There are many things that will catch your eye but only a few that will capture your heart...pursue those.
Edmond strolled up upon the Golf Course viewing deck with little Gabbie beside him. I noticed the shaking had all but stopped. “Here, Edmond, I got you another soda and a bowl of ice water for little Gabbie. Make yourself at home” I said. ”Oh, this is perfect!” he exclaimed. “This reminds me of Denver with that beautiful mountain backdrop. My wife and I were going through Denver one time. The clouds were really thick and heavy. It was dark in the middle of the afternoon and suddenly the clouds split apart (as he motioned his hands pulling apart like the Red Sea) and the rays of sunshine came right through the middle almost blinding us and she said “Who turned the lights on?” he giggled.
“That stream (as he pointed to the creek that runs through the Golf Course) reminds me of Austria. The streams there are many and the water was always shallow. There were a lot of fish too but we didn’t have any fishing hooks. So, one guy went down stream about 50 yards and another upstream, I stood half way. The fella upstream set off a couple concussion grenades and all the fish floated to the top and we just scooped them up and flipped them out onto the bank.”
“How many jumps did you make?” I asked. “Oh, 86 or 87” Edmond said. And continued, “I remember a new kid on deck asked a friend of mine how many jumps he had made and my friends told him three. That young whipper snapper laughed at him and said “only three!” and my friend told him “Yeah, Austria, Holland and Bastogne”. Well, that guy shut up real fast!” Edmond smirked.
Then, Edmond’s soft blue eyes turned to steel, “They taught us to kill over there” he said with an intensity I hadn’t seen before. He looked at me as if he were a mad man yet scared at the same time, “And some men liked it.”
Sensing Edmond grasping for reassurance, I responded “Well, some ‘turn’ as a psychological defense to protect themselves, that’s all. You have to do what you have to do for self-preservation, Edmond.” “Yeah, I guess” he said.
“You know you couldn’t hear where mortar went after it came out of the tube. You only heard the ‘phooot’ as it was coming out of the tube but you couldn’t tell where it was going. I got hit right here (he pointed to a small pink bump the size of a dime just above his left eyebrow). We were under fire when a fellow medic started yelling that he had gotten his hand pinched in the firing mechanism of a machine gun. He didn’t know I had taken a shrapnel hit in the head that exited out the back. And there he was going on about his hand being pinched” he laughed.
“A mother came up to me holding her baby in her arms asking me to take him. He had taken a hit too. The shrapnel went through his forehead and exited out the back too. I could see his brains oozing out the back as I handed him to the Doctor. The Doctor told me to give him back and to tell her to take him home. There was nothing he could do. You know that baby lived 40 minutes! He had the strongest pulse. You just never know”.
Edmond was delving too deep into his own memories for even himself to handle, he changed the channel abruptly.
“It’s the depression” he said as he looked out onto an empty Golf Course. “Funny, no one wants to call it that!” I quipped. “I was born in Oklahoma City, no one can believe I rode a horse to a one room school house. Our feet were calloused from going barefoot but the gravel gets hot!” Then Edmond noticed me smoking. “I stopped smoking when cigarettes were $2.47. I had a stroke and the Doctor said you should stop smoking, so I did. A friend and I were down at the barn in Oklahoma City smoking cigarettes and my brother told my dad on us. I could see dad coming down to the barn reaching for his belt but he didn’t have one on! He was wearing overalls. He picked up a piece of rubber and got me 3 times before I could get out of that barn! I ran and hid under the bed. I didn’t take up smoking for a long time after that!” he shook his head and laughed.
“My granddad worked in the coal mines. He taught me to work with my brain instead of my back. When you worked at the coal mines you had to spend your pay at the coal mine. You couldn’t tell who was a black person. Everybody came out black. The mules that pulled the carts were all blind. They never came out of the coal mine” he said. “Edmond, I have to go in but I’ll come out to check on you and Gabbie” I said. “Will they come in right there?” he asked pointing to the cart return. “Yep, I got you a ring side seat!” I replied.
I went back to work, filled with emotions. Thinking about everything he had shared with me and wondering just how much was left out. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed him and little Gabbie exiting the deck. His son-in-law, the scratch golfer, and Edmond came in the front Club House door. Edmond came up to me and said ”They’re finished! Thank you for being so kind. You were very nice to me. I want you to have this.” as he handed me that very medallion that launched the journey. I hugged him and said, “Thank you, Edmond!”,with tears in my eyes. With that, he turned and walked away.
A frail man with soft blue eyes full of memories and a heart of gold found his way to me yesterday. He sat down at the Club House bar, ordered a soda instead of a beer because he would be driving soon, he said. Then, he pulled a medallion out of his pocket and handed it to me asking if I was interested in a bit of history…
“RENDEZVOUS WITH DESTINY” it read.
