There was still a little bite in the morning air; Spring hadn’t yet convinced Winter to head back North. The sun was bright in the sky and busy chasing the chill away so Granger sat outside at one of Howya Bean’s tile-surfaced tables. He had on some faded jeans and wore a lined tan jacket over the heather cable knit turtleneck, knowing it would be closer to noon before it warmed up enough to consider removing the jacket. He’d pulled a steno pad and pen out of the nondescript black shoulder bag he always had with him, along with whichever Bible he was presently using for his morning quiet time.
“You okay out here? That carafe need a refill?” Dawna had left him alone as he read, thought, and jotted ideas and writing prompts on the pad. She knew Granger’s habits enough by now to be able to know his routine and time his coffee needs.
Granger picked the carafe up, wiggled it a little, and nodded. “Sure, if you would.” She stepped out to retrieve the carafe. Granger half rose, handing it to her so she didn’t need to reach so far. “More dark roast?” Smiling, he nodded. “Oh, yeah.
Inside, she started to reach for the almost-empty glass carafe on the side burner, hesitated, then grabbed the just-brewed pot and began filling the insulated carafe she’d just rinsed. Janine was amused. “You got it bad, don’tcha?”
Dawna stopped pouring coffee, leaning back against the counter. “It’s not just that. Granger’s been coming in here for four years that I know of, and I’ve watched him by himself and with other people. There’s just, I don’t know, something about ‘im that draws attention and respect from others. He’s a man, no question—” She continued filling the carafe, only half watching what she was doing.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ve noticed that.” Janine smirked, lightly touching her friend and co-owner on the shoulder. “You’re about to run that carafe over.” Dawna stopped pouring and sat the pot down on the Delonghi coffee machine. Sliding her eyes sideways and smiling, she said, “And you haven’t?” Janine’s furious blush needed no words.
Dawna wiped around the mouth of the carafe and tightened the lid. “Granger has that effect on people no matter who it is. I’ve seen him pay for two big egg and bacon sandwiches and a large coffee for a disabled vet who occasionally is outside in his wheelchair. But I’ve seen ‘im buy a Danish or Long John and a latte for business types in suits you wouldn’t think even knew him. And they all treat him like an equal. It’s like—” She suddenly glanced down at the full carafe, quickly shook her head as if evading a pesky gnat, and headed around the counter and out the door.
Granger had been writing something on a pad and looked up as she approached. His warm smile as he thanked her felt good. “You always give excellent service here. I appreciate it.” Dawna was thoughtful as she reentered the warmth of the coffee shop.
Janine: “What? You’ve got that weird look on your face again.”
“You know how some people’s smiles never reach their eyes?”
“Oh, you mean like that realtor crone whose makeup sell-by date went out with Clinton? Who always makes up some excuse to stiff us our tips? Or that doofus city councilman with the frightening combover?” Janine stepped over to the front counter, delivering coffee to patrons and receiving their money.
Dawna snickered at her friend’s fun command of snarky comments. “Yup.” Her face sobered as she focused her thoughts. “Even when Granger’s being dead serious, his eyes talk as much or more than his words do. Even when he’s quiet, which is a lot, he’s saying a lot, y’know? And when he smiles, his whole face smiles including his eyes.”
She watched out the window as a Sheriff’s Department cruiser parked close to Granger’s table and Sparks got out. Grinning to herself, Dawna said, “Now there’s more your type, girl.”
“There you are. Thank you for coming in and be safe.” Janine turned from ringing up a large coffee to go, then looked out the window where Dawna pointed. Making a wry face and arching her eyebrows, she said, “Uh, married?” She hurried to pour a large coffee and pull a still-warm banana nut oversize muffin from the shelf for Sparks as soon as he came in. Then she reentered their conversation.
“Yes, I do know about the eyes thing. There’s times when I’ve asked him serious questions those hazel eyes of his seem to deepen, like they pull in light and attention.” She hesitated as she scrubbed on a stubborn spot on the grill. “It’s like there’s a whole bunch of stuff back in there he’s trying to decide what to say or if he should say anything at all. But, oh mayan do his eyes get deep and serious. Come to think of it, I’m glad he’s so nice, because I don’t think I’d want ‘im on my bad side.”
Dawna nodded. “Granger’s always been a gentleman, even when serious. But, yeah, I get it.” Howya Bean was picking up more morning business from the interstate, so the two women got busy giving the great service for which their coffee shop was famous.
