“Do you have a minute, youngster?” were the words from the elderly man at the Old Folks Center.
The old man was just over 100 hundred years old or young depending on how you want to call the game and he then began to explain to me all about his life and the items that were the most important to him. I guess that is the way, at times, when we first meet a person that we like and want to explore a friendship. Or, on a date and the moments of uncomfortable nothingness is being said. But why? You too scared to say something? Or you just like to let the other person talk? Doesn’t really matter unless he or she is gonna become your spouse. And then the choice of what a person just might be saying becomes more worrisome. But always ask yourself before you marry someone-Can I accept this person with all their bad habits? Or will you ever learn them prior to marriage? Most likely not. Now gosh darn it, you gonna find out all the good and the really bad habits after both of you say-I think I do…But then ask yourself, can I marry this person with all the monetary debt that they have gathered thus far? Not being able to make it work does play a part for sure. Love alone just don’t cut it. Lots of fun times under the sheets are fun, but they don’t pay the bill collector for sure. And all of us have seen youngsters fall in love and without a second of thought, they get married and in six months, they are divorced because no planning was ever laid out. And all of us have seen woman after woman left with the burden of being pregnant and fending for themselves. All by themselves. Sink or float, the man done up and left her and their child on the way.
But that old man’s words always haunts me on cold Winter Nights and all that he told me on one of many of our talks on my visits to that Old Folks Home. You know, I’ve heard them places called lots of names and even that Go to Die Place, The Forgotten but walking Place, Creepers Row, Bug Crawler Alleyway. And those retarded words-ya’ll don’t need to be going to them Old Folks cause you can catch something from all of them. How truly sad. The only thing I think a person might catch at an Assisted Living Facility are words of real life and real Hard Times. Maybe, the hardest of all. But that WWII was a bruiser for sure and the most important reason for folks to not ever talk War Talk or Saber Rattling cause the Death Angel is always open for business and ready to collect all takers. And something Internet Trollers ought not ever degrade with that was all fake sort of crap sayings that the Trollers are always posting about everyone and everything.
“Youngster, I remember D-Day (June 6, 1944 at Normandy, France) like it was the back of my hand. That was a bad thing to see and I still sometimes tremble when I do think back about it. But youngster, you wouldn’t know nothing about that. But that was a day. A mighty sad day for sure. I can still remember my friends getting blown up and some beyond all recognizing. And the way I was praying was just about as powerful as I have ever prayed in my entire life. You was just so damn scared and you prayed and you jumped down here and you ran and you jumped down there. You fired at spots of light flashing ahead and you just knew that some cheap form of metal had your name on it. I mean I was so scared that I pooped and I pissed in my pants because I had no control over it. I couldn’t keep nothing in and it was flowing out of me from all three ends of my body. Every end of my body. Youngster, you ever hear folks talk War Talk?”
“Yes, Sir,” I said. My family has lots of WWII Veterans and once in a while, one of them might talk about it but it’s mostly sort of secret talk that they keep to themselves when they are in a group by themselves. That’s when you get to hear the real words of War and things sometimes better left alone. The words that they only talk about among themselves. So, I often sat in the Old Man’s room listening to Country and Western Records on an old phonograph. Wow, that’s something most youngsters will never ever hear and even farther were the wind-up ones that really played some old timey songs.
So, the old man would talk and then stop when his favorite song was being played. That’s when I would always see a sparkle in the Old Man’s eyes and a smile that had to be of some past good times.
“Youngster, I always liked going down to the Drug Store and get me a Coke Float or a Root Beer Float. Sonny, those were some good ole days. But then came that awful War. And folks here at home had to pitch in as well. They had to use War Rations from these books to buy lots of things. It weren’t easy for anyone. War takes tons of money and tons of hardware like clothes and food and fuel and all sorts of resources and all sort of metals to make Ships, Planes, and Guns. And food had to go first to all us Soldier Boys. My mom and dad had the farm and it didn’t hurt them as bad as others always eating potted meat, vienna sausages, or Spam. But them canned rations weren’t all that bad. You know, I came to like lots of them.
I still remember liking this roast beef and potatoes one the best and they even gave us cookies or candy and a small pack of four or five cigarettes for us to smoke in each box too. Them boxes even had matches in them. But I remember how I vomited over and over again on those Liberty Ships or Troop Ships that carried us over there and back to America again. It was vomit city. The worst thing I remember is seeing folks turning green from motion sickness. Motion Sickness didn’t bother me. It was the smelling and watching all that vomiting that got to me. When the weather permitted, lots of us went on deck to get away from all that vomiting smell. I was on the USS Marine Raven and I still remember a young sailor named Mike Brown who had two jobs. Part of his shift or watch was to be a Radar Man and the other was the be a Boiler’s Mate. And that is where you shoveled your butt off feeding that boiler. You know, I even went down there and helped shovel a few times just to keep in shape. That sure was a fine young man. He was a good man and he had lost his dad at an early age. I think he told me he was six or seven. He said a bull had penned him in a corral and busted his heart until it bled him to death. You ever worked on a farm or ranch, youngster?”
