Tag Archives: old age
Jack, the Triple War Veteran, a nonfiction
I met Jack, the 91-year-old, 52-years-of-service-including-3-wars, Army veteran on May 31st, 2013, approximately two months after I “woke up” from what was [then] my life, when I went to go fill my mom-mobile (white minivan) with mid-grade gasoline products (it may be only a mom-mobile, but i have a NEED FOR SPEED) at the Gate convenience store/gas station two blocks or so from my house. I saw him sitting over by the vacuum/air/water station, on the round, concrete base of a streetlamp, his sleek, black, wheeled walker/chair thingie so piled up with odds and ends of clothes, shoes, and bags of snacks that it looked more like a shopping cart from across the parking lot. His hair and beard were striking: long, silvery white, shiny and silky and clean. He looked like a very trim, fit Santa Claus, and when I first saw him, I would never have guessed he was 91 years old. I approached him because I am what some people call a “bleeding heart liberal,” that is, my heart sort of sags and melts when I am confronted with people having needs that, to them, loom insolvable, and in actuality can be solved with a couple of $5 or $10 bills.
“Sir,” I said, “I don’t want to offend you in any way, but do you need anything? Can I do anything for you? Anything at all? Do you need a few bucks, maybe?”
“Honey,” he said. “I’ve been saving my money all my life!” He took his wallet out, showed me a bunch of folded bills, and pulled a big stack of quarters out of his shorts’ pocket. Jack was born in West Virgina, called himself a good, old hillbilly.
“Jack’s a great name,” I said. “One of my grandpas was named Jack.”
“They named me after the dog!” he said.
“Well, they must have loved that dog,” I said. “It must have been a terrific dog!”
“They still named me after the dog,” he said. I have named pets after people, and wanted to do the reverse, just never had the actual opportunity. (Wait for it!)
“I went to West Virginia once,” I said. “I was in Morgantown.”
“The University of West Virginia!” he said.
“I know, it’s a beautiful town,” I said. “And the state is beautiful, all those green hills.”
Turns out, he’s hanging out at the convenience store to get away from his daughter. “She wants me to be the child, and her to be the parent, now,” he said. “I’m too old for that!”
“I hear you,” I said. “Does she know where you are?”
“I don’t really want her to,” he said. “She lives right down the street, in a house I bought her back in 1972.”
He named his first rifle Miss Betty….
He was with Patton in N. Africa, at just 18 yrs. old, he was for a brief time Patton’s assistant? Patton’s army was chasing Rommel, he and Jack started arguing over which way Rommel should to go; they disagreed (he & Patton) but Jack turned out to be right. In a rage, Patton grabbed his (Jack’s) rifle once & shot into the air with it. Yes, I could see General Patton doing such a thing. Hahaha.
His daughter, whom he is on the lam from, is nicknamed BooBoo: she got that nickname because as a baby she’d hide behind cabinets, furniture, poke her head out & say Boo, Daddy, Boo!
He is not married now, he likes it that way, nobody telling him what to do.
When I told him how nice he looked, how he didn’t look 91 at all: “I take care of myself! I’ve got to! People say I’m a loner, but it’s three of us: me, myself and I.”
God’s on his right shoulder, sometimes God tells him things, what to do or not to do: sometimes he doesn’t listen, does what he wants, not what God says. Later, he hears God saying, I told you so. God has blessed him. Every time we shook hands, me trying to exit stage right because my own 15 year old BooBoo was at home waiting for me to get back, he said, “God bless you,” and I said, thank you so much. His eyes, the pale clear blue of a child’s, the twinkle of a child’s, the mischievous, rascally soul shining out of them. But a good, good man. Stationed all over the world and the United States of America. The state of Florida was the site of his last posting. He got misty-eyed thinking about one of his predeceased children, another daughter, however, he did not mention her name, and because of aforementioned misty-eyed-ness, I did not ask.
They once had a terrible episode of anthrax on the farm, when he was a child? The cow had to get shots from the vet, they couldn’t use the cow’s milk for 6 weeks, then it was OK. That cow gave so much milk, she had to be milked three times a day, not just two.
He wore dog tags, wouldn’t let me look at them: “the last person that sees these is the one who’s supposed to bury me.”
“Well, I certainly don’t want to be the last to see them, then,” I said.
A student buying beer stopped & handed him a tall cold water bottle. Jack thanked the boy warmly, saying “God bless you,” then after the boy walked off, he handed me the bottle.
“Aren’t you going to need this?” I asked him, concerned.
“I’ve got everything I need right here,” he said, pointing to his loaded “sulky,” a plastic grocery bag hanging: was that the water? “Besides,” he said, “that’s too cold. And besides, I really like beer.”
“But you might need this water later,” I protested.
“Look,” said Jack, “he gave it to me, I’m giving it to you. I’m just in the middle.” I had to accept, gracefully, so I did, but I still felt a bit guilty. The gift was Jack’s, but he wouldn’t keep it, he had to pass it along to me.
The store clerk, a young African American lad, came out to check on us; I think he wanted to make sure I wasn’t endangering Jack. Jack handed him a huge pile of quarters, asked if he’d bring him out some beer.
