by Brian Dalton
An old man, who, with unwavering optimism, faces old age with comical light-heartedness.
| He sings in French as his head bobs back and forth to the rhythm of his own gruff singing. His hands are surprisingly steady for being so ancient; they work quickly, untangling and rearranging the mass of line I had managed to turn into something resembling a bird nest. His fingers wrap around my arm as he helps himself up. He tightens, the way the elderly always tighten their hands on the young, squeezing hard to let us know they still have strength. “C’mon let’s go fishing” he says. He smiles wide, proudly revealing a mouth full of his original teeth. He goes back to singing in French, ambling down the sandy path to the dock, a fishing pole swinging from side to side in turn with each step.
He sits next to me in his lawn chair, a picture of tranquility. His eyes survey the lake enthusiastically, “ooohh boy, oh boy what a good day. I’m one lucky boy.” I can’t help but smile. It was, after all, a good day for him. His family had come to see him and the weather had stayed nice. We sit in silence, occasionally checking our lines when a fish chances a nibble only to retreat before we can reel it in.
“Uncle Eddy, doesn’t it upset you that she took your money?” his face droops a little, barely enough to notice. “I mean you trusted her and she’s your daught-”
“My boy.” he interjects. I sit silently, and wait for him to continue “I’m so old I don’t worry about much of anything anymore. It’s a lot like being a child. I’ve come full circle.” his face contorts as it always does when he’s either laughing or crying, I hope for the former but I know better. “She is my daughter, and I will always love her. I don’t need to worry about it; Johnny will take care of me.” At the thought of his son his face returns to its normal, content state. “It’s a great day ehh?” he asks as he leans over and pats me on my face, then resumes fishing and smiling.
“You’ve been through a lot though”
His bad hearing kicks in conveniently, so I rephrase my question.
“I mean, you’ve seen a lot right”
“Oh yea, yea” his face is comically pensive, “the depression, Roosevelt, two of that president who’s around now, two world wars, Vietnam, Martin Luther King. Hey you want a cup of coffee?” I am used to this question showing up in the middle of conversations.
“Sure. Why don’t you let me get it though?” His hearing checks out again as he puts his hand on my shoulder firmly telling me to stay seated, “Won’t take a second my boy.”
A few minutes later my mother screams “Eddy!” It brings me running to the house. Entering I look around expecting to find him sprawled on the floor, eyes rolled back with a cloudy glaze, hand clutched to a failing heart, some attack claiming his life. But as I look up I realize the source of my mother’s distress is not so morbid. My uncle is standing with one foot on the spiral banister, and the other on the wall, stretched to a half split, twenty feet above the ground with nothing beneath him; trying to straighten what, according to him, was a very crooked picture frame.
“Eddy what are you doing?” My mother screams as her and Johnny help him back to safety.
“That picture always bothered me, it never was straight, not in years” he protests as he is helped back over the railing and onto the steps. After catching sight of me, he apologizes. “Sorry for making you wait, my boy. Coffee. Coffee. It’s a surprise you aren’t asleep by now. C’mon.” He hums his song as he makes our coffee, my mother whispers to me to watch out for my uncle, that he is going through a hard time, that he needs his family. He hands me my cup and ushers me out the door. We make our way back to the dock and our seats and our poles.
“Is it hard getting old?”
“Oh I suspect so, I’ve been old so long now that I don’t mind, barely remember that I‘m old nowadays.” I laugh with his optimism, “The trick to livin’ long, is plenty of coffee, and a can of beans everyday.” I smile and nod in agreement, after all he is the foremost expert on longevity that I know of. His eyes widen and he leans in. In a whisper he tells me “But it’s not how long you live, its how much fun you have” he slaps his knee and begins to chuckle. He laughs with his whole body, and I can’t help but laugh too. Oh boy what a wonderful day.