“Yes, Sir, I do that all the time right now.”
“Young Man, you ever hauled hay? You ever slopped them hogs? Feed and killed a couple hundred fryer hens in a day? Rang their necks and pulled off all them feathers? You know, my own grandmother used to sell pillows she would sew up with chicken feathers inside. She sold them on Saturday down at the Square(the weekend meeting place usually around a town’s Court House on Saturdays and Holidays where folks traded their goods). We also sold fresh fryer hens and lots of eggs and that’s where you could make a horse or cow or hog buy or trade.”
“I’ve done some of that but not all of that.”
“Which part you done?”
“I did the hauling hay.”
“Youngster, if you ain’t never hauled 2000-3500 bales in a day, you ain’t never ever really hauled no hay for sure. You ever make butter?”
“No, the women always made that.”
“The women did? And you gonna tell me that all the ice cream was made by the men with them hand crank tubs. Well, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Sir, the men did most of that. The women put the mixings together and we’d put the ice around it and get to turning that handle.”
“But you never churned no butter?”
“But, I bet you liked it for sure.”
“Yes, Sir, I sure do.”
“Youngster, what’s the most favorite thing that you remember from your young days so far?”
“Playing Baseball for sure for me.”
“Baseball. America’s favorite past time. Well, no matter how tired I was in my life, I was always ready to play me some baseball. Youngster, I loved that baseball and always will. You know, I hope they got baseball in Heaven.”
“I hope they do too.”
“Youngster, you got any religious training? You go to a Church?”
“Yes, Sir. I go to First Baptist. I go to most of the stuff that the Church has to do.”
“And what do you like about that?”
“I really like Sunday night when all the women make their best things that they cook and we have a big get together meal. And then we get to play all sorts of funny games where people get to do stuff that makes them look pretty dumb and we all laugh at them.”
“Like musical chairs?”
“That was always fun unless you got bumped out of the chair and your own butt landed on the floor. Right?”
“But what I want to know is have you found the Lord, youngster?”
“Yes, Sir. I even been baptized.”
“That’s good. I’m glad to hear that. When you felt the calling, did you feel anything or hear anything?”
“I pretty well felt something powerful was going on inside of me. I felt a presence and I knew it wasn’t the Devil for sure.”
“That’s good cause most people one day will turn their backs on God like he was some sort of disease. Your Christian Beliefs are going to be tested in your lifetime youngster and you gonna have more God Hatering Groups pop-up all over the place. They gonna not hate you being a Christian as much as they needing to have something and someone to hate period. But, they are filled with their own hate and misbeliefs. You see, youngster, they hate themselves more than they hate anyone or anything else in the World. But mostly, they hate ever being born. You got any savings?”
“Yes, Sir. I do and my mother puts most of what I make in my Savings Account.”
“Youngster, that’s a good thing. But one day, you gonna see folks sitting at grocery stores and every where else trying to sucker you into a high interest Credit Card. And some of them are gonna be outrageous like 37% interest on ones not understanding how money flows. But try your best to pay off your debts as quickly as you incur them. You understand what I am saying? And always keep saving for that rainy day cause everyone gonna have a rainy day for sure. What are you driving?”
“I’m driving my Dad’s 1959 Chevy Two Door Biscayne.”
“V-8 or Straight Six in her?”
“That’s one of the best motors Chevrolet ever made, youngster. I bet they’ll be making them from now on cause they are so good. You smoke tobacco?”
“No, Sir, but I have tried it and it made me cough really bad.”
“Well, if you did, I would get you to give me some of them cigarettes.”
“But I thought you can’t smoke no more cause of your lungs?”
“It’s my body and don’t seem to matter much what I do with it because youngster, you the only friend I got left in this World. All my other friends done come and gone. They are all dead. All my Veteran Friends and I…”
The old man started crying but it was not a loud and overbearing crying. Then he wiped his eyes and started once more like he always did.
“You ever been offered any Dope?”
“One time. A kid at school asked me if I had two dollars and if I did, he would let me try a “hit” on his marijuana cigarette.”
“Marijuana. Now there’s something I really don’t know nothing about. I did hear that the Government said it was awfully bad and made people run naked down the streets and even turned them into Zombies. You ever seen any of them Dope Smoking Zombies?”
