George is my father-in-law. I love George. Very much. I haven’t written about him since June, mainly because that’s when he died. June 21 — the summer equinox. The irony of the guy with the brightest and warmest personality having his light snuffed out on the day the sun shines the longest, wasn’t lost on any of us.
George was a man’s man.
Seriously, he was a dude. The man was a military veteran and worked as a master plumber for many years. One look at his rough, calloused hands told you he was a man who built things. Fixed things. We lived five minutes from him for five years, which means he fixed just about everything in our house. And when he was done he’d have a drink. Or 14. Because even well into his 70s he could still drink me and half my friends under the table. Then, the next morning, he’d somehow tiptoe around the oncoming hangover so he could get to the gym at 5 a.m.
George was a ladies man.
That’s not to say he stepped out on my mother-in-law. Hell no. She was his one and only. But in the middle of those 14 drinks, George would start telling stories. Stories of lost virginity on golf courses (can you say hole in one??) and bawdy tales of lively girls who populated ports of call. One time, before a concert, a total stranger walked up to George, ran her fingers through his notoriously luscious hair, and gave him $20 for being handsome. Know what he said after that? “Happens all the time.”
George was a tough guy.
Shortly before I married MJ, he took me aside one day to talk. He got me a drink, put his arm around me, and told me he loved me and welcomed me to the family. Then he told me if I ever hurt his little girl he’d cut my penis off. To convince me he wasn’t joking, he showed me a variety of tools from his basement he’d use to make it happen.
Those tools in that basement are among the things we’re cleaning out of his house, some eight months after cancer finally overcame the man I believed to be invincible. Thanks to George we’ve now inherited a bunch of useful equipment like circular saws and a miter saw and dozens of other manly things about which I have nary a clue.
George’s basement was a den of masculinity, and everything you’d expect from a hard-drinking veteran tradesman.
Except for the roses.
Black and dried with age, they were part of a bouquet. A wedding bouquet. MJ’s wedding bouquet, to be exact, which can be seen in the picture at the top of this post. The manliest man I’ve ever known had a bouquet of dried roses meticulously tucked away for eight years amidst a sea of tools and heavy equipment.
You see, George was the only boy among six sisters. He loved clothes, and his shoe collection rivaled that of most runway models. He danced around the house, he found beauty in everything, he wasn’t afraid to cry, and — most notably — he cooked. Sweet mother of crap could he cook. The man was a culinary wizard and I don’t remember a single time going to my in-laws house when George wasn’t wearing an apron and bent over the stove.
George was a skirt-chasing, tool-wielding, repair-making, tough guy. Of that there is no doubt. But he was also a man who loved deeply and without hesitation. He could cook, he could sew, he sang to us all, danced when everyone was watching, and wasn’t afraid to cry. And it comes as no surprise he kept a sentimental bouquet of roses in his basement.
When I say my father-in-law was a man’s man, that’s the stuff I’m talking about. That’s the guy I’m trying to emulate. And that’s the man I miss dearly.
The miter saw is wonderful, but the roses made me cry.
(You can click here for George’s obituary. I’m not proud of a lot of my writing, but I’m damn proud of this)