Bernie

It was a bustling dinner crowd.  I was chatting with a grateful mother of four, after snagging her daughter, who was in that stage where she loved to discard her shoes and sprint away in a fit of giggles.  I deposited the still laughing girl back on the pavement of our alleyway, where her older brothers, full-bellied and groggy, grabbed her hands, dutifully.  The stroller and family wheeled away, when a familiar face popped up from beyond our cheerful green door.  “Bernie!” I exclaim, immediately and unabashedly pulling him into a deep hug.  “Oh, Bernie, we’ve missed you!”  “I just got out today,” he tells me.  We break apart, and I just look at him.  He is in his mid-eighties now, but was blushing furiously, as is his humble habit.  His face though, was split into a wide, gap-toothed boyish grin.  He looks wonderful and I tell him so.  “I went in at 96 pounds and I’m up to 120!” he says.

Bernie’s been a face missing around our table for the better part of late summer.  He’s the kind of man that stuffs his cookie in his pocket and delivers it to his homebound friend after our dinner meal.  He is a kind and generous companion to everyone he meets and loves to listen to classical music on the radio before he retires each night.

He worked for many years as a store clerk in a department store, before age caught up with him.  His pension is small and money is tight and he relies on us for nourishment much of the time.  He remembers with fondness the days when he first moved to Syracuse when a dollar could afford him a hot meal and a room at a boarding house.  Bernie marvels at the meals we serve, often guessing what they might cost at a restaurant, much to the pleasure of Bob and Brenda.

In early summer, on his way to his apartment on the near Northside, Bernie slipped and fell and shattered his shoulder.  He shows me his huge scar, and I try not to imagine him lying alone and in pain on that early summer night.  He shows off his range of mobility and how much the nurses and physical therapists have helped in his recovery.

“Everyone’s been missing you,” I smile and tell him.  As if on key, Kevin, a young man with piercings and dyed hair, who first met Bob over a meal here at the Samaritan, emerges and again, Bernie’s name rings down Montgomery Street, to welcome him home.  Weeks before, Kevin had first brought us news of Bob’s fall when he visited him in the hospital.  He had given Bernie his last five dollar bill, just in case he needed anything.

Armed with cups of coffee, the two depart to catch up.  After a hug goodbye and a promise to come back the next day, I watch the unlikely pair walk away.  To myself, I marvel at the friendships forged over a simple meal.  And I can’t help but think that it is a comfort to me that even as we search for a space, we already are a home to so many.