was a long time before I called him Charles. For years he was
Dr. Reichel... Pastor Reichel... Cara's father. Early on in
our acquaintance, I was terrified of him. He had a very grave
manner, an imposing presence, and a booming voice. And here I
was, this 22 year old kid who had dared to move to New York City with
his daughter... living in sin, with the preacher's daughter!
What would he say to me? What would he do to me?
Well what he did was welcome me into his home for Christmas.
And he continued to do so, year after year for the next eight
years, treating me with kindness and love, as if I were already a part
of his family—which I still wasn't. I can only
imagine what he must have thought of the situation. But not
once during all those years was I pulled aside and given a stern
lecture, which would have been well within his rights! At
last there came a certain Christmas at the Reichels when Cara unwrapped
a special present from me: an engagement ring. For
Cara and me it may not have changed that much in our relationship; we'd
known for years that we were committed to each other. But
after that, I felt like
I could finally call her father Charles.
He gave the sermon at our wedding, and I'd be hard-pressed to tell you
most of what he said. Not just because Charles's oratorical
style tended to make one's head spin—which it often
did—but also because that whole day was a blur to
me. I do remember at one point he stopped and played a
recording of a song of mine for the congregation—a rather
silly song about dreams being like dishes that get dirty and have to
cleaned again and again. From that far-fetched metaphor of mine, he
drew a lesson about marriage and about the work it requires to keep it
fresh. I'm grateful he was there for our wedding. I
only wish he could have been around for a few more of our milestones.
Especially, I wish he could have seen Cara and I get a show
to Broadway. I know he had faith in us, maybe more than we
have in ourselves.
This most recent Christmas he caught a mouse. Charles was not
a man to use snap traps or glue traps. Those were inhumane.
Instead, he used a homemade setup with bait at the end of a
ruler that tipped into a bucket, leaving you with a live mouse that
could then be released into the wild. So after catching a
mouse in this manner, he invited me along for the "release" phase of
the operation. This involved getting in the car and driving
to a sufficiently remote location to ensure the visitor would not
return. I was the driver, while he took charge of the bucket.
We went a mile or so down the road and pulled up in front of
a house. Charles explained that the house was unoccupied, but
there was a nice stump in the front yard where he'd been releasing all
the mice he caught because it looked like a cozy kind of home.
So he liberated our prisoner and had just gotten back in the
car when the front door of the house opened and a man came out.
Oops—the house wasn't unoccupied after all! I was
at the wheel of the car, and I looked to Charles to see what he wanted
me to do: should we try to make a getaway? No, he
was already getting out of the car and going over to talk to the man.
I watched from the safety of the car as he greeted his new
neighbor and endeavored to explain the unusual house-warming gift.
After a few minutes they parted with smiles and a handshake.
I thought about how if I were on my own in that situation I
would probably have fled the scene, but that wasn't Charles's way.
Everything about the episode seemed characteristic of the man
I had come to know by then... the mercy shown the mouse, the
well-meaning but misguided plan, and the simple forthrightness in
dealing with his neighbor. I will miss those qualities.
Christmas won't be the same. But I see so much of
him in Cara, and that's some consolation.
Rest In Peace, Charles.