Wednesday, November 9, 2011

There's time for this...

Time     Catching Jerry at his store in Bedford isn’t easy. Since retirement as a naval officer, he works when he’s not traveling. And he loves to travel. When he’s not there, the sign on the door doesn’t say CLOSED; at least it didn’t the last time I went to see him. Stuck to the window was a catchy sticker with a one word clue: BEACH. Charleston, SC came to mind. Jerry’s children and grandchildren were there.
Not so long ago, one of his friends, a woman I’d met last New Year’s Day, had minded his store when he left. I remembered her as being a smart and antique savvy 60 something lady who loved to smoke. Last May, she was diagnosed with untreatable cancer; she died almost a month later.
Now the store is closed when Jerry leaves. Visitors to his antique shop, despite Jerry’s cryptic messages, may think he won’t be gone long. Outside, alongside his front windows, is an antique plow caught in a border of potted plants and flowers. I noticed one variety that was still blooming.“That one’s been in the family since 1865. We take slips and grow them,” he said, pointing at one them that was loaded with hanging flowers, tiny as pink flies.
“Looks like a shamrock,” I said. Admiring its apparent durability, I mentioned that I’d love a slip of it if he ever stuck another piece in a pot. He snatched one from his display instead, fist sized, that had been sheltered in the adjacent shadow of a four foot tall Norfolk pine in a five gallon container.
“Thanks, Jerry,” I said, touched by his generosity. As friends do, we shook hands, hugged each other like brothers. “I’ll take care of it,” I promised.
As soon as I returned home, I set it in its place, on a second storey window sill that overlooks the Dan River. Already it feels like part of my family, an heirloom of sorts.
At the end of the next day, when I left to see the movie, In Time, it seemed to wave slightly as I passed.
“7:45, closer to 8:00 p.m.,” the ticket seller told me. Despite the fact that the movie wouldn’t start for almost forty minutes, I bought a ticket. That allowed me time to visit Food Lion to buy a box of Non Pareils. 
“Tony!” I exclaimed, as I was greeted at the checkout lane by a man I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. His medium blue T-shirt was dirty and wrinkled; it seemed he hadn’t shaved in at least a week. But his eyes were clear, and his manner was as kind as I remembered it had been when he worked as a waiter at my friend’s Chinese restaurant. When the restaurant was sold, Tony left, found a job in Greensboro.
“I was there more than twelve years,” he told me, “married with a child and a step son, making almost $100,000 a year.” He fabricated special parts for an auto industry supplier. “My wife left me. Then, five months later, the company let me go. I lost everything, was unemployed for a year and a half. Depressed the whole time.” 
Now he works as a janitor making a fraction of what he once did. “But it’s a job,” he told me, shaking his head. “I still don’t understand.”
“It’s similar to the Great Depression,” I suggested. “It’s hit me, too,” I admitted.
We talked about bygone days when he worked at the restaurant.
“Life was simple then,” Tony said. “So little stress.”
“And time to play basketball,” I added.
“That, too,” said Tony.
We were outside. His car was parked to our right. Mine was two rows away, on the left. We shook hands, said goodbye, promised to get together. Because it was time to get to the cinema to see In Time, I hurried to my car. On the way, I thought about the film I planned to show my class this Friday, Grapes of Wrath, starring Henry Fonda, released in 1940.
It’s the story of hard times in America, during the Great Depression, more than 70 years ago. My hope is that the film will provide a perspective for my students regarding their current struggles. They’ll know that things could be worse, that there’s much to be thankful for. Simple things like a flower sitting on my window sill.
Or a friendship with a man who’s found a way to stop everything when it’s time to leave everything behind and go to the beach. He’s confident his store will still be there when he returns.
He’s taught me that I might catch him then.
                                       B. Koplen 11/9/11
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