I awake to a cool clear morning. A faint breeze stirs the leaves of the maples in the back yard. The sun peeks over the eastern mountains, bathing the trees in intense orange light.
Half asleep, I rise from my bed and patter to the bathroom. Midway through my morning shave, I realize that, although it’s mid week, today I don’t have to go to work. Today is July 4th—Independence Day.
I’ll be fifty-four years old this summer—fifty-four; only eight more years to go until I can retire. I never thought I’d be in a place where most of my career would be behind me. Eight more years. It seems like a long time; yet I suspect that it will fly by.
I returned home from work tired last night, dragging the briefcase that bounced against my leg with each labored step up the driveway, to find my wife and my oldest daughter sitting at the kitchen table. “First, the bad news,” my wife said. “Dave had a stroke.”
I wrinkled my forehead in a frown. “Dave, which Dave?” I asked, somehow knowing already and suspecting the worst.
“Dave, down at the garage; Tom’s partner Dave,” she said, just as I had thought.
I dropped my briefcase by the corner hutch and idly sorted through the stack of mail on the dining room table.
“When?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Tom called this afternoon. He wanted you to know.”
I picked up the phone and dialed the number that I have dialed countless times over the past twenty years: phone calls to make appointments to have the cars serviced; calls to ask for advice on what to do when a vehicle wouldn’t start; calls to check on the problem and how much it would cost to fix it.
Tom and Dave run the local garage, where they service and sell used vehicles. Tom is the early bird, usually in by six-thirty. Dave comes in at noon and works into the evening. Tom is the go-getter; Dave takes his time. Together they’ve run a successful business for three decades.
Many times I’ve stopped off at the garage in the evening on my way home from work to ask Dave to listen to an odd sound that the car had just developed. What did he think? Anything serious? Could it wait, or should I have it looked at right away?
Dave would always pause to consider the situation, nod his head, then take his cigar out of his mouth and pronounce the verdict. He was usually right in his assessment. It was a comfort knowing that things would eventually work out.
The bill always came, but I didn’t mind paying it. You just don’t get service like that nowadays.
I had just spoken to Dave at the end of last week when I stopped in to pay for a service on my wife’s Honda. I hadn’t seen him in a while. I handed him the check, and he scribbled the payment on the bill.
“So, this is the year you’re stepping down, huh?” I said. “You’ll be sixty-two in November.”
“That’s right, sixty-two,” he said, taking the cigar out of his mouth. “But I’ll probably be leaving before that.”
“July—that’s next week! I thought you couldn’t draw social security until your birthday.”
“True enough, but it seems like a good time for me to get out.” He looked up at me in silence. I nodded my head.
If I had had a cigar, I would’ve taken it out of my mouth and thought of something philosophical to say. But I didn’t, so I just said: “Well, I’m sure I’ll see you before you leave. My Subaru will be due for service soon—maybe next week.”
He smiled. “We’re always here,” he said.
I shook his gnarled grease-stained hand.
Dave had his stroke the next day, Tom told me on the phone. The stroke left Dave paralyzed on the left side.
“His wife told me they’re doing a CT scan on him today. He actually wanted to try to come in to work—can you believe that?”
Yeah, I think, I can believe it.
“He won’t be back again,” Tom said. “That’ll be it. He said he was going to retire in July. Looks like he was right after all.”
“Right as usual,” I said. “Dave always knew what he was talking about.”
“Anyway, I wanted you to know. You guys are like family, you know.”
I hung up the phone and reached for my handkerchief to wipe the fog off my glasses.
That was yesterday. Today is July 4th—Independence Day. I’ve got the day off. Tom and Dave do too. Except Dave won’t be going back to work this week—or this month or this year, either.
For Dave, what should have been a celebration of independence is now the beginning of a semi-dependent existence—a last-minute transition that no one expected.
I had planned to buy him a box of his favorite cigars—Alcazars—for his retirement present. He may have to settle for a bottle of scotch and a good book instead.