"My wife's name was Marion. She died this year." Stella overheard this as she sat having lunch in the United Church Dining hall at the Minnesota State Fair. Stella liked stopping in the dining hall for her lunch. It was a quiet respite from the business of the fair and the food they served reminded her of sitting down at her grandmother's table. She always took one vacation day from her job at the financial services firm to spend it at the fair.
Stella had just finished her meatloaf sandwich with green beens and decided to move and sit by the older gentleman while she finished her blueberry cobbler.
"Hi, can I sit with you?" she asked the seated gentleman. He nodded and she sat in the open seat next to him. She noticed he had a large green bag in the seat on the other side of him. "My name is Stella." She offered her hand in friendship and he took it and shook it with a firm grip. "Jerry. My wife died this year. Her name was Marion." He said.
"How sad. Did you like to come to the fair together?" Stella replied.
He nodded yes. "We liked to go on the Ferris Wheel and on the Sky Ride." He unzipped his worn, green bag and pulled out an 8x10 framed photograph and handed it to Stella. "That's Marion."
Stella studied the photograph. The woman in the photo looked to be in her mid 60's. She had rust colored hair with some grey and large black glasses. She looked like she was dressed to celebrate some occasion. "She's lovely." Stella said as she returned the picture to Jerry.
"I like that picture 'cause she's looking straight at me." He replied. "Like's she's still with me."
"How did you you and Marion meet?" Stella asked.
He started into his story. "I was out drinking. I drank back then. I saw her sitting at the other end of the bar. I walked up to her and said, "You look just like my wife." She looked back at me and asked, "Is she here?" and I replied, "Yes, she's sitting right in front of me." And that was the last beer I ever drank."
Stella smiled and looked at Jerry. He was wearing a slightly wrinkled, light cotton, blue plaid button down shirt and worn in jeans. He looked like he was in his late 60's or early 70's. He looked small sitting in the chair. Jerry continued. "She took two pills. The doctor told her to only take one. We were sitting on the couch watching a movie. When the movie was over I asked her if she wanted to go out on the porch to have a cigarette. She didn't move. She never woke up."
His eyes were moist. Stella reached for a napkin to wipe her own tears. "I'm sorry to make you cry." He said.
"That's ok. It's good to let your emotions out." She replied. "Otherwise they get all bottled up inside and that's no good. "
They sat in silence for a moment. She took another bite of cobbler and he sipped his coffee. Then he spoke again. "We didn't have no kids. She had four girls. We have 23 grandchildren. But they don't come and see me. Nobody sees me. But I get out. I go to the cafe. I go to the mall."
Stella asked, "Do you go and listen to any of the music here at the fair?"
He smiled, "I like those country-western bands. They had one yesterday over to the bandshell. But I don't like that other stuff. That's not country-western. I'll probably come again Monday. Maybe Tuesday. I like to get out. I take the bus. I take the bus to the mall and then take the state fair bus here."
"It makes it very easy. I took the bus today too." Stella said as she finished up her cobbler. A young girl about 12 stopped over to remove her plate and fork. Stella noticed how meticulous the girl was as she cleaned the tables around them. She carefully counted all the sugar packets as she refilled the white plastic holders in the middle of each table.
"I miss her." He said. "We were married 37 years. When I sit on the couch I can feel her sitting right next to me."
"I'm sure she is," Stella replied as she lightly touched his arm, "I'm sure she's with you wherever you go."
"She died in May," he continued. "She died sitting right next to me."
Stella tried to bring up happier memories. "What else did you like to do together? What did Marion like to do?"
"Oh, we liked to walk. We would walk to the coffee shop. Walk to the mall. We liked to feed the ducks at park. Marion liked to crochet. She made all them grandkids blankets - you know, for their beds. Now I got all that stuff, that yarn. Not sure what to do with it. Her girls don't want it." He said.
"Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of places where you could donate it. I know some women at my church who knit. They make shawls for people. Do you think maybe someone at your church would like it?"
"Ah,those ladies at my church won't leave me alone now. Yeah, they're alright but they ain't Marion. Ya know? But I suppose they might take that yarn and stuff. That's a good idea."
They could hear a band playing in the background. The parade had started. "I think I'll go out and watch the parade. Are you going out to watch?" Stella asked.
"Naw, I saw it yesterday. I need to rest a bit more. Have some more coffee." Jerry said as he waved over the man with the coffee pot.
"Well, it was nice to meet you," Stella said as she put out her hand for another handshake. "Could I give you a hug?"
"That would be nice." He replied. Stella leaned over and gave Jerry a hug. He held her for several breaths. "Thank you." He replied.
Stella gathered her things and stood. "Bye Jerry. I hope you enjoy the rest of the fair. And keep getting out there. That's important."
"I will. Bye" He turned back to his refilled coffee cup. Stella walked towards the exit, out into the bright sunlight and walked towards the crowds listening to the band as it marched pass.