The Way the Landscape Changes

A Finnish man used to come into the store, about once a week, usually Tuesdays. His English was so faintly accented that I didn’t know he’d been born in Finland until he told me. He was a burly giant, somewhere between 6 ft-4 inches and 6 ft-6 inches, and he wore a faded blue bandanna headband. Sometimes, not always, his partner Susan came in with him.

He would browse the store gleefully until he found a book to buy, and he bought a book every time.  And he would tell stories; stories about his various motorcycle jaunts back and forth and up and down across the American continent; stories about being a volunteer firefighter; stories about his relatives in Finland; stories about his mother, a soldier in WWII who was decorated for heroism. Sometimes he told stories about the ravens, the squirrels and the gray foxes on his property in west county. He brought Brandy shopping bags full of concord grapes when they were ripe, and jars of concord jam when the season had ended.

I always imaged him meeting Spouse, and the two of them trading firefighter stories. I told Spouse about him, prefacing those tales with, “The Finnish guy, I don’t know his name, came in today…”

Today a man named Tom came into the store. He bought a couple of books and said that his friend Kari had told him to come there. When we both looked blank, he said, “He’s Finnish.”

So we learned his name, and we learned that he passed away Thanksgiving night, in his sleep. He died peacefully with no previous symptoms, and the cause is unknown at this time.

The landscape of the store is different for me now– the landscape of the whole town has changed. He wasn’t a close friend; literally, I didn’t know the man’s name. But I would feel my face muscles shift into a smile when I saw him come in. He was vital and filled with a kind of light. He wasn’t a bleeding heart; many of his Finnish stories, while funny, dealt with the awkward Russian-Finnish relationships, and the realities of war. He made merciless fun of the Quebecois in Canada (and by extension the French). But I felt happier when I saw him. My day was brighter.

Today, it is just a little darker, and a generous landmark has disappeared from view.

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