Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Revisiting The Little Old Man in Line

 It’s June 6, and I MUST honor the memory of D-Day. When I first wrote this, in 2013, my first-born son was in Afghanistan. Today, my Kenneth is about to start the second phase of his National Guard training. 
We stand together, with The Little Old Man in Line.

The Little Old Man in Line

He was a little old man, just like this one.

The little old man in line in front of me at the grocery store was bent over, and it took him a while to unload his shopping cart onto the conveyor. He shuffled forward, and greeted the cashier with a clear, pleasant voice. It took him a while to scan his credit card to pay for his groceries; then he had to retrieve his cane from the cart while the young lady (what do you call a female bagboy?) helped him move it to the door; it was a slow process. The cashier looked at me with some embarrassment; she had seen me watching him, and I read her mind: she was afraid I was put out over the little old man's slow movements. 

She rang up my few items, and I leaned over to her, and said, "I'll bet you any amount of money you want that he's a WWII veteran." She gave me a puzzled look; I said "Didn't you see the way he was standing?" She probably didn't see it, but I did. Even with the trembling and the cane, the little old man had seen service. "His generation saved our generation," I told her.

Her voice broke. For the first time, I realized she had an Eastern European accent. She said, "They come in here all the time, and I never know what to say to them." 

"It's a debt we will never be able to repay," I said.

I hobbled out to the parking lot. Even with my own limp and cane, I caught up with the little old man and his helper before we reached the parking lot.

"Excuse me, sir, but I have to ask you where you were 69 years ago."

He gave me a funny look. What the heck is this gray haired, bearded pony-tailed cripple asking me? He started to answer. "well, let's see, I'm..."

He was going to tell me how old he was, and figure it out from there. I stopped him.

"June, 1944."

He smiled, and looked at me full in the face. "In the Navy."

"I knew it," I said. "I could tell by the way you stand."

"Well, I used to stand a lot taller..."

"You stand just fine, sir. Thank you for your service. Your generation saved my generation, and we won't ever be able to pay you back. We're doing our part, though; my oldest son is in Afghanistan now, and I was in the 582 Med Company." 

"Good for you, young man" the old sailor replied, with a trace of moisture in his eyes, and a bit of a quiver in his voice.

"Thank you, sir, and thank you again for your service."

"And thank you as well," he said.

And I hobbled off to my truck, and he shuffled off to his Buick; and I looked at the young lady who was helping him with his groceries. Her eyes were glowing, and she studied the little old man as if she had never seen a man before in her life.

And maybe she hadn't REALLY seen one before; but she will remember this day, and I will; and so will the little old man, and hopefully he will tell someone he loves that we haven't forgotten him and all those other boys who saved civilization.

Peace be on your household.

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