Steve survived Pearl Harbor. He was a farm boy before that, working the family’s fruit patch in the rural setting of Greece NY. By the time I met him his town was already changing in radical and not so nice ways. The farm was sold off piecemeal by his brother. I think that must have been a hard thing to process but he plodded on and maintained a farm stand on the progressively more congested Ridge Road. I believe most shoppers, lacking the hipster farm-to-table esthetic still 40 years in the future, were interested mainly in lurching from supermarket to supermarket to get frozen vegetables and hot-house tomatoes.
Steve was way ahead of his time. Wegman’s shoppers today are familiar with the quaint hand sketched signs featuring gourmet cheeses and artisanal breads. My former father-in-law had those signs on his cantaloupes and tomatoes and corn in the 60’s. I had the impression he really liked making them. He was like that. Even today at 90+ he still hears his own drummer and keeps time as best he can.
Steve and Betty lived in a tiny but neat Cape Cod like so many returning veterans. Together with the builder he did some of the work himself. Later he plowed-up a home garden that was always a marvel so much so that their meals from spring through fall always had fresh vegetables on the table. They also had a rusty swing set that his kids and then his grand-kids gravitated to on picnic days. Beyond it was a simple horseshoe pit where men and boys and sometimes women traded stories and practiced the weakest sort of “trash talk”. America was struggling to be OK.
Steve called me Thomas. I always like how it sounded coming from his lips. Not one for intimacy, it took looking to find his caring. In the first years of my (first) marriage we spent many evenings in their house. It was the days when network news, embodied quintessentially in Walter Cronkite, ruled the media and gathered the families together for evening news vespers. I remember vividly sitting on their patterned sofa, opposite the picture window, yet everyone turned toward the TV. It was the time when the cruelty, banality and shame of what was transpiring in that far place called Vietnam was coming home to the living rooms of America. Betty, apron askew, wrung her hands. Me, I frequently sat weeping. Steve, he sat quietly, thinking thoughts only he could. To this day it’s my impression that his willingness to quietly share our private, particular but anguished response across the distance from easy chair to sofa was a gift like few I have known.