Sunday, March 9, 2008

An unlikely hero


My parents have a neighbor friend, R. He is in his late 80's and has to be the most miserable crochety old man ever. He is speaking to none of his family. And when he speaks of various family members I want to cover my ears because of the language. We met R over 25 years ago. He drove into my parents driveway and asked them if he could use it. You see, my parents driveway connects two streets in their town and it's a handy little shortcut. My parents don't like anyone driving through though because of all the kids running around but they told R he could but he had to be watchful. He took the yes you can use our driveway to be an invitation to call in several times a day beginning at 6 in the morning. My poor mother would sit in the kitchen in the dark sipping her coffee to avoid his predawn visits. R is one of two sons adopted by one of the founding fathers of my parent's little town. He lives in his parents home which is so rundown people actually believe it's abandoned. He drove around town and stoped in at the local cranberry growers and supermarkets and picked up what they've thrown out. My mom knew when he'd stopped by while she was out because there would be a random rotting vegetable left on their island. He also made mini banana bread muffins. HUNDREDS of them. I am not kidding. And he delivered them all over town. Everyone knows R, the firefighters, police, doctors and nurses in the ER and local small restaraunts. He visited them all and left them mini muffins. One of my sisters refused to eat them because he got the bananas from the trash. Despite his crassness and annoying habits, R became a beloved part of our lives. He came to all our family parties and celebrations. He is like an eldery uncle that's a total pain in the ass. He calls up and asks belligerently "who's this?" instead of saying hello. He demands you come over immmediately because he has something for you and when you get there it's a dented can of fruit salad. And every gift is given with a "don't tell anyone I'm giving you this." Don't worry R, no one will be banging down the door for this old spatula you gave me. But still we love him. We groan when he'd drive in the driveway or call for the 5,799th time that day but he is now much more than just a neighbor of my parents. He's family. Recently his car died and with it so did R's lifeline. He became homebound and he suddenly had little to live for. He stopped making banana bread muffins even. Why bother when he couldn't deliver them. He still calls multiple times daily but now I can hear the loneliness in his voice. The other day I stopped by to bring him some milk and sat and talked for a bit. well, he talked and I sat and listened. He began telling me about his experiences in Pearl Harbor and the Korean war. He described his tent and the wooden cot he slept on. He was so angry he couldn't remember the name of a fellow soldier, who died in his arms. The joy and surprise when he heard he was leaving Korea and going home. He broke down sobbing as he told me how when he got off the boat in California there was a young woman on the docks singing a song to the disembarking soldiers called "My hero" and how he wished he had got her name so he could thank her. I thought R was all about swearing, rotten food, offensive jokes and mini banana bread muffins. I realized I have known R for over 25 years but I don't really know him at all. As intolerable as he can be, I wholeheartedly plan to change this shameful truth. And you can bet he'll be cussing me out for bothering him!

4 comments:

(fairy) Godmother said...

What a tribute... I can't wait to hear more of his stories!

kidletsmum said...

He sounds like my grandfather! A totally angry, irritable old pain the butt who occasionally comes out with a story reminding me that he's a bit soft under the hard, gruff exterior.

Jean said...

That is so sweet! I bet he has a LOT of great stories to tell!

karla said...

wow marie, another great story from you. and what a wonderful old man underneath it all