
“So what you gonna say about Harold?” asked Walter.
“I’m not sure.”
“He was a good man,” Trudy said. “Be sure to tell how every Sunday him and the boys would be at St. Paul Lutheran wearing their starched white shirts.”
Walter looked up from his pie, rhubarb hanging from his lower lip. “A shame about the store. I hate driving all the way to Cedar Falls for a gallon of paint or a dozen three-inch nails.”
We all nodded.
Walter lowered his voice, as if to share information that might change the spin of the universe. “You know what he told me once? He was sitting right here eating his pie. It was just after he sold the store to Connor to turn it into a grocery. He said it was for the best. Gave him time to go fishing with the boys and fix up the house.” Walter paused to wash down a forkful of pie with a gulp of coffee. “Old Harold didn’t know how to feel sorry for hisself.”
“Maybe that’s how I’ll start the eulogy.” I said. “Thanks for your help, Walter.”
“Yup,” he said, after a long pause. “The man sure loved his pie.”
Wayne Scheer has been locked in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne’s, not the turtle’s.) To keep from going back to work, he’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including, Revealing Moments, a collection of twenty-four flash stories, available at http://www.pearnoir.com/thumbscrews.htm. He’s been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. Wayne can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.