By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
I was listening to the conversation of a half-dozen old fellows who had made this particular fast-food joint their morning office. Each would spend two or three dollars on coffee and some item from the “value” menu, and then spend two or three hours visiting.
This fellowship was routine. They were liked by the counter staff—three young ladies who doubtless were amused by their innocent, futile flirting—and they were tolerated by the crotchety manager.
This morning, there was novelty at the assemblage: One of the men brought a visitor, his brother-in-law. This in itself was perhaps nothing notable, but the man was still gainfully employed! He actually worked!—at least, this is how he was introduced by his relative.
“I’m only 64,” he explained, which likely made him the youngest man in the group. “I worked 40 years loading and unloading trucks in a warehouse. I thought it was about time to do something different. I got a job.”
Naturally, he was asked about it. “I’m a school-crossing guard. The hours are good, the kids are usually good, the supervisor looks out for us—and the pay is decent, too. I work only four hours a day, but last year it added almost $9,000 to the family economy. That isn’t bad for nine months out of the year.”
I’ve never met anybody who did not want more money, and it was the same with these retirees. Nobody was sure LeFlore County even had crossing guard positions, but the interest in supplemental income started an interrogation about school crossing guards.
To their new friend, the main disadvantage was being at the mercy of the weather. It did not matter if it was 10 or 110 degrees; you were expected to be at your station as scheduled. The kids were kids, and behaved accordingly, but by and large, they were “okay.” And, of course, you wanted a good “partner,” as you would be relying upon each other.
“My partner,” he explained, “is almost 80 years old. I’m kind of getting to where I dread seeing him. Every day, he does the same dreary, wearisome things over and over. He usually arrives before I do, and waits in his car until the next to the last minute, and I finally step over to make sure he hasn’t died. A few steps before I get there, though, he opens his door and crawls out. He’s got his coffee and sausage biscuit, still in the bag, and says, ‘Good morning.’ He said same thing last week, but added, “I’m forgetting something. I don’t know what, though.’
“He opens his car’s rear door, and puts out traffic cones, like he thinks his car is otherwise invisible. With excruciating slowness, he then fumbles with his vest, he finds his whistle, he gets his stop-sign, he gets his camp chair that’s put away in its bag; he straps it over his shoulder, he puts on his straw hat and grabs the book he’s reading. It’s a long two hours, you see, and he wants something to pass the time—always the same thing, every day. That morning, however, after every maneuver, he said, ‘I’m forgetting something, but I don’t know what.’
“Well, I didn’t know either, so there wasn’t much I could do to help. We make it over to our station and he starts unpacking. The chair is taken out of the bag, he leans his stop sign by it, he sits down mumbling, ‘What did I forget?’ He takes a sip of coffee. He unwraps his sausage biscuit, studies it—
‘Darn!’ he says. ‘I forgot my teeth!’ Then he paused and asked me, ‘You want a sausage biscuit? I could gum it, I guess, but it’s yours if you want it.’
“I didn’t. I know dentures are common things, but somehow at the moment, the thought of him ‘gumming’ a sausage biscuit took off any edge my appetite had.
“Don’t get me wrong. I like the man. But sooner or later, we all have to face the fact, we’re just too old to cut the mustard! The old boy needs to go home and sit down! If not for his sake, for the sake of the kids.”
There is wisdom, here, in the visiting in-law’s words. Sooner or later, we all will have to make tough decisions, and when to retire may be one. I’m not worried for myself, though. I’ve never particularly cared for mustard greens, anyway.
(Leon Youngblood is a resident of Texas, but his heart belongs to Briar Circle, a small community near Cedar Lake. He can be reached by email to [email protected])