Granger had heard the powerful hemi engine of Sparks’s cruiser pull in and park. The young deputy’s shadow announced his approach, and only then did Granger slide his chair back, stand, and give his friend a shoulder hug. “There’s a large coffee and muffin waiting for you; one of the ladies are pouring your coffee right now.” Wheeling, Sparks was halfway to the door when Janine brought both out to him. Grinning, he waggled his eyebrows at the moist pastry. A la Randy Savage: “Ooooh, YEAH, bruthur!” Then, meeting Janine’s gaze, he gentled, smiled, and said, “Thank you.” Blushing, she murmured, “You’re welcome” and hurried back inside. Dawna had seen it all and smiled to herself, shaking her head.
Sitting back down across from Granger, Sparks said, “How’d you know I hadn’t had breakfast?”
“I didn’t. I told Dawna and Janine whoever stopped at my table or I noticed out here first would need a large coffee and muffin. That happens to be you.” Sparks muttered around a huge bite of muffin: “Thone memmer assime — waiminn . . .” He slurped a mouthful of coffee, swished his mouth, then swallowed. “I don’t remember the last time I saw you out here by yourself, just chillin’–not doing much of nothin’.” He paused, taking another drink of the dark roast. “They do have good coffee here. So, I mean, you’re never without a pen and pad, but—I dunno, this feels a little different. Seeing as how you’re our resident mystic philosopher, what’s up?”
Granger hesitated, then said, “I’m still working through that.” Picking up his cup, he refilled it, hunched forward to refill Sparks’s, set the carafe back down on the table, then sat back as he silently mulled. The seasoned war vet turned deputy knew when his older mentor’s eyes stared off into Middle Space, his focus was pointed inside and it was a big deal. He too sat back and waited.
Granger mused for a few minutes, then spoke. “I’m not sure I can fully articulate this, but I’ll give you what’s on my heart and what my spirit’s been developing.” He got quiet again as his mind marshalled thoughts like an Aussie shepherd dog herding woolies.
“I’ve worked from an early age. My dad’s work ethic was epic; he could outwork anyone around him. I was fortunate in that from early on I learned to look around to see what needed doing, then get after it without having to be asked. I had a paper route when I was 9, and could earn extra by mowing and trimming lawns or raking leaves. If a kid wanted to, there were ways to make spending money and to take care of ourselves.” Granger paused, sipping fragrant, now-only-warm coffee.
“During high school I was offered two or three interesting careers. Yet like most young men, I wasn’t certain what I wanted to do in life, so upon graduating and entering college I took a handful of different jobs but found none of them satisfying enough to qualify as a career. None of them paid enough to keep body and soul together, so I chose to enter military service.
“As a wartime veteran, duty called and brought a deeper awareness of how dear and yet fragile are America’s freedoms, and how it’s as important to look beyond one’s own jobs and interests to those of others, protecting and advocating for them as well. During those military years I married and we began raising our family. It was then I began to realize how dear were those seemingly harsh lessons my dad kept before me, about not just laying around but noticing what needed doing and taking the initiative to get after them. I know now it was his way of reminding me of my responsibility to my spouse, my children, and to those around whom and for whom I worked.”
The deputy’s radio was stuttering with the all-but-unintelligible static-punctuated alphanumeric sibilant shorthand of cops everywhere. He quietly thumbed down the volume on his chest mike, keeping his eyes on his friend’s face as he considered his next words.
“I love watching you think.” Granger’s eyes refocused from Out There and he smiled briefly, then his face sobered again as he organized his thoughts.
Dawna had slipped out the door with a fresh carafe of coffee, a paper tub of butter with plastic knives, and two more huge muffins, steam rising from each as they cooled in the morning air. She had stood quietly listening, and as Granger looked up in surprise, she smiled. “This one’s on us, Granger. We really like having you around. G’mornin, Sparks. You want to hand me that empty?” Taking it and without waiting for a response, she turned and went back in.
Granger carefully sipped the fresh, hot coffee he’d just poured for both of them, then continued. “I don’t mean to imply Dad was all work and no rest. Yet in the evenings after dinner, he usually had his head buried in a book, reading about whatever caught his interest. He’d watch TV, loved westerns, but he usually lost interest in media fluff. Even comedy or variety shows would only hold his attention for awhile. During daylight if the weather was nice, he’d often slip outside with a book and sit in a lawn chair next to the flower beds and shrubs he loved to groom. Mind you, I came along late in my parents’ lives, so my experience with them was as senior adults nearing retirement.”
Sparks had a mouthful of muffin. He silently raised his eyebrows, then lifted and opened his left hand, palm up with fingers spread.
