In preparation for the holiday festivities, this week I’m doing something different. The twelve days of Christmas has been done. Flash fiction for the month has been done. This week I give you a serial short. A holiday tale to warm your heart that is nonfiction. That’s right peeps – this is real life. Remember how I said once that my life was like a Carol Burnett rerun?
Stuff just happens. I don’t make this stuff up but I come by it honestly. Names and relations have been changed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.
So get your cup of cocoa, sit back and enjoy.
Part 1: A lunch date
He looked like any average old man; slightly stooped, with silver hair and deep wrinkles. By appearance, I would have passed Hank by on the street without a second glance. John, a coworker, kept insisting that I meet with Hank and get to know him. He’d told me war stories and fishing tales about this guy for months. Eventually I gave in, I had to find out for myself. I’ve often been told that curiosity would be my undoing one day. If nothing else, it would shut John up. Hank turned out to be anything but average.
John arranged a time at a local café, Hank’s favorite hangout. The cost of the interview was an order of country fried steak and coconut cream pie. There had to be a catch right? I knew I was being set up. Had to be! But I played along. John arrived promptly at the designated time with Hank.
He looked every bit of seventy and walked with a cane. His nose had been broken at least once. His weathered face gave hint to the nature of his trade. His manners were impeccable.
John stayed for a few minutes to make certain that Hank was settled then excused himself to run errands. Hank sensed my nervousness and joked “That man ain’t got a lick of sense, leaving a pretty girl like you alone with me. Why ain’t he asking you out honey?” Then he winked at me and patted my hand. His hands were rough and weathered from years of hard work, his knuckles noticeably enlarged with arthritis. The tenderness in his touch was comforting and gave me a sense of reassurance.
As the meal progressed he recalled some hair-raising incidents from the war. It turns out Hank is a decorated veteran of World War II. He was awarded a silver star and a bronze star. His best adventures however, began after he returned home.
He went on to tell me more about himself, his family, wife and his hobbies. I was, after all interviewing him on a piece for my column. One thing was for certain, Hank wasn’t a shy man. I asked a question and he answered with full sentences not short little quips like the local celebrities had. It was an easy flow of conversation, what I would have imagined if I could have sat down with my own grandparents if I had known them.
Hank was a carpenter by trade. With his growing family of three children and another one on the way, Hank took many side jobs in order to make ends meet. The economy was booming but there were always demands that left more month than money. He regaled me of renovations he’d tackled, mentioned some of the landmark buildings he’d worked on, and the profitable business of building cabinets. Then things took a decided turn in a vein that I never would have imagined from this aged elderly gentleman.
It was 1954 when his first “extreme sports” incident occurred. A friend’s home had been damaged by a severe storm and needed a new roof. The owner decided this would be a good time to add a second floor to his small house to make room for his growing family.
“We’d cut the roof loose from the wall joists, see. Removed the nails, it was just “floating” on top of the walls. A strong wind would’ve lifted her right off o’ there.” Hank paused long enough to wave the waitress over for a refill. “We took a logging chain, and looped it through the third truss, then back through the damaged part of the roof.” He leaned in towards me on one elbow “It would’ve worked I think, if Mary hadn’t been pregnant.”
Ok, now my curiosity was piqued. What did a damaged roof and a pregnant wife have to do with extreme sports? I listened patiently as Hank had me hanging on his every word. The elderly gentleman was charming, entertaining, and interesting.
Tune in tomorrow to hear more of Hank’s story.
Write on my friends, write on!