Sunday afternoon

I heard him before I saw him.

“From Holland then?”

My wife and I were sitting in outdoor seating on a Sunday afternoon in Holland, Michigan. We were sipping dark beers and enjoying the warm fall breeze and waiting for our meals. I turned towards the man speaking.

He was holding a plastic bag which had more plastic bags inside it in his left hand. He was elderly, maybe eighty or more. His complexion was ruddy and broken under his straw hat. He wore a freshly laundered shirt and Bermuda shorts. He was standing comfortably by our table on the sidewalk and looked me in the eye and waited for a response.

“Yes, we’re from Holland. You?”

“Born in Zeeland.”

“Close enough.”

Unhesitatingly and in a calm, friendly voice, the old man began to talk about his life in the area. He had worked for Holland police for awhile. He asked if I knew his boss by name. When I didn’t, I told him that we moved into town in the late eighties.

That would be much later when he was Postmaster in Zeeland he responded.

Staring out, he had bought land, nine acres just outside of Holland. Built one house for his family and eventually sold it and the three acres under it. He wanted to build another on one of the remaining three acres plots, but the soil was all clay. The city sewer hadn’t come out that far.

Finally found sand in the forty feet back from the road. Built a new house there. When he sold it and the other property, he made a killing and moved south of Zeeland where he eventually became the Postmaster.

His blue eyes were watery but they remained locked on our faces. He didn’t smile but his face was relaxed like he was used to passing the time with people he didn’t know.

“Wife and I eventually moved to an apartment here in town. That complex over on Sixth and College. That’s where we are now. We were some of the first there after it was built sixteen years ago. Just got back from driving over to church at Faith Reformed in Zeeland. It’s the church where I was married.”

Inevitably he wanted to know if we went to church and where. This is a standard question in this part of the state.

“I’m a recovering church musician.”

He looked at me uncomprehendingly.

“He’s retired,” my wife offered, “He was the musician for the local Episcopal church.”

“What did you do there?” he asked.

“Played organ, directed choirs.”

This seemed to satisfy him. He looked around for the first time then said he would be on his way and started walking away.

“Nice chatting” I called after him.

I watched him as he moved away from us on the sidewalk.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to live your entire life in one place like that.” I said to my wife.

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