“Meaning, he understood the power of necessary rest. We’d go outside and play catch with baseball and mitts, or we’d find a spot along the river where Mom and I would swim while Dad sat with his feet in the water and read. And it was customary to take a Sunday afternoon drive to nowhere in particular, sometimes a few miles away to a little hilltop cemetery marked by a solitary old, gnarled, windswept tree standing as a sentinal over the place where my grandparents are buried. At the time it was just a nice drive, but in later years I reflected it was a way of reminding me: I am connected by DNA to a generational reach that far preceded and will follow me. . .”
Granger interrupted himself briefly to slather butter on half of his muffin. He took a huge bite, chewed, then swallowed some dark roast to rinse it down.
Sparks had been around Granger enough to know he’d been circling the main thought most occupying his mind and spirit that morning and was on the downwind leg. He knew he wouldn’t need to wait long. He didn’t.
“Dad and Mom were retired by the time I graduated high school, so I’d had plenty of time to observe them slowing down. What I didn’t catch until much later was they never did totally slow down like some do. Within a few months of Dad’s passing at 83, he was still doing landscaping and shrubbery jobs by recommendation only. He never needed to advertise because he was a natural; Dad had an eye for shapes, distances, and measurements, so his work sold itself. You could tell whose property he’d styled because of the natural flow of each ground cover, shrubbery, and small trees. And the only reason he stopped when he did was the bone cancer he stubbornly refused to give in to until it robbed him of his mobility.”
“How do you mean?”
“It hurt him too much to keep bending enough to get in and out of that beat up old green-and-rust import pickup he loved.”
Sparks stared. “Sounds like a tough old dude.” Granger got a faraway look in his eyes, nodding in silent agreement. After a few seconds he said, “You have no idea. And the point here is, neither did I.”
Not wanting to interrupt, Dawna was motioning to Sparks from inside the glass door with a full carafe of coffee, her eyebrows raised. The deputy glanced over at his friend, then back at Dawna and nodded. Rising, he grabbed the empty, walked over and exchanged it for the full carafe she held. “Things got pretty serious out there,” she remarked. “I mean, that’s kind of normal for Granger, but—I . . . this seems different. Is it?”
“Well, yeah. Sure feels that way. Hey–thank you.” Dawna gazed for a few seconds over Sparks’s shoulder at Granger, then back at Sparks. “I can’t do a lot, but I can do this.” The young vet looked her in the eye as he hesitated for a few seconds. “I think you do more for him than you know, just by being who you are.”
“I’m not that obvious, am I?” Sparks: “Only to those who know him best – and he doesn’t let very many in.” “So you’re saying he knows?” Sparks: “On a certain level I’m sure he does. He seems to have that effect on people.” Dawna’s eyes got vacant as she lifted her eyebrows. “Yeah…”
“Hey.” Looking back over her shoulder, she raised her chin and eyebrows. “You just keep being the friend you are to Granger. He needs it.” Dawna nodded her silent assent and headed back in to join a busy and grinning Janine. “Shut it–just stop!”
Sparks poured for them both. “Now–you always have a lesson sandwiched between your thoughts. I am all ears.” Granger wore an amused expression as he looked at his deputy friend’s prominent appendages. His eyes then blanked for a moment as he arranged his ideas.
His gaze sharpened then as he sipped some fresh Howya Bean’s own dark roast. “You know how it seems people just can’t wait to retire? How they’re dragging themselves off to work, dreading the day’s stuff, wondering what the boss will find wrong this time, etc.?” Sparks nodded slowly: “I’m with ya.”
“They look disgusted and exhausted before they even clock in, right? I never was part of that school of thought, but I’m absolutely not since I read some devotional thoughts about a week ago, and they got me thinking about my parents’ “retirement”, he said, curling the first two finger of each hand into air quotation marks. Granger paused, watching his friend’s eyes. Sparks was making eye contact, so he continued.
“I asked myself how they both just kept going and doing, Dad until 88 and Mom until 94. Well, the article I read helped answer that. They never ‘retired’ from life; they simply chose to repurpose. They never quit, they merely switched gears and began focusing on other ways to be productive and stay active. And I’ve decided to be doing the same thing.”
Sparks sat thinking through what he’d just heard. He knew Granger, knew his habit of early rising and getting into each day while it was still young. He knew his friend and mentor spent hours daily, writing and finding ways to encourage others, always watchful around him for anyone who could use a friendly smile or a cup of coffee. So he was asking himself: what would be different?
