Saturday, September 18, 2010

Two Men I Met

Saturday, September 18, 2010

34° this morning, windless and dark as a pocket. A week ago today I was standing in front of the hotel deck door looking out at the Atlantic, watching the sun pull itself above the ocean. Less than half a dozen people walked the beach in front of me as the tide went out exposing rocks for the first time in my +25 year visits. Winter had been cruel to the once sandy beach and the ocean's wrath had sucked the sand out to sea and repositioned it somewhere else.

Going to Maine each year is something I have to do. It's as if Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and The Sea rings in my ear and makes strong suggestion to get packing for the ocean. And I do it, but now I lock in the same time every year as it's easier than dealing with reservations and forgetfulness.

People who know me know I am a talker. Gail just laughs, thinking perhaps of the bazillion times she has waited in the car or at a store or place of visit waiting for me to finish a tale and shake hands goodbye. And as difficult as that may be for others, it has always been part of me and has allowed me to meet people and learn their stories as opposed to seeing and forgetting just another passing face. Here are a couple stories of two men I met in Maine. In neither case was I speaking with a gardener but instead I was gardening for new friendships.

As we entered our destination town, we pulled up to a four way stop light in queue. Before I knew it, a man approached the driver's window and suggested I better get off the road as I had a tire in distress. The light changed and I thump-thump-thumped into the first parking lot. For the first time in well over 25 years I was looking at a flatter than flat back tire with a piece of metal protruding from the sidewall. No fix to that one.

In earlier years when tires weren't so strong I had plenty of experience changing flat tires but this was different. The spare and jack were hidden under a trunk full of vacation needs but just the same, within half an hour and a few cuss words we were on on way. I left Gail and Alex at the hotel and left to find a garage. Starting a vacation "spareless" was not my idea of good thinking.

A very nice man, probably a Road Specialist or Tire Technician or Vehicle Movement Director by today's jargon, took my keys and said I was number three as he directed me to the waiting room. It was nice and bright with plenty of windows, a gigantic wall mounted TV and Eddie.

Eddie was a little man, sitting in a chair, half cocked on one arm, with his oxygen tank on his lap and his glassed eyes glued to the TVs story of 9-11. "The country's in bad shape, the worst in my life, and we have to have jobs for people, have to have change." He breathed slowly to let the oxygen work and clearly this was part of his life now. His introduction was not a typical "Hi, how are you doing today? intro but I could tell I would like the man a lot.

As our conversation progressed I found that Eddie had worked the first twenty years of his work life in a tannery. He was certain that the chemicals in the factory dissolved much of his lungs and were responsible for his current condition. Over the next forty minutes we talked about his post-tannery work as a fisherman, the demise of the Maine sardine industry, the impact of foreign fisherman at the 200 mile limit grabbing every fish with a tail, the American fishing quota system, the death of small boat fishermen, fish farms for mussels, a screwed up sea urchin industry, the absence of razor clams, what to do with 200 dogfish in your nets, the warm water temperatures at 30 miles out and his new "job" working for a friend shucking lobsters and picking meat. His friend let him work any hours he felt strong enough to work even if that meant 3 o'clock in the morning. Eddie said he'd clean 25-30 pounds of cooked lobsters and then go home. He was proud to still be working and it was clear that part of what kept him going was lung treatments and picking lobster meat.

When Eddie's car was ready he rose unsteadily from his chair and shook my hand. "This has been a fine conversation. Nice to meet you.", he said. His handshake was not firm but his smile and his thank you will be with me forever. Eddie is part of America.

A couple days later I was sitting outside a fish shack waiting for a take-out order to be cooked. Alex and his autism have difficult sensory issues with eating at restaurants during crowded times so take-out on the deck of the hotel room looking at the ocean and listening to the waves is a therapy that works for all of us. I heard a car door close behind me and an older man, thin and tired looking, right hand and forearm in a red cast, shuffled to the window. "I'll have one scallop dinner--the big one you know--and you do sell with ketchup don't you--"to go" please. His voice was pleasant as he asked the girl to sign his credit card slip. "Fell down and broke my arm and wrist, nothing moves, can't write, please help me, can you?" He finalized the order and sat at a table beside me.

"How you getting along?" I inquired. I quickly got the details of the injury and the fact that he has escaped for a few minutes from home to get some dinner. He is 85 and his wife who is 89 and has Alzheimer's was home with an attendant so he felt he had to rush. Cooking, like signing his name, had become an instant chore with the break but he was in the mood for seafood. I told him I understood that feeling very well.

Our conversation bunny hopped from topic to topic, local stuff, careers, no politics. I mentioned the importance of taking care of his eyesight and keeping his mind active. He responded that his kids had bought him a computer a couple years back and he wrote a book that was now for sale. He was from Drakes Island, just down the road a few miles, and he did a historical sketch of the homes of the area. He was abundantly proud of his accomplishment.

As our orders were ready and we headed to our cars, he showed me a box full of his new book, just available from the printer. He was proud of his accomplishment. We did not shake hands but he thanked me for good conversation. I thanked him for taking good care of his wife and complimented him on how important documenting history is. He smiled and raised his right hand to wave goodbye but his hand did not move far. I'll remember his smile and his story. He too, is part of America. Just remembering these two men and their stories brings a little tear to my eyes.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where 34° is still damp and cold. The fog is shifting through the trees but I know it will lift in a couple hours. I'm off to the nursery soon to build a sedum display garden. Come see or help if you have some time today. Great day to climb Owl's Head, walk around Osmore Pond or go to Burtt's and pick Honey Crisp apples.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

1 comment:

joey said...

George, your stories are so rich and poignant. Along with your many other talents, you have a gift with the pen. I too am bad a closures, saying goodbye, and like you because of it, have met many amazing people who have enriched my life. I like that about us :)