I didn’t get a Christmas card from him this year. Every day I looked and hoped, but I knew down deep in my heart this was going to be the year.
He’s a couple of years younger than I am. We worked together on the oil rigs years ago. We were both young and fresh out of college. He was an engineer. He moved up a lot faster than I did. Engineers do that you know.
We worked on a lot of projects together. He loved to crunch numbers and talk about weights, yields, pounds per square foot, sheer points, loadings and formulas.
He kept pens and pencils in a plastic pouch in his shirt pocket. He owned a slide-rule.
He liked to drink a few beers on Fridays after work. I would help out with a whiskey or two.
One day, he was bent over his desk, calculating a hundred different numbers. He was busy with his adding, dividing, multiplying and subtracting. It was a big project. We were planning to do something no one had done before.
He was the designer. I was going offshore to install it.
I said “Hey, I hope you make a hundred on all those numbers you’re crunching, because I’m sleeping out there when we finish the job. I don’t want you being half right or half wrong.”
He looked up and said “Mike, I’ve got to make a hundred on everything I do now.”
That statement stuck with me. He was right!
Once we grow up, we give up the freedom of making mistakes or giving out the wrong answer. That’s gone with the wind.
When my sons were growing up, I’d say “School is the easiest job you will ever have. Where else can you make seventy percent and still get a passing grade?”
Our paths separated. He went to Texas. He could make big money in Houston. I ended up back in Mississippi. His name and my name stayed on our Christmas Card Mailing lists. That was good.
Then he got Alzheimers.
He always addressed the Christmas cards by hand, in that neat, legible ‘engineering’ style you see on blueprints.
Not cursive, but printed, each letter the same height, each letter leaning just a few degrees to the right. Perfectly aligned. Neat.
My own handwriting hasn’t changed much since the third grade.
As time passed, his printing started to drift. The letters were not as precise as the year before. The lines were shaky. Some were a bit higher than others, and a few forgot to lean forward, they stood straight up or leaned backwards.
I started having trouble reading his name.
I knew he was slipping away, one day at a time.
Last year, I learned his slippery slope was steeper than before. He was slipping away at a faster rate. No more calculations, no more numbers, the engineering had left him. He lost it all and still has a way to go.
He’s in a different world now.
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