“I asked myself – well, asked God – the same question. As to my normal daily routine, perhaps there is no appreciable outward difference. I love the early morning hours to use for devotional quiet time, creative writing, working on articles or manuscripts, posting selected things on social media, and often to simply refuel over coffee. By the time anyone sees me here or one of the other favorite coffee shops, I’ve already been up for hours.”
Sparks: “All right. And . . . ?”
“And so I sought clarification from the Holy Spirit as to why I needed to lock in on the devotional thought from Ecclesiastes 3. The Cliff Notes version goes like this—” Granger flipped back the cover of the pad laying by his cup and read: “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth . . . . (That’s how The Message reads; The New Living puts it like this.) “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. . . . What do people really get for all their hard work? I have thought about this in connection with the various kinds of work God has given people to do. God has made everything beautiful in its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.”
“You said Ecclesiastes, right? But isn’t that mostly sour grapes and fatalism?”
“It seems that way, especially if you’re depressed before you start reading.” Granger chuckled. “That’s not the Scriptures to immerse yourself in when you’re already down on life. Yet if you read those writings with a thoughtful, positive mindset, other things pop out – which is the brilliance of the Bible’s teachings. One of my old professors said often the Bible is the only Book that reads you while you’re reading it. It finds you right where you are and helps you keep growing from there.”
Seeing Sparks glancing at his watch, Granger grinned to himself. “Sorry. Cutting to the chase, I read a lot more in Ecclesiastes and found some little jewels. 7:8 reads that finishing is better than starting, and verse 23 reads ‘All along I have tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions.’ And chapter 8:5 says those who are wise will find a time and a way to do what is right.”
“Got your notepad handy?” Sparks nodded. “Jot down chapter 7, verses 24-29. Read it later when not in mixed company.”
“Here’s the gist of how this fits with what we call retirement. I’m not retiring; I’m REPURPOSING. In chapter 3, it reads there’s a time to love right before Solomon mentions work. Few correlate their work with any idea of love – but the devotional I read said it: love-motivated work is the most productive kind.
“If you love God and love other people, that doesn’t change just because you clock out or clean out your office. As the lesson put it, work in a repurposed life is a combination of labor and love that’s relaxed enough to look around more, to not be so focused on one’s own leisure we fail to reach out to others, wanting to help them get closer to God.”
Sparks sat thinking. “Okay–often retired people have lost their spouse and are alone. It’s not all that easy to just wanta jump right out there and be sociable, y’know?”
“I do. “Repurposing” instead of ‘retiring’ keeps the mind scanning outward rather than shrinking inward and feeling isolated. Here’s how the devotional put it.” Granger read again from his pad.
“Make eternity in your heart your motivation as you work in retirement to love and serve others in Christ’s name. The joy of being in a community with other Jesus followers extinguishes the dark thoughts of being alone. Others making you feel known and needed is life-giving. When you work in retirement, you experience the blessing of extra time and resources to enjoy and give away. . . . when a body keeps moving, a mind keeps thinking, emotions keep caring, and a spirit keeps praying.”
The deputy suddenly grinned. “Okay, kemo sabe. What about when all of a sudden you DO have your spouse in the same spaces 24/7?” Granger grinned right back. “Yeah, the writer mentioned that, too. He wrote relational proximity IS important. There is wisdom in couples having some space so they avoid…“too much spouse and not enough money”. It’s important for both to recognize their former daily interactions aren’t the same. There IS no ‘boss and subordinate’, no younger employees to do the scut work while you sit around and watch. Both relational and physical proximity are real things, and retired spouses need to see being repurposed as learning to appreciate each others’ personalities, personal times and daily schedules, hold them sacred, and leave each other alone during those times when at all possible.”
“Hmmph. Seems to me that could take awhile, right?
Granger: “Sure – as anything worthwhile does. But the whole REPURPOSED v. Retired thing is a great way to challenge one’s mental and spiritual outlook to the point you want to get up and get at life each day – just on a more relaxed, chosen schedule.”
Sparks slid his chair back and stood, tossing the cold coffee in his cup in a nearby planter then leaning to refill enough to get a fresh swallow or two. “Well, that’s a whole lot to think about when the time comes. For now, however, I need to head to the home 20 and get some serious Z’s. I’m on mids for another few days.” With a wave, he turned and headed for his patrol car.
Granger watched the young man go, marveling how well he walked with the prosthetic leg.
“HEY!” Sparks spun, looking over his shoulder. “You know you and your team always have prayer cover, right?”
The deputy sheriff’s face grew quiet; then he grinned, pointed at Granger, and said, “REEEE-PURPOSED!”
© D. Dean Boone, 4/8/23