“What kind?” the young man asked.
“O.P.,” Jack answered.
The clerk was confused. “What’s that?” he said?
“Other people’s,” laughed Jack.
“I think he means it really doesn’t matter what kind of beer you bring him,” I said to the young man. So he went inside with the money, came back out with a boxed six-pack & Jack’s excess change.
A woman, with a hard-lived look, came over to talk to us. She knew Jack already, addressed him by name. She was also a veteran, Operation Desert Storm. She asked me if I could spare some gas money. “It’s the end of the month,” she explained, “and I’m coming up short. I just have to make it a few more days.”
“Sure,” I said, relieved that I could at least give her something, fulfill the impulse that had brought me over to Jack. I went to my purse, grabbed a ten dollar bill. While I was doing that, I saw Jack getting his money out to give her some, too. He brought out a fiver. Jack and I handed her the money, she shook my hand & thanked us both, and went to pump her gas.
Jack was dressed like a cool surfer guy; shorts with a nice braided belt, no shirt, his dog tag necklace, a pinky ring carved out of some sort of jade on his right hand, a couple of funky/hipster/hippy bracelets on his left wrist. Quite fashionable looking, and I couldn’t get over the condition of his hair; silky & clean & shiny & sparkling silver, and the same with the beard, it grew to a natural point just below his breastbone. The only long beard I’ve ever seen that looked beautiful! His skin was amazingly smooth & healthy looking, considering the amount of sun exposure he must’ve seen! I mean, he was 91 and he had very little sun damage, not many wrinkles, though of course a bit of sagging around the jowls. No frown lines! His only physical flaw was some missing teeth; it was apparent he could have had dentures or a bridge if he’d wanted them, but I think he was more comfortable without.
When I was leaving, I blew him a kiss.
“I’d rather have the real thing,” he chuckled.
“I can’t,” I said, “I’m married.” We both laughed then. If I had known that day, May 31st, that my husband was going to dump me, unceremoniously, in front of the yard man, in the side driveway, I certainly would have kissed him (Jack!), full on the lips! Like, a billion times!
[If he’d had all his own teeth, not only might I have given him a closed-mouth smooch, but I probably would have tried somehow to fix him up with my former mother-in-law who live[d] in my attached guest house (that I built for her & her husband, who died 3 years ago, but who would be 91 now) (who was the only decent person in THAT entire FUCKING FAMILY). Said former “mother in law”
was, and is still, an ignorant idiot and would have been put off by Jack’s missing teeth. Plus, she is, as we used to say in middle school, “mental.”] *ahem* NO FURTHER COMMENT PERMITTED, BY LAW. Did you know, that for IRS purposes, you can NEVER GET RID OF AN IN-LAW? Once an “in law” for tax purposes, always an “in law.” The law presupposes that divorced persons might still have attachments to one another’s family members. Hahahahaha. Isn’t that FUNNY?????
Oh, P.S. I, myself, now have a dog named… wait for it… JACK, a rescue from the Dixie County, Florida animal rescue organization, a sweet one-year-old weimaraner/yellow lab mix! Jack the dog’s eyes are yellow/green & deep….
Oh, and P.P.S. And you’re not going to believe this! On the way to present this piece at an “open mic” at Coffee Culture on 13th Street in Gainesville, Florida, the fabulous Tristan Harvey, emcee & manager of the joint, in any case, ON THE WAY TO THE FUCKING OPEN MIC, i ran in to jack, on the way! it was raining, i pulled over & asked him if he needed a ride. he said no, i said, isn’t your name jack, and HE LIED BECAUSE HE THOUGHT I WAS THERE CAPTURING HIM to take him back to his daughter!!!!!!
GODDAMNED TRUE STORY. BELIEVE IT, OR NOT.
um, but if you know what’s good for you, you’ll take my written words as GOSPEL TRUTH.
THE PIANO PLAYER
(originally published in the New Laurel Review)
She is small and curved:
like a dry snake, or a memory.
She lives in a house for unwanted ones.
This is the place of knowledge.
As her mouth opens toward me, it is like a babe’s;
tongue stuck out to be fierce —
provoking merely pity.
This is the time of changing.
The light against her skin reveals too much use;
her gown is blue and white.
She pats my arm, adjusts her jade rosary.
This is the look of eternity.
They all hated her, before —
they thought her shameless, a malingerer.
Slowly, she revealed her innocence.
This is the path to forgiveness.
She danced, she danced, she danced lightly:
on feet made of dust.
Countless boys adored her, gave her flawless jewels.
This is how she remembers.
The house, three stories, the carpet in the grand library,
now, moth-eaten, rolled to save space in the attic.
She sings row, row, row your boat, her feeble arms rotating.
This is the way of all possessions.
She sat with her sisters on the dark mahogany furniture,
waiting for the sun to cure them.
They fled — too hasty — their heritage in barrels, drowned.
This is what is meant by family.
Chocolates, bacon, a stuffed rabbit,
are all in the world she desires.
When she is happy, the dead live again.
This is the blessing of forgetfulness.
And as I rise, she purses lips,
rattles beads, plucks knitted blanket,
asks for the next interlude, hushed.
This is the harvest of love.