He always called me “un poco”, Spanish for a little. The first time I met him, his wife proudly told me that he was teaching himself Spanish. His native language is German and he also speaks English and French. He has always had a gift for language, she tells me. He sees her gesture toward his Spanish text, open on the dining room table, and he asks me if I speak Spanish.
“¿Hablas Español?” he asks.
“Un poco,” I reply.
He gets a great laugh out of this and repeats it. He repeats it to his wife although she is standing right next to him and has heard our interaction. I have come to meet him and his wife at their home in Northern Virginia. They downsized several years earlier to a beautiful three-level townhome in a lovely community with lots of long walking paths and beautiful flowerbeds. They enjoy going on walks and I can imagine them walking hand in hand along the paths.
He always holds her hand. Even as they show me around inside their home, he is holding her hand. She anchors him to keep his confusion from pulling him off his feet. I can imagine him floating off like a balloon if she were to let go of his hand. As we walk around their home, she fondly shows me all the wonderful mementoes they have collected during a lifetime together. This is one of my favorite parts of the job, so I don’t rush her. I look at the items and hear the stories about how they found their treasures. They show me a beautifully framed rubbing they made of a stone carving at temple they visited many years ago. He is still holding her hand as they stand in front of the rubbing and I know she is remembering the day they made it. He will wait there gazing at it for as long as she does. He must take his cues from her.
Their daughter is the one that arranged my first meeting with them. She stops by a few times a week to bring groceries and make sure they are both doing okay. She will be out of town for two weeks and needs someone to take over for her. And if there is an emergency, is it okay if they call you? Even if it is in the middle of the night?
When I drop by to visit during the week, he does not remember me. His wife explains to him in their native German that I am there to visit them while their daughter is on vacation. He does not understand, or quickly forgets, and she must soon explain again. Eventually, sometimes as I am moving toward the front door at the end of my visit, sometimes earlier, but always after I have been there a while and his wife has reminded him several times, his memory is suddenly triggered. I can plainly see on his face that he has remembered me. He smiles broadly, reaching out to grasp my hand, and says, “¡Un poco!”