A Small Thing

brownie 1019

The memorial service for Jim Baril, the man my family moved next door to 50 years ago, took place Saturday afternoon on the campus where he had conducted his livelihood as a professor of English.

My mom was one of the speakers at the service, and among the anecdotes she recounted was a story about his less-than-stellar spelling. (His response, when caught in a misspelling, was something along the lines of, “It’s a mighty poor world when there’s only one way to spell a word.” My mom liked to refer to lines such as this as “Barilisms.”)

The second the service ended, Mr. Baril’s daughter-in-law, sitting directly in front of Lynn, Tia and me, turned around and exclaimed, “I didn’t know he couldn’t spell!” It turned out that for all the years of her marriage to Kent Baril she has been afraid to send letters to her in-laws, fearing that they would be picked apart by Mr. (Dr.) Baril for poor grammar and other issues of literacy.

Which is funny and sad all at once, because never in all the years I knew him did I get the sense that Mr. Baril was likely to correct me or anyone else who wasn’t in one of his classes. Kathy, a graduate of Western Then State Then College, may have first encountered him as a teacher before she became Kent’s girlfriend, then fiancee, wife and mother of Mr. Baril’s grandchildren. Maybe that’s why she worried for all these years that he would stand in judgment of letters from her.

I never heard anything but affection expressed by the Barils about their daughter-in-law, but it goes to show that what might seem clear to observers is not always obvious to the people involved, perhaps particularly in the fraught in-law relationship.

Just before the service began, I headed to the back of the room in search of a glass of water. On the way I headed past a curly-headed young man. I have no idea how he recognized me, but Kent’s son, whom I haven’t seen live in person in I don’t know how long, asked, “TL?” and extended his hand.

I’m pretty sure he was lying to me, but he told me he’s 27 now. He tussles with a chronic health issue, but he looked hearty and hale and said he is focused on work, such as ski coaching and instruction and time at a pro shop, and outdoor activities that keep him healthier. Then he turned to a young woman to introduce her, and I think I startled her by knowing her name starts with an M, which was all I was remembering from my last conversation with Kent. And then I think I startled her a bit further when I told her I had heard all kinds of good things about her from her boyfriend’s father.

Kent and I spent four hours together in a U-haul the day his parents moved to Denver, and it’s true: he was filled with admiration for Marin. He spoke quite highly of both her and her parents, and contrasted her willingness to help out when she visits his home to all the friends of one of his two daughters. I got a distinct impression that Kent finds many young people who come into his house to carry an air of entitlement, that they should be looked after and waited upon, but Marin is a gracious guest who helps out in the kitchen without being asked.

As I said, I don’t recall when I last saw James Michael Baril, named for both his grandfathers and generally referred to as Jamie, and I know him best through pictures in his grandparents’ house and the stories that come with them. So it’s not really for me to speculate about his life or his girlfriend’s interactions with his parents, but Marin honestly seemed a tad surprised to hear from me how highly Kent spoke of her. Just as Kathy seemed anguished to think of all the letters she never sent out of a misplaced fear.

On Friday, the day before the service, Kent and Kathy closed the sale of his parents’ house to themselves, meaning it will remain the Baril House for at least a bit longer. I said something to Jamie about him being able to continue to come to Gunnison, and his response sounded like a typical man (man! How did this happen?) in his 20s: he loves it here, and hopes in the future to have more financial wherewithal to make more trips this way.

From that, I’m inferring he hasn’t been to Gunnison much since moving out on his own, and I know the senior Barils cut back on their travels to Washington state, where Kent’s family lives, in recent years. I don’t know how long Jamie and Marin have been dating, but it seems likely that the trip for this service may have been one of Marin’s first, if not the first, encounters with Jamie’s grandmother.

As faithful readers know, Mrs. Baril has been struggling for several years with memory issues, compounded now by a grieving process where she needs to keep reminding herself that her husband of six decades is no longer here. I’m sure on Saturday, her first trip back to Gunnison, with scattering ashes and then the service, all her resources were taxed.

I was getting ready to leave the service and wanted to say good-bye to her. I found her seated at a table next to the refreshments, momentarily by herself — but for Marin. I don’t think Mrs. Baril particularly recognized me; she was very focused on the brownie on the plate in front of her, a brownie she clearly didn’t want then but thought she would want later, and she was trying to figure out how to take it with her without spilling it all down her dress.

I usually have a baggie or two on  my person, but not in my dress pants. As I was checking to make sure, Marin said, “We can wrap it in a napkin,” and headed for the refreshment table, where I wasn’t seeing anything helpful. But Marin proved resourceful, and in short order returned with a napkin.

Very gently, very carefully, she guided the brownie from Mrs. Baril’s hold into the napkin. It was such a small thing, but so caring, so tender . . . so respectful. I couldn’t help myself: “Kent is right about you,” I told her. I got a quick, shy smile in return, but I hope, if she didn’t already know of Kent’s admiration for her, that she believes what I told her to be true.

Perhaps today, in Marin’s honor, each of us should reaffirm with someone we know, who just might not know, how highly we hold them in regard. It might seem like a small thing, but it’s really not.

2 thoughts on “A Small Thing

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