The Old Man Won
"Ok. Roasted turkey and whipped sweet potatoes? Is that what you said?
"Yep. They usually have them right here."
"Oh look! You're in luck! Here they are on the top shelf." I stood on my tip toes, stretched my arm into the freezer and pulled the Lean Cuisine dinners forward with the tips of my fingers. I brought six or seven down to the man in the motorized scooter, and as I placed them in the wire basket attached to the front handlebars, bringing a wide smile to his face.
"I guess you can tell who does the cookin' in my house." He sat back in on the black vinyl scooter seat. His black orthopedic shoes, khaki trousers, and white windbreaker indicated he was from a different era.
"Well, nothing wrong with turkey and sweet potatoes," I said as I thought about how I had done my good deed for the day and would say, "Happy to help you." and keep moving.
"Yeah, I'm 96..."
Uh oh. He was ready for a conversation, but I was tired and just wanted to pick up the few things I needed so I could get home. "I just don't have time..." I silently argued down the little voice that wanted me to stay and enter into the conversation with this old man. Just as I shut her up, I felt that familiar tug inside my heart and it grew stronger my the millisecond. That feeling that needed no words but if it did it would say, "Maybe one day you'll be old and retired, you'll have time on your hands. And maybe you'll park your scooter next to the frozen food case looking for turkey and sweet potatoes, and maybe, just maybe, you'll hope someone will want to talk with you -- just for a few minutes."
Together, and unbeknownst to each other, the old man and the nagging feeling won.
"Are you from the area?" I smiled and politely inquired.
"Oh yes. Worked at Mack Truck for a lot of years. Retired at 84. They don't like me too much, though." He said with a hint of the familiar Pennsylvania Dutch accent I know so well from my husband's side of the family.
"Why don't they like you?"
"I just keep livin' and they gotta keep payin' my pension!" The old man cracked up at his own joke.
I laughed with him noticing that not only was he a tall, but he looked fit for 96 years old despite the fact that he was using a scooter. I couldn't help but notice his face as we conversed, textured and worn like white leather -- the deep wrinkles, his exceptionally large nose and sagging earlobes -- all signs of someone who has lived a very long time. His upper back was slightly hunched, and his fingers a bit gnarled. He was quickly becoming a character in a book I still haven't written.
In the next fifteen minutes, I learned that this man, Burt, had been a paratrooper with the Devil's Brigade in Canada. He was proud to show me the emblem on his jacket and tell me that he has been speaking to school children and church groups for years about his experiences. When I asked him if he was Canadian by birth, he smiled and said, "Now that's a long story." But, I had time, and he needed little encouragement. I learned about his family, his children, the family florist business he had been part of for many years. He knew many of my husband's relatives and the landmarks I had spoken of in the small town where we talked in front of the frozen food section.
The time came to say goodbye, and Burt extended his hand and gave me a hearty handshake.
"It was wonderful to meet you, Burt, and I hope Mack has to pay your pension for a good long time."
He was quite humored by my comment.
I finished my shopping, checked out, and as I was pushing my cart to my car, I noticed a young man on a motorized scooter heading for the store entrance. Our eyes met and he shrugged his shoulders, pointed to Burt getting into his old silver car, and said, "That guy over there said he wanted me to drive this back to the store. How could I argue?" I smiled and nodded.
Argue? I tried that doing that with the little voice, and didn't win. I'm so glad I lost that one.