Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Today, through a series of circumstances, I found myself having lunch with an 87 year old man. I picked him up at his humble home and drove to a nearby Italian diner. There, over a lunch of spaghetti and 2 meatballs, I learned about his life. He told me about his childhood; he was born and raised to the age of 12 in Haiti ("before sunscreen was invented!" he told me. This is the source of his skin cancer today.) His parents were expatriates, and life was grand. Large breezy homes, military parties and social clubs - everything you might imagine it would be like. Between World War 1 and World War 2 German ships came on goodwill tours throughout Central America and the islands and he was given tours of the German battle ships and was shown German propaganda films. All the parents of his German friends were arrested when the war broke out and they were all sent back to Germany. He never heard from any of them again. At the age of 12 he was sent to boarding school in New Orleans, where his father was from. "What a shock that was," he said. "I wasn't used to a pack of rough-and-tumble, filthy-mouthed boys. I was used to my little group of friends, military men, grownups, conversation, and horseback riding in the mountains of Haiti." He enlisted in the Navy and served in the Pacific theater. He was chosen by the Navy to attend college; he was instructed to "report to San Francisco for futher transportation to Georgetown." Georgetown University? "I was set!" No, not Georgetown University; Georgetown, Texas and Southwestern University. "No matter," he said, "I was getting a college education." He served a few more years in the Navy and then came to New Orleans to get his masters in history with the GI Bill. During his first year at Tulane he met the girl of his dreams. She married someone else and they moved to Iowa. He loved history so much that he wanted to get his PhD and teach university students but the GI Bill ran out. He went to work for the government. He was ok, getting along fine. One day out of the blue another history student called him up, asking him questions about the masters thesis he had written. That student was Stephen Ambrose; they became thick as thieves. He even got to work with Stephen on some of his books. The husband of the girl of his dreams passed away. She moved back to New Orleans with her now teenage children. They fell back in love. He asked her to marry him. She said she didn't want any more children. Even though he desperately wanted children, he said ok. They lived happily ever after, for a time. Then she got sick and asked him to retire to stay home and take care of her. The children were long grown. He said ok. She asked him to move them to a different city to spend the rest of her time. He sold their beautiful home in New Orleans and moved them to a small humble home in Baton Rouge. She passed away fourteen years ago. He lives alone now in the small humble home. He misses her so much. Those grownup step children don't pay him much mind but he loves them anyway. He does what he can for them and their children in the way of birthday cards and Christmas gifts. It still saddens him that he and his wife didn't have any children together.

If I, over the course of our 2.5 hours together, could see and feel how much he loved his wife, I can only imagine how cherished she must have felt during their earthly time together. It was such a wonderful reminder that love - pure, unselfish, giving, caring, sacrificing love - is alive and well and possible. It was funny, because at the very end of our lunch, he leaned over and patted my hand. We hadn't talked much about me. "My dear," he stated, "you are not married." "No, sir, no I am not." "Are you going steady with anyone?" {Giggle.} "No, sir, no I am not." He peered over his spectacles at me. He looked deep from his cloudy eyes into mine. "You will. I know you will soon. Mark my words," he said.

I think that maybe I know he is right. I know I hope so, very very much.

No comments: