I am the shy quiet guy that lives with his parents, almost 60 years old, who they see pushing Dad’s wheelchair very slowly, so Mom can keep up, down the aisle to the front church pew, where a space is reserved for a wheelchair, where Dad has a better chance of hearing the worship meeting speakers, in the front where our family has sat in church for decades: in the front, where Dad, sitting on the stand those many years, presiding and exhorting and teaching, could keep an eye on his six children, not that we caused any trouble, and where he could be as close as possible to his family while carrying out his lay clergy duties. I am slowly learning their names, making a few acquaintanceships crawling toward friendship. But today Dad was too weak to attend church meetings, and I had my granddaughter Lila with me, and we walked hand in hand down the aisle where Mom sat alone on the front church pew, and I could feel the eyes on me, friendly and interested and astonished eyes, and could hear their thoughts: Oh, he has a story! And they wondered what my story could be as they saw my oldest son and his good wife and the little black-haired baby, my newest grandchild, and Lila my three-year-old friend, all sitting together in the front. I share my desserts with church families now and then, always friendly cheerful encounters after which, as I am walking away, I hear them thinking to themselves: I wonder what his story is? And they wonder if mine is a strange tragic story, as they munch tentatively, at first, and then with gusto, on my latest baking attempts, tonight’s being an enriched German holiday “Stollen” bread filled with dried fruits and sweet almond paste. I baked the Stollen after cleaning up our Sunday dinner dishes, when I wanted to get off my aching feet but wanted more to make something pretty and interesting and sweet. Dad asked if he could have a slice, which of course I gave him, in spite of the spiteful diabetes that is wrecking him, because he will be 87 in two weeks, and it was a thin slice after all, and let him live a little for heaven’s sake, and I said “no” to his importuning for seconds. And he asked me, “Rog, will you stand by me while I try to stand up?” but I heard, Rog, will you stand by me as I am wasting away, in my pains, as I am dying? Will you stand by me to the end? Yes, Dad, I am here, and am not going anywhere.
(Pictured above and below: my first attempt at Stollen, an 18-inch loaf–delicious.)