“Don’t worry, you gonna see it happen in your lifetime for sure. Seems folks can’t ever leave things alone without trying the heck out of something. You know, there are some men talking about going to the moon and other Space Talk that I been hearing all about. Even the Radio said that the Russians even put up some kind of thing up in Outer Space making some sort of weird beeping noise. They even played the sound it was making. You know, I bet that “beep….beep….beep,….beep” gonna somehow maybe mess folks’s minds up and maybe make them go plum crazy. How much is gasoline now?”
“Today, I paid eleven cents a gallon for regular. Premium was 15 cents a gallon.”
“Lord, I wish I could get out of here and go get me a steak and some potatoes and some fried eggs and bacon and cherry pie and a large glass of Beer. Now, that would be a real meal for me. You know, every Friday night, I would cook me up a dozen fried eggs that I would get from the man that runs the gas station on 6 th Street. They were farm fresh and so good. You eat fresh eggs, youngster?”
Two strange looking rocks found in a river outside Uvalde, Texas around 1982 by the author.
“Yes, Sir, I do and I love them too.”
The old man smiled as he thought back to his past.
“You know, I bet you ain’t never rode in a wagon pulled by a mule or by horses have you?”
“No, Sir. I haven’t. You hardly see them anymore except maybe in a barn here and there.”
“Yep, I’ve seen a lot in my life and you ain’t gonna see them much more. Folks only keep things around that make them happy. Even us old people are put aside when we no longer make people happy. And them automobiles done put all them wagons out to pasture just like so many other things that have come and gone. Seems folks can’t find no more joy with the past. But one day, the4y gonna be past too.
Youngster, you gonna have the World of Information put right before your fingertips. An old man down the hall told me it was so. He said things are gonna change so much in the next 65 years, that most people won’t remember the past I know because it and I will be gone. But, that is the way of life. You just a twinkle in your mom’s and dad’s eyes and then in no time, you up and got to pack you bags and gonna got to Heaven or to Hell. Where do you think I am going, youngster?”
“To Heaven, Sir.” And the old man chuckled to himself. Then he raised an eyebrow on one eye and said-
“To Heaven? I sure hope you are right cause the one thing that bothers me the most is the things we had to do to win that War and will anyone really remember me or us when all of us are gone? You see, I do wonder at times but not all the time if I busted my ticket to Heaven when I raised my rifle at the enemy for my Country. And there are times I have pretended that I didn’t see where my bullets hit. And then where they really hit would leap right back into my mind as I know where and who I put them into. And will that keep me from Heaven?’
“You did what you had to do.”
“Sometimes I wonder if one day, folks will say that was back then and this is the hear and now. Forget them folks for sure.”
“I’ll never forget you, Sir. What you did is mostly why I am here. What all of you did.”
“Youngster, we ended that War with a mighty powerful and new weapon. A scary weapon. In a flash, them folks were evaporated from the Face of the Earth. And I’m afraid that most likely, all Countries gonna want them some of that. Some of those weapons. And I hope that they never get used on American Soil. That would sort of make it all worthless as to why so many of us died in that War. And in any other future Wars and then to see it taken away in the lifetimes of our great, great, grandchildren.
I just really don’t know the future for you. But I bet it’s something that you can write about one day. Maybe you’ll remember me and all of us that will be gone away from here one day and say it for us…but youngster, always remember that no matter how bad things get, someone always got it much worse than you. Remember lots of folks are victims of their own surroundings that only the bravest can break away from. And when you really down on your luck, turn to God and pray yourself up a storm and God gonna help you get thru it. God has always gotten me thru it and he gonna get America thru it too.”
“Sir, I’ll do my best…” And that was just one of many talks with a friend I only knew from his hospital bed in a room with three other very old men at that Old Folks Home.
But I did not forget and that is why I have tried to keep this old man and other Veterans and friends and family alive in A Panther’s Father Book Series. I do so want to give the reader, their family and especially our kids the Hope that old man always instilled in me way back then. The Hope that a Grateful Nation openly appreciates and often times, the Hope we only find late in our lives. And sadly, some have no Hope at all. But all of us have Freedom and it is worth the cost to keep it.
Have I done him and all of their past justice and remembered them well? Only you and time will be the judge of my books and me for sure.
~the living breathing James Brown
Note: A friend recently reminded me of something I don’t think about all the time. And it was of how many children are locked into the same repeating World of their Parents and their surroundings and one example was this. If your parents sell drugs and all the ones around you sell drugs, then what is left for that youngster? To sell drugs too? This is something that all of must remember and not quickly pass judgement on ones that cannot break those chains. But all of us can help. All of us can do our part to make America. We have to. Make America better for sure. Too many wrongs like Police Brutality and Racism. Folks, we got to reel the illegal drug usage in and AMERICA HAS TO GO COLD-TURKEY AND DROP THE ILLEGAL DRUG USAGE(and prescription abuse too) and so many other things that are just not right. BUT! We can do this. We really can. But all of us have got to get on the same page. Right?