He wore a hat these days, his hair had thinned, turned white in most of the remaining hair.
Often he would laugh when his friends complained about going grey, redheads do not go grey. They just fade to white. But he wore his cowboy hat, the one that his daughter brought back from her travels as a good-will Ambassador several years before.
Today, he walked with his grandson, holding hands with the blond-curly vessel of non-stop questions.
“What kind of bird is that?”
“Why do cats live here and not at home?”
Nicholas the Second (Named after his grandfather) answered Nicholas the Third (Named after him) did his best to answer each question before the next one erupted from the single-digit aged young man.
For a couple years Big Nick walked this path alone, weeping at the loss of his daughter. His wife long divorced him, married another man with a position in a large company and moved out of the country. She had abandoned them in favor of a new life, as far away from the husband, a daughter, a disabled son and a grandson as she could get.
The son, disabled with profound Down’s syndrome, played with Little Nicky and loved his nephew like no one could love another.
On days that Robert went to school, Big Nick went for a walk along the wooded lane. No other family for a thousand miles, Child Services checked in on them once a week and spent an hour inspecting cabinets, laundry and playing “endless questions”.
His finances, also under scrutiny on a regular basis, stretched to the breaking point every month, he often held his breath. His retirement depleted early on with private care for Robert before he found a program to accept him that worked best. The stress over the years since Maggie left built to profound levels.
Then AnnaMarie’s plane went down in the ocean, there was nothing to bury, no survivors, no body. Just her and his son-in-law were gone. Nicky, too young to make the business trip for just an afternoon meeting with some politician who promised her a possible posting in a desirable location.
They talked of Japan, or Ireland, Sweden and the Nordic country names they bandied about with excitement.
But they never got to the meeting, a volcanic eruption a hundred miles away spread ash, harder than metal, in the sky. What looked like light haze, was in point of fact, volcanic dust.
Jet engines, a spinning, flying blowtorch, ingested the abrasive salad of silica, crystalized carbon and thousand other ingredients that rapidly destroyed the internal parts of the jet engines. The investigators discovered one engine detonated, shrapnel separated from the central hub, destroying the wing controls, then at just under five-thousand feet, the wing separated from the fuselage, sending it into a one-way trip into non-compressible water at two-hundred miles-per-hour. The ocean, there almost three miles deep, prevented proper recovery.
Hellish as it was, Big Nick had performed harder jobs at some time in his life.
Pretty sure, anyway. He just could never remember when it was so miserable.
Explaining to Little Nicky what happened was, perhaps, the most difficult. They both cried, Big Nick for his losses, Little Nick because he never saw the elder cry before.
Today, they walked together Little Nick and he. The young man had a spirit that pulled on his soul, so much like his mom.
He pulled his grandfather’s soul into the wind like a kite. With steely-blue eyes and a curiosity that knew no limits, the once red-headed giant of the boy’s life drew his breath again and answered the next questions while they walked, holding hands.
“How much to clouds weigh?”
“What are clouds made of?
“Why do they float….”
He loved his grandson.