Thanks For The Cold Beer
Published: April 2, 2016
On August 16, 2000, my wife and I moved into a new home in Crown Point, Indiana - just outside of Chicago. Within an hour of our lugging in the last box, a man with white hair and white sideburns walked down our driveway, carrying with him a ride-on sports car. "I figure you'll want this. Good street for racing, and I see you have a wee one with you”. He was speaking about my daughter, Julia, who at the time was all of 90 days old - and hardly in need of a ride-on sports car.
The man introduced himself as Mel. We talked for quite a while and shared a beer. It was the nicest, warmest welcome we could ever imagine. We hadn't unloaded the truck more than two hours before, and this already felt like home.
Being August 16th (the day that Elvis died), and with those sideburns, it was obvious. This man would henceforth be known to our family as "Melvis". He hated (and secretly loved) it, ending our first conversation with "I don't know about you, Wilson”.
I heard that almost every day from his yard as we were both up at 5am. "I don't know about you, Wilson". Every. Day.
Melvis had gone through a recent divorce, and his kids were all grown. It was pretty apparent he was a bit lonely, so our family adopted him. Every Sunday evening, he would bring a carton of chocolate milk for the kids, then sit and eat with us. We always let him sit at the head of the table, acting as the kids' grandfather.
Every Saturday morning for the next several years, Melvis would walk up the driveway with tools in hand, looking to help me work on whatever woodworking project I happened to be taking on. He didn't know a damned thing about woodworking, which made his assistance all the more valuable.
Before long, we had one of "those" streets, where everyone knew and liked each other. If you detected the smell of charcoal, you grabbed whatever you had in the freezer and made your way to the source where you were sure to see other neighbours just being with people they genuinely liked. We all understood how lucky we were.
It came to the point where there was a stocked community fridge in our garage. Everyone was welcome to grab what they needed, whenever they needed it. The only requirement was to replace the beer you took out.
On August 15th, several years later, I was with friends on our porch organizing a golf tournament for the next day. The day after that would be a visit to Melvis' cottage about an hour outside of Indianapolis. He and his ex-wife had been "dating" again, and he wanted to show off his family (us). Fifty-eight years old at the time, Mel was offered an early retirement and had decided to go ahead with it. He would retire in six short weeks – hence the cottage. Melvis was in a very, very good place in his life after having suffered for some time.
My friends watched this white-haired man stroll down our driveway with a six pack of beer in his hand, entering the garage, and paying no attention to us. They looked at me in shock. "There's a guy that just went in your garage. You saw that, right?”. I had - then went about my business, organizing the sponsors for the tournament the next day. They just stared at each other. We could all hear clanking from the garage, then out he came. Melvis walked back down the driveway, a different six pack in hand. He just nodded with a smile, leaving my colleagues in deep confusion.
We had our golf tournament the next morning. I got home at about 4pm. There were far more cars than normal parked on our street.
Jeannie (Melvis’ ex-wife and current girlfriend) came out of her house almost immediately. Eyes swollen from crying, she just pulled me into a big hug. I knew.
Mel "Melvis" Mueller died on August 16th at 10:30am (fittingly, on the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death). He had suffered a massive heart attack and was gone long before the ambulance had arrived. He had been at his new cottage working on building new front steps so that our daughter wouldn't have difficulty getting to the front door the next morning.
It was the most difficult funeral I had ever attended. Our relationship was incredibly special, not because of bloodline, but because we chose each other as family.
Jeannie asked if there was anything I wanted. I didn't. She asked if some of the tools he used to help me on Saturday mornings would be of use. They would be of use. But of no help. I went through the same thing as everyone else does after losing someone this close, almost resenting "things" that were once his.
Over the next few days, I kept to myself for the most part, just trying to register would had happened. I was honestly devastated. And I was cheated out of my goodbye.
Then something wonderful and amazing happened. My wife came running from the garage, crying, but with a smile on her face. I just remember saying "What? What?". She held up a tiny piece of paper that was left tucked under a six pack in the community fridge.
It simply said "Thanks for the cold beer."
It sounds so incredibly small, I know. But I cried. It was a happy cry. This meant something to me. It wasn't a "thing". It was a direct note from him to me. And to me, it symbolized everything about Melvis, and about us. This one small note helped like I couldn't have imagined.
And that's why we do this.