My purpose in visiting him at his modernist Northern Neck office - glass front, soaring ceiling, table with sculptural metal pieces that began in the floor, went through the glass and ended at the ceiling - was to interview him for a story I'm working on.
After offering me espresso or tea (I chose peppermint tea, made in an electric tea kettle his Scottish wife chose), we sat down in front of the enormous window with the sound of rain falling on the metal roof. The sophisticated vibe was anything but small town, despite being in a hamlet of 400 people.
As we dispensed with the purpose of my visit, me asking and him answering, it didn't take long for the Irish Catholic (me) and the German Catholic (him) to realize we had loads in common. Partly, it was our similar ages, but partly it was everything else.
When he heard I had six sisters, he shared that his mother was one of 19 kids and his Dad one of 12. "Meaning I had close to 200 first cousins so I had to leave town just to find someone I could marry legally. And that's just first cousins!"
Talking about how he'd ended up in such a small pond, he admitted wanting to escape the unrelenting cold weather and boring people of the Midwest. When I asked about his current house, he pulled out a national magazine and showed me an 8-page spread on the bay-front house he designed.
When I asked about a huge watercolor painting of NYC's Chrysler building on a nearby wall, he explained that he'd traded his table saw for the painting after his wife worried about him losing fingers to the saw (which dimmed all the lights in the house when he used it) and being unable to have sufficient digits to continue as an architect.
There's a woman looking out for her man.
Hell, we spent 20 minutes just on nutrition, exercise and sleep. Rarely (or should I say never?) do I meet a man who cares, much less addresses in his own life, such issues. Based on how good he looked, he was obviously doing
Probably our longest topic was the tectonic shift in the world that we've seen in our lifetimes.
Not the obvious stuff like cell phones and computers, but the fact that we began life in a world that no longer exists and got to live through the sea changes that resulted in this brave, new world we now inhabit. How it was easier for us as young people to adjust to the new world order than it had been for our parents who still embraced the old ways.
What a gift it had been to have to navigate college - choosing, applying and paying for it ourselves without parental assistance - on our own and come out of the experience with so much more than an academic education. He said his father gave him a book of stamps and told him to write. That's it. No advice, no help, just stamps.
P.S. He never wrote.
We gabbed about ourselves, sharing our similar and dissimilar memories (he had conservative parents while I was fortunate enough to be raised by two screaming liberals) for the rest of the rainy afternoon until finally I got ready to take my leave, my peppermint tea long gone.
He walked me to the door and thanked me for driving out on such a nasty day but mostly for all the conversation. As I scooped up my umbrella, I turned for one last talking point, my favorite.
His first concert was Marshall Tucker. "No one even remembers who that was anymore," he laughed. Looking at this extremely urbane and stylish man dressed in a European-cut suit with the kind of fashion-forward shoes and glasses unheard of on the Northern Neck, I never would have guessed.
Driving home, the rain had stopped but the swamps were shrouded with the ghosts of fog making its way across the landscape. Passing a junkyard, the sign out front read, "Go tell it on the mountain."
I had a far better time telling it in an architect's office, but that's probably just me.