“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”
— Buckminster Fuller
I learned recently that a dear man, an old poet I once knew, had died. This morning I woke up remembering the day I met him.
The man was seated with his wife at a writing workshop. I noticed them because there was a shine surrounding them both, a patina that caused me to look at them until my curiosity could stand it no longer.
I turned to the woman next to me. “Who are those two older people sitting by themselves on the front row?”
“That’s R.B. and Lydie Cahill,” she whispered.” She rolled her eyes as if to say anybody with a lick of sense would know who they were.
“They’re a fixture here at this writer’s seminar,” she added. “Every summer they drive down from North Carolina because this is where they met and fell in love. Isn’t that the sweetest thing you ever heard?”
About that time, R.B. approached the podium to read a humorous poem he had penned. He talked like he laughed — as if he constricted his vocal cords on purpose, twanging his “A’s” like hill people often do. When R.B. said something that began with an “A,” it came out flat, like when you say, “that fat cat.” Gomer Pyle talked like that, too.
I later learned that he told tall tales on himself. Once he said, “Lydie told me, ‘R.B., just look at yo’sef in the mirror ‘cause you got chock-lit ice cream stuck to your mustache.’ I laughed real hard when I saw it dripping off my chin onto my new shirt that I paid a bunch of money for. I told Lydie it would make a right good story. Haw. Haw.”
R.B.’s laugh, if not his tall tales, was infectious.
When he wasn’t wearing chocolate, he sported long muttonchops that curved around his long face. That type of sideburn suited him because it framed his ruddy complexion that colored even his pencil-straight nose. Every time R.B. smiled, that nose of his joined up with his lips and crawled up his face like the two were in cahoots. Still grinning, he would take his index finger and push his silver rimmed glasses back up. He did that a lot, I noticed, because he smiled so often. I never heard him whistle, but during all the years I knew him, I expected him to walk into a room, his lips poised in whistle mode. Happy, contented men like to whistle.
R.B. didn’t wear bright pink trousers, he headlined them. His royal blue suspenders topped off either a black or pink Polo shirt buttoned all the way up to his Adam’s apple. I’ll bet Polo shirts were the only concession he ever made to popular trends. R.B. was a man way past caring about fashion statements — he made his own declarations, and he made no bones about it.
You have to admire a man like that.
He was a born romantic with an innate sense of how to make his woman feel special. He was always loving and gentle around Lydie. It seemed like he wanted to touch her as often as he could, if only with an occasional tap. After a while, he would lean in closer and closer to her until his slightly smiling face had brushed up next to her silver hair, just behind her ear. Pretty soon, not hurriedly or without thinking, R.B. kissed that little section of her hair. It was ever so gentle and Lydie, accustomed to his loving ways, barely blinked. But she noticed.
Their devotion to one another stretched beyond that which had been carved out over the years of living together as man and wife. They were joined as one long enough to compliment each another like Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Pinky.
When Lydie began to lose her hearing, R.B.’s ears became her ears. Much like the tender kiss he planted on her hair, Lydie scarcely noticed the transition. I doubt that either of them was ever consciously aware of her hearing loss. They functioned as a finely tuned, well-oiled piece of people machinery, the kind that slides into place at the first sign of a glitch.
His old eyes became even weaker toward the end, making it necessary for him to wear thicker glasses and to squint. But if I were asked, I would say that even with poor vision, R.B. Cahill saw beyond pink pants, blue suspenders, hearing loss or time ticking away. This unique human being learned to peer deeply into the souls of others.
Maybe that was the quality that gave him the special smile he wore — a grin that emerged from a cocoon spun of sheer joy and unconditional love. It was a grin that crawled like a caterpillar all over his innocent, child-like face to finally morph into a flawless, beautiful laugh that might have been uttered by a butterfly, if a butterfly only knew how to laugh.
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