I’ve been talking with Hank, a charming elderly gentleman about his pioneer exploits in extreme sporting. OK, so it’s not base jumping, or sky diving but you have to admit, hair raising experiences never the less!
When we see young guys dressed in skateboarding get up, or like Sean White in snowboarding duds, we expect they are adrenaline junkies. Who would have imagined that this mild-mannered well dressed war veteran would have invented roof surfing?
Certainly not me! I hope you enjoy the conclusion of just one of Hank’s tales. I might share some of his fishing stories in the spring. ENJOY!
Part IV: Passing the Torch
The waitress brought our pie, which diverted his attention long enough for me to get a word in. “I hear you were recently challenged. Can you tell me about that?”
“It was my grandson, Joe. He was seventeen at the time. Big hotshot you know? He’d heard the talk about me surfing on roofs and figured he could do it. So, the wife and I went to the store to get a few things and when we got back, there was Joe’s beater in the drive. We didn’t see him anywhere, so we went on in. Figured he might have gone up the street to visit one of his friends. It was the wife that spotted the ladder. I knew I hadn’t got it out, so I went to investigate. Well, hanging from the gutter with one hand, holding on to the pine tree with his other, and his leg buried inside the tree somewhere was Joe. Crazy kid.”
As he scraped the last bit of his pie from the plate with the side of his fork, Hank added “I’ll tell you though, when I went to the lodge and told the guys about it, it was easier to see the humor of my past experiences.” He wiped the corners of his mouth meticulously with the linen napkin and finished his coffee. “Yep! I think old Ray has the right of it. Roofing’s not a career choice for my family. Too dangerous.”
John suddenly appeared to my right. “Ready, Pop?”
I should have realized. “So this is your grandson then?”
“Yep. Not such a fool as his brother Joe.” His eyes sparkled as a sly grin creased his face. “Course, quite the fool with women since he hasn’t asked you out yet.”
“Now, Pop, don’t go meddling.” John glanced at me briefly seeming a little agitated.
I had to think fast. I wasn’t ready for Hank to leave, I had more questions. “Before you go, I have a few more questions. What do you think about this current craze of extreme sports?”
I only hoped it didn’t come out as desperate as it was. I couldn’t let this charming gentleman get away that easily.
His eyes sparkled and he winked at me. “They’ll feel it when they get to be my age. If they make it this far.” He got to his feet with a great deal of effort, the strain of simple movements evident in his aged frame.
“Why don’t you have John bring you by my house, say next Tuesday. We’ll continue our chat. Maybe we’ll let him stay next time and learn a few things. Like how to carry on a conversation with a beautiful woman.”
Always the charmer, I blushed at his words turning away so John didn’t see my reaction. “I’d like that. I’ll even make you a pie.”
“Now that’s a deal that no man can turn down. I like cherry pie best.” He patted my hand with his. I can’t explain the sudden burning in my eyes, the brief panic that he was walking out of my life when his weathered knobby jointed hand touched mine. The loving gesture had me wanting to know more about him, about his life, his victories, his family.
Sudden images of imperfect family life flooded my mind. His sparkling eyes twinkling as the creases around it lifted in a full smile. George Bailey didn’t have a thing on Hank, not at all. He’d realized the true treasures in life and what was most important.
He shook my hand. “It’s been a pleasure.” He made a head jerk towards John. “Have him bring you by. I’ll show you my war medals and maybe talk roofs again. Or fishing stories. Maybe tell you about when this lunkhead stepped off the ramp into ten feet of water.” He chuckled as he turned to leave. “Get a chance to tell on him instead of on myself.”
Stature and fame do not define greatness. Things we assume on first glance seldom turn out to be true. Earlier that day I would have passed by this man on the streets without a second thought. How many people do we pass by each and every day that have stories to tell? How many of those elderly gentleman sitting on the bench in front of Walmart are decorated veterans?
The elderly gentleman that left me staring after him was an adventurer, a war hero, and a man of greatness. This man had character, integrity, and a sense of humor. My life was changed for the better that day, with one lunch date with Hank. I could hardly wait until the following Tuesday.
That next Tuesday, and many more after that became a regular meeting with Hank and his wife Mary. I did indeed make him a cherry pie. Meticulously working with pie dough to make the best lattice crust I could manage, eager to win his approval with my meager gift in exchange for the wonderful gift he blessed me with, a new lease on life with my eyes open to see beyond my own selfish desires.
We looked through his war pictures, pictures of their grandchildren, walked in his garden, and even played a few rounds of gin rummy. Hank and Mary quickly became like family to me, and my adopted grandparents after John finally got up the nerve to ask me out.
Write on my friends, write on!