He came in everyday, sometimes twice a day.
It started about a year ago. He would come in with his book and order a salad to go. If it was midday, he drank a Guinness. Last in the afternoon, he wanted an Irish coffee made with two shots of espresso. He always expressly asked for me to make it, claiming that I somehow made it differently then everyone else, and asked me to train the other staff to learn whatever special trick it was. There wasn't a special trick. Maybe my pours are just different.
He was older, early seventies maybe, and wore the uniform of older European men although he wasn't expressly right off of the boat from Ireland. Maybe his parents were. Panama Jack hats in summer, wool newsboy caps in winter.
He knew every staff member's name, and apologized as his orders got more complicated. No hot peppers on the salad, quesadillas cooked lightly so as to be somewhat mushy. I don't remember when we first found out or who he told, but after a period of time it was common knowledge that he was buying meals, twice a day, for his wife who was dying of cancer. Some days she wanted a spinach salad, some days veggie quesadillas. Maybe once or twice, a hamburger. Mild, everything with no seasoning.
In the past month or two, it was quiche she wanted. Even during non-breakfast hours, staff would get a cold piece of quiche wrapped up for him to take home and warm up.
"How are you doing today?" he always asked me. "You look very energetic!" or "You look like you just got back from the beach!" He always tipped us well, always smiled, always called us by name. "Busy today!" he'd comment and take a seat in the corner to read his book, drink his Guinness, and wait for the to-go order.
Once or twice, he seemed exhausted. "You have no idea how nice it is to just come here and sit and read," he told me once. "Just a few minutes of the day to relax." I imagined that taking care of someone dying of cancer must be one of the hardest things a human could do for another person, but he never once seemed run-down by it. Quieter, at times, and grateful for the few minutes of relative quiet he could grab sitting at the bar reading his book, but never down-trodden.
"She wants a veggie quesadilla today!" he'd proclaim. I started trying to figure out if this was a good thing; if quesadilla days were better than spinach salad days. If quiche days were the worst of all. I never asked.
Once, I told him about how several of my friends relocated to San Francisco. He said he thought I'd love it there. When he left that day, there was a note sitting on the bar from him. If you make it to San Francisco, let me know. I have many contacts there. I have been carrying that note around in my wallet ever since.
He passed away in his sleep yesterday. His son came into the coffee house this morning to tell us. The whole time, we'd been waiting for news of his wife. Not to hear this about him.
He spent the last year or two of his life taking care of his ailing wife. And, once or twice a day, walking over to pick up to-go food for her and enjoying his afternoon beer. He read philosophy and history books, mostly. I don't know what he ever did for a living, if he still worked. I knew he had a son that came to visit periodically and lived somewhere far-ish...Phoenix? Albequerque?
Death seems to reach us in ways no other thing can. It touches something, it offers an awareness. His kindness, his patience with the world will be truly missed.
And I will carry that note with me forever. Wherever I make it, I'm sure he has a contact or two.