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Monday, January 18, 2010

33 DEGREES

the peak, whitehead


Up to 55 degrees today. Gradually the ice is going away from even the shaded places. Before I knew Jr I paid nearly no attention to temperature. I knew what range it was in. Big coat. Light coat. Light jacket. Heavy shirt. Tshirt. That was all I cared about. Forecasts I paid little attention to, not because I doubt them, I just don't care. The rhododendron tell me on sight out the window when I wake in the morning what the temperature is, whether there's been snow, rain or ice in the night.


At Jr's, I read the thermometer by the door when I'd go in or out, to tell him what the temperature was. He could tell close by looking, but liked to know the number. We'd watch tv weather sometimes, turn it on for the weather, then turn it off. In that span of time we'd get a dozen or more commercials. He spent his life working outdoors in whatever the temperature was. Indoors, he kept himself in touch with outdoors by knowing the temperature.

There came a time he was talking about getting a big thermometer to put on the porch that he could see from inside. Somewhere I'd heard about digital thermometers. I found one at Alleghany Electronics. It looked like a little television. Ran on 2 3A batteries. The transmitter that goes outside took 2 3A batteries too. At the house, I assembled all the parts to Jr's amazement. He couldn't quite make out what I was putting together even though I'd told him it was a thermometer. He needed to see it completed to get some idea of it, it being something he'd never heard of before. The little tv screen tells the temperature outside in tall letters and the indoor temperature in small letters.


He was amazed by it. At first he let me have it for spending money on him and wanted to know what it cost. I told him something like it was a late Christmas present. He thought it was nice, but couldn't see that it would be worth having. Like other things people brought and plopped down in front of him like it was something he wanted, when he didn't want it at all, he received it and wouldn't have it moved for anything. Like a little figurine of a dog with a $1 sticker from Family Dollar on the bottom.


It wasn't long before he was sitting watching the numbers change like it was a television with no commercials. His own personal weather channel. He watched it all day long. He'd sometimes tell me what the temperature reached in the day and what time that was. It gave him company in the house alone all day long every day. In a way, it became his friend. It held his attention like another presence in the house and made him feel not quite so alone. It enchanted his mind that didn't take in any entertainment. No television, no radio, no reading. He needed another being, not a substitute. I stopped by in the evening on the way home from the store for a couple hours. He had a couple of women he talked with on the phone every day, and with Ross a couple times a day on the phone. He sat and looked out the window like it was entertaining. I learned to see the window the same way.


Jr's entertainment was his mind working. He was always solving a problem of one sort or another. Always looking for solutions to puzzles. That's what made him a master mechanic. It's how he figured out the banjo. His mind was going all the time, and a fast mind it was. He waited on the couch like sitting on the bank of a pond fishing, waiting for a car to turn up the driveway or the phone to ring. Another of the thousands of reasons I could not allow Jr to tolerate despair in the lumberyard was he needed the presence of other people, not in a bed with people he doesn't know all around, but people who see him at home. Among other people was the world he lived in. He liked other people. He liked to feel connected with the other side of the window.


The evening of the day of the funeral, I told Ross I'd like to take the little tv thermometer for my memory of Jr. Hell yeah, don't ask. Now, I find I sit and look at it. It's beside me here on top of the computer box keeping me in touch with outside and with Jr. Every time I look at it, he's there. It brings back sitting there with it on the coffee table, watching the numbers change, guessing how high it will get in the day. It's 33.8F out there. And 74.1 here. When I was out in Kansas a couple weeks, I'd call him and ask him the temperature and tell him what it was out there. The numbers change all day and all night. This little tv set for numbers was the only thing I wanted out of his house, and the violet that Jean gave him. 33.3 now.


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