Philadelphia. Spring, 2007. I stood in the bath center of a large department store — I don't remember which one. I'd been given an important shopping task. My mission was to buy a shower curtain and towels for my father-in-law's new bathroom. This might not sound like a big deal, but you have to understand, my father-in-law, E. Steven Bauer, was a very big deal. He was a retired pharmaceutical executive, a pharmacist, a man who led the team that brought the first local production of antibiotics to India and Pakistan in the early 1950's. He built the factories, rode in a a Jeep wearing a pith helmet, and oversaw the inoculation of thousands of people, thereby saving countless lives. He could converse in seven languages and was a gourmet chef — witty, urbane, intelligent, and charming. And I am telling you, none of the shower curtains I was looking at was suitable. Not one.
I went to another large department store that looked exactly like the department store I had just been in. I marched to their bath section, picturing Steven flying around the globe, making a difference. I looked at their shower curtains, nixed the Tweety and Sylvester, pushed past the one covered by large yellow fish, stood stunned before the one with "Peek-a-boo" written across it. I looked for someone to help me, but large department stores never have actual people working in them. Tweed, I thought. Steven loves tweed. here were no tweed shower curtains. You'd think tweed would have occurred, at the very least, to Ralph Lauren.
Blue, I thought. He likes blue. There was baby blue, metallic blue, sky blue, no Steven blue. I went to another store, finally found a employee, and blurted, "I need a very significant shower curtain." I found it — non-fussy with vertical brown, blue, and cream stripes. I picked out brown towels — lush, though purposeful. Steven nodded when he saw what I'd chosen. I put them in his bathroom. "Very nice," he said, and that was that.
I was remembering this last week as I sat in his bathroom, crying. Steven passed away on Saturday, November 14th, after a wretched parade of injuries and illnesses took their final toll. I knew him for twenty-eight years. He never made small talk; he was ethical to his core; he possessed deep wells of courage; and he loved my apple pie. This Thanksgiving, as our family gathers in Philadelphia, the joy of knowing him and the pain of losing him will be deep. Dear God, how he will be missed.