Ann Smith, I’ve been human for awhile now…
There used to be this restaurant that had this certain dish that I really loved, so anytime I visited that city, I’d go to that restaurant for lunch. I’d usually eat by myself and read through paperwork for an upcoming meeting or something, it was very enjoyable.
One day when I was driving towards the restaurant, I noticed an elderly gentleman zipping along the sidewalk in the same direction I was going. I smiled to myself because he had a smile on his face and his white hair was blowing in the wind. By the time I parked my car, he was at the front door of the restaurant like he was waiting for someone. He was all dressed up in nice trousers, a pressed striped shirt with a bow tie and his shoes were shined. Just at that moment, my phone rang and it was my boss with an urgent matter, so I climbed back into my car to sort things out. By the time I finished, 45 minutes had gone by. I was starving and really looking forward to my meal. When I headed towards the door, the gentleman was still sitting there only now he was not smiling and his shoulders were slumped. As I approached, I smiled at him and said “you’ve been sitting here for a while, is your date running late?”. He gave me a weak smile and said “I think she just forgot. She’s very busy, my daughter, she’s an attorney and has a lot of important cases! I was hoping this time she’d remember.” His blue eyes looked a little shiny and my heart broke.
“My name is Ann, what’s yours?” I said, reaching out to shake his hand. His face brightened and he said “Giuseppe, but everyone calls me Joe.” “Well Joe, I’d be honored if you’d consider having lunch with me, I’m here alone and would really like the company”. He broke into a big smile and said that he’d love to.
We spent the next 2 1/2 hours talking about his family (his wife Domenica had died 3 years ago and they had one child, a daughter named Francesca who was a criminal defense attorney in the area. He and Domenica had grown up in the same town in Northern Italy and both immigrated to the United States when they were teenagers. He said his proudest moment was when they became citizens of the United States.
He worked as a carpenter, building beautiful handmade furniture and creating woodwork and staircase banisters for some of the beautiful homes in Georgetown and the DC/Virginia /Maryland area. His wife was a teacher who loved to garden. She still volunteered 4 days a week at a nearby elementary school, assisting teachers with copying, getting craft projects ready, etc. She loved children and they had wanted 6 children as they both had come from large families, but Francesca was the only one. He feared they had spoiled her a bit because, while they loved her deeply and knew she loved them, she had become embarrassed of them and their ‘old ways’ and after she left for university, they didn’t get to see her very much even though she lives in the same area.
He had been in the Navy and served in the Korean War and been stationed in Okinawa as well as around the Philippines. He and Domenica had been married for 55 years until one day, she caught a small cold and a headache. By the evening, she was in ICU and she died the next day. She had contracted the measles which developed into encephalitis. He said she had gotten measles from an outbreak at the school which was one with a lot of families who did not vaccinate their children. He missed her every day and said their little dog, Lupo, still looked for her to come through the garden gate every day at 3pm.
He asked me about my life and we chatted about everything and anything until the restaurant staff was making eyes at us so they could begin setting up for the dinner crowd. I offered to bring him home, but he said he enjoyed the walk and chuckled as he waved his hand towards his scooter. I gave him my cell phone number and my email address (he was very pleased to let me know he was ‘on the internet’ and we kept in contact for several years, meeting monthly for lunches at our favorite restaurant until one day I received a phone call from a woman who said her name was Francesca. She wanted to let me know that Joe had passed away in his sleep and that my name was on the list to call. We agreed to meet and I explained how we had met and how we had been meeting *monthly for lunch and conversation. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she said “you were the daughter he didn’t have”. She felt terrible remorse for being embarrassed about their old country ways, their humble careers, their simple lifestyle in a city where everything matters. She thanked me and hugged me and thanked me again for being there for her father when she wasn’t.
I got an email from her two weeks ago telling me that she had volunteered to help out with Honor Flight in honor of her father. I told her that he would have been even more proud of her than he already was.