I was standing with him next to his printing press while blue sheets with dark ink cranked noisily from one end. A man of 34 had his arm around my shoulders, embracing me in a friendly hug. He spread some ink on the fast turning rollers then snapped a random sheet out of the pile and held it up to the light.
He turned to me, "How does this look?"
"Actually, I think it's a little crooked, and there's some ink smeared in the top right corner."
"Oh, shut up!" he said laughing. "What makes you think you know anything about printing anyway?"
He was right. I didn't know much about printing aside from the tricks he had taught me and the few details I had picked up from close observation. In fact, I was 17. I didn't know much about anything at all. Just as Ian, though he was always the top scorer in our Saturday afternoon music trivia game, didn't know much about math or science. He was a printer, a blue collar working man, and had been since he left high school in England at 16. He had taken an apprenticeship, hoping to earn some money for a couple of years and then move onto something else. Somehow, he never got the chance to move on, and at times, I could see he regretted it.
"It's so good to see you again," he said after a quiet minute.
"Yeah, you too. This place always makes me glad to be back. By the way, thanks for not writing back to me."
"I'm sorry. I was really busy this year. I worked for a couple of months at home and took a short course on ceramics at night."
Ceramics had always interested him and had taken up his spare time. He had been talking about going back to school to try his hand at it.
"Yeah, but it didn't last for long. Then I traveled about a little - to Australia to visit my brother, and to New Zealand. Now, once again, I'm here."
This was his tenth consecutive summer in the boondocks of Connecticut; it was my sixth. Though we'd only known each other the past few summers, we'd both discovered years before that this was a place where we fit in and felt comfortable. It was a place to return to and there we were.
Ian was a nomad. This job was one of the only constraints in his life. That and the eight-mile road race he ran in town every summer since he'd been here. This was where he found real friends and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
He told me about his brothers, both divorced and remarried, one for the third time; and about his three nieces and two nephews - he knew all their birthdays and brought them presents when he visited.
He unknowingly taught me about disappointment. He too wanted to be a father, but time was running out. I think every summer he came hoping to find the love of his life and each summer he packed his bags and hit the road alone. He told me about how hard it is for him to find work in his field; how it's difficult to save enough money to live on so he can escape on his next voyage to places unknown.
He taught me about endless devotion: to redo a job until it's printed just right; to keep throwing a bowl until it's exactly on center; to run a race until your time is a personal best and you feel satisfied.
He also taught me about true friendship and loyalty. "I'll definitely write to you this year!" he promised enthusiastically on one of the last days of summer. "Next week I'm going to Atlanta with Nigel and then we're flying to Mexico."
"Sounds great," I said smiling, trying not to think about the fact that I might never see him again. "Just send me a postcard." -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.