A Little Dirt Never Mattered

I remember the last time we talked before you fell. You, my dad, my uncle, and I had lunch at the pizza place around the corner. Afterwards, we visited one of their properties. The base course was in, but the walkway and driveway were not yet paved. My dad took care to help you up the big step to the front porch. You shirked away from him a bit as he held your arm, but your body was grateful for the boost. Touring that little house, still dusty with the remnants of construction, an onlooker would have thought your boys had built an empire. The pride in your cloudy, blue eyes was visible.

Getting back into my car you spilled your soda from lunch on the cargo mats in the backseat. Before I could get frustrated, my dad reminded me that I had the cargo mats for a reason- and that I had spilled plenty of things at your house. He was right. We shook off the mat and laughed at your little flub. The mat in my car is still a little sticky from that afternoon.

I drove us to the farm. My dad and I talked in the office while you tied on your apron and set to work on sorting the pile of scrap on your work bench. I wandered out to talk to you and your excitement rivaled that of a kid. You couldn’t decide which was better- our conversation or sorting through your pile of scrap. Just when I thought the scrap had grabbed your attention long enough for me to leave, you would pull me back into conversation. This happened a few times.

We talked about my job in Baltimore. We talked about Westerns. We talked about my wedding in Nepal. We talked about fishing. You showed me the magnifying glass you had found and had been wearing as a necklace until it caught on your work bench and broke. Since then, you had kept the glass in your pocket or on your work bench where it was sure to get scratched. I used a key ring from your pile to piece the chain together. You smiled and laughed as I hung the magnifying glass around your neck. My dad made fun of the little glass on its little chain. He called it junk and teased you. But it was inconsequential because it made you happy.

When I left, you said my name. You told me to take care. Even now, I can hear you saying my name in my head like a little recorded soundbite. I kissed the top of your forehead and gave you a hug even though you were in your work clothes and couldn’t get the knot in your apron untied- a little dirt never mattered.

This memory wasn’t our last time talking. We saw each other two more times after your fall, but they were different than that conversation. And they were different than the years of memories I have with you. So, while it might not be the most truthful, I’m going to remember you like that afternoon: a smile on your face and your hands dirty from work animatedly telling the stories of a life well-lived.

James "Grampie" Ballestero 1928 - 2017

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