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The One Who Kept My Crappy Artwork

I remember visiting him at the retirement home. His room, unlike the others, did not smell of old people. That smell I had come accustomed to did not linger under my nose, threatening a sneeze. Instead his room smelled of paper, soap, and leather, which made me believe him to be younger than ninety-eight.

It was a nice retirement home. The rooms were like small apartments, each containing separate spaces for the bedroom, kitchen, and living room.

We did not visit him often because he was not my relative, only my relative’s friend. He had no family I knew of and his wife had died a few years after they had been married.

His name was Gerald Robichaud. I always called him Gerry. Of the few times I saw him during the year my favorite was when we visited him at the retirement home. I guess I liked this best because I got to see where he lived. I got to see that the happy birthday card I had made him hung on his wall in a frame. I noticed a printed black and white person I had colored and gave him when I was in kindergarten. I had been stunned to see that! No one ever kept my crappy artwork longer than they had to. I now realize maybe he kept them because I was like the grandchild he never had. I was his dead friend’s great niece – the closest thing he had to family – and to keep me close he had saved, hanged, and cared for my artwork.

Gerry had been full of life, always smiling and trying to get me to laugh. Every picture I have of him his wrinkly lips are pulled up in a smile, so that they are stretched and flattened, as if ironed. His hair is short, practically non-existent, and sticks up at the top. My sister and I stand on either side of him, our arms around his shoulders. His is smiling. He always smiled.

One of the last times I recall visiting him he had asked me something, that, at the age of seven, I had only dreamed of doing.

“Want to go for a ride?” He had pointed to his electrical wheel chair and smiled.

I had smiled too, looking up at him with my large blue eyes. “Really?”

“Sure!” Gerry helped me get on and then we were off, zooming down the hallways as fast as the motorized chair could take us – which wasn’t that fast, but to me it was exhilarating.

Along with being my favorite relative, Gerry had been an author. He wrote books with rich French-Canadian history. He enjoyed telling me stories about his childhood. Although these stories were short lived, for he often wanted to go back to sleep after telling them, I never wanted them to end. I wanted to hear about his dog, the war he had fought in, his wife whom he had loved to dance with.

Through his stories I grew to love books, I flourished in reading and suddenly that was not enough. I wanted to write. I wanted to tell my own stories. I wanted to give what he had given to me. I wanted Gerry to read what I wrote – what I had to say – but that never came true. Gerry died just when I realized I wanted to follow in his footsteps and possibly be an author, like him. I did not find out he had past until a few months after.

Before he died I wish I could have seen him. I wish I could have asked for one more ride on his motorized chair, one more time to tell him I appreciate him, I love him, and that I wouldn’t be where I am today had he not been part of my life.



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