A WWII Vet And His Problem

Sometimes it seems that I can’t step out my door without being presented with a person or situation which begs to be written about.

Today, it turns out, is Columbus Day. I didn’t know that and a visit to the bank was fruitless — it’s a bank holiday! I was on my bicycle on the way to the bank. Broadway is a busy street and I needed to get across. Due to some close calls in the past I am less than trustful of fellow humans in vehicles. I scanned the traffic, looking for a “hole”. Across the intersecting street from me was an elderly man with one of those four-pronged canes. He wanted across too.

I could tell that the man was trying to muster the courage to just walk right out into the traffic and force the cars to stop for him. After all, doesn’t the pedestrian always have the right-of-way? In a better world than this one, perhaps!

The man made his move, and a couple of cars slowed down. I wheeled up beside him, thinking that heedless and possibly crazed drivers might be unwilling to massacre us both. There’s safety in numbers, right?

We made it safely across the potentially deadly street. I got to talking with the man, and found that he seemed to be having some difficulties:

“Oh, I’m in trouble! I locked myself out of my car! See that McDonald’s up the street? I’m parked there. I left the keys in the ignition and accidentally locked all of the doors when I got out. I don’t think the pastry I ate was worth the aggravation!”

“Do you live close by?”

“No, we live thirty miles from here, near Camp Point. Y’see, my wife had a fall yesterday and bumped her head. I’m here in town to pick her up from the hospital. She’s waiting for me right now!”

“Well, the old coat-hanger trick doesn’t work anymore. Maybe you should call the police? They might be able to help. Just call 911.”

“Can you do that from a cell phone? And what if they arrest me?”

“Oh, surely they won’t arrest you!”

“Well, I might do that. Maybe I’ll go back to McDonald’s and ask to use their phone.”

The man sighed. “I’m eighty-six years old, can you believe it? I’m a World War Two veteran.”

“Where were you in the war?”

“I was on a destroyer in the South Pacific, fighting the Japanese way back in 1942.”

He went on, “I can sit really well, walk fairly well, but I wouldn’t even try to run these days!”

I replied, “Shoot, I’m 57 and I don’t even like to run if I don’t have to!”

The man said, “Well, I guess I’ll make my way back to McDonald’s and use their phone. Thanks for crossing with me!”

“You’re welcome, and good luck to you!”

I value the opportunities I have to talk with people of that generation. A few years from now they will all be gone.

This encounter caused me to think about the isolation from our fellow humans which driving a car engenders. On foot or on a bike there is always the possibility of making a connection with someone else, and maybe even doing some good in the process.



1 Comment

Filed under Quincy, Stories

One response to “A WWII Vet And His Problem

  1. bev

    A couple of things occur to me after reading this post. One is that people in cities often will not wave, nod, say hello, or have any interaction with a stranger even when on foot or a bicycle. Small towns are different. In Nova Scotia, people tend to interact. The same is definitely true in Bisbee. I’ve occasionally had someone fall in beside me and walk along with me on the sidewalk. I am comfortable with that in a small town, but I would have some concerns in a large city. The second point is that, in a smaller town, more people are likely to take the initiative of helping out someone in distress – particularly someone old and infirm. In both small towns where I spend time, people sort of look out for seniors and give them help, offer them a ride to the post office or the store, and shepherd home the wayward ones who get lost (a certain elderly woman in Bisbee comes to mind. She wanders off down the road and gets far enough away that she can’t figure out where she is. Local people know to walk or drive her back home. That isn’t going to happen in a city. Neither is solving the dilemma of being locked out of a vehicle. I would hope the police would help out an aging man like the one you have described.

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