NORMANDY BASTOGNE HOLLAND
I looked at it and at him in amazement. His eyes captured mine, then his stories ensued…
“Oh, that’s nothing”, he said. “You can pick those up at Fort Bragg. My daughter put together all of my medals in a collage the size of that (pointing at the large menu board hanging on the wall). I have two silver star medals, a blue star medal, and two Presidential Citations” he quipped without an ounce of arrogance to his tone.
“My daughter and son-in-law are out playing golf. They’re on the Back Nine now. I always watch their dog when they go somewhere. A little fox terrier. She’s the sweetest little thing. She’ll come up to anyone. She follows me everywhere, even into the bathroom! My son-in-law is a scratch golfer. He loves playing different golf courses. He’s a scratch golfer, you see.”
Edmond, was a soft spoken man, at times I could barely hear him. He had a gentleness about him, a calming affect one could say. Wisdom and experience radiated from his eyes. A knack of smoothly transitioning from one of life’s memories to another. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to have the pleasure of embarking on a 2 hour journey of 87 years of memories…
“So, you were an Airborne Ranger?” I asked while still admiring the medallion he had handed me. “Yes” he replied, “I was in Normandy 32 days before D-Day. We were shipped over on the Queen Elizabeth, packed like sardines. 400,000 troops. They said the Queen Elizabeth was as fast as a torpedo! She would run like this (as he motions zig zags with his frail, quivery arms). When we got over there, they shipped us in semi-trailors. Wall to wall soldiers. It was cold. I’ve been cold ever since, so cold.” he said. You could see in his distant, soft blue eyes, he was reliving the experience as he told the story. A brief shiver showered his body. Then, he continued …
“I lost a alot of good friends over there. Alot of good people died. I’m lucky to be alive. We wore the same gear for 32 days. You took your shirt off and scraped the dirt off and put it back on. I met General Patton too! I looked up and there he stood, wearing that black leather jacket, you know. Holsters and pistols on each side. He asked me how I was doing soldier? and I told him much better now that you’re here!” Edmond smiled. “We needed help. We were cold, wet, and hungry. We had been like that for 32 days”.
As he pointed upward, Edmond continued, “I hid out at Hitler’s Hideaway, up on that mountain. The occupied hid all of their valuables in the woods fearing being ramsacked. Now, THAT was quite the Scavenger Hunt for a couple 19 and 20 year olds! I took a stick and a string and fished in a Rabbit Hole and pulled out a jar of Silver German coins.” motioning to what would probably be quart size. “I gave each friend a handful and I took a handful. Several years back, my wife was selling something so I took the coins to see if they knew anything about them. The man pulled a particular one out and said, “I’ll give you $100 for this one. It’s solid gold.” Edmond looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and giggled “I wonder how many I gave away?”
“My wife and I were married for 63 years. She died last month on the 27th after suffering two strokes. She’s better off” he said matter-of-factly. “She passed on our 63rd Anniversary. I think she was waiting for that day. She was wearing the necklace I had made out of one of those coins. She was from North of Ft. Wayne. That’s where we buried her. We lived there for awhile but it was too cold for me. I guess that’s why we moved to North Carolina, so I could get warm”, he smiled. “I’ve been so cold”.
Noticing that I was tearing up a bit, Edmond thoughtfully transitioned into another topic to spare my feelings… “I live with my daughter and son-in-law in Pinehurst, North Carolina. It’s a big golfing community. My son-in-law is a scratch golfer, you know. He loves golfing. I would too if I were a scratch golfer, but I do try to give him a few tips every now and then” he winked and smiled. “He takes good care of me. I haven’t bought a car in 20 years! He’ll buy another one and give me the old one. He’s well-to-do. Worked for Case Ag and lived in Paris for 6 years Head of Finance over there watching what they do with their money. We live in a retirement community with a Club House. Play penny poker every Monday night. I know, I’m lucky. More people should honor and care for their parents and be so fortunate to have someone that does. My mother died when I was 14 and dad wasn’t home so I was pretty much on my own. I was a handful. Lucky I didn’t end up in a reformatory, you know!”
“One day, a friend of mine’s mother asked me if I’d like to have supper with them. I thought, she’s probably got a good lecture in store for me, but hell, why not, hot meal, so I went. I kept waiting for that lecture, but it never came. We got all the way through the meal and just before she placed the dessert in front me she asked “Edmond, do you think your mother would be proud of the way you have been conducting yourself?” and placed the dessert in front of me and walked away. That’s all she said.” Edmond looked at me with thankfulness in his eyes and said “Sometimes, it only takes one person to care”.
Edmond was reliving his life right before my eyes as if it wouldn’t be long before he would be joining his loving wife of 63 years and mother that he had lost at such a very young age. But there were more…
“We’re heading to St. Louis for my great grandson’s baptism. My daughter had two son’s. One lives in Florida in the laundry mat business” he laughed, “He gets to fill up buckets of coins. He’s not doing too badly at it either!” he grinned.
“I had a son too. He passed away several years ago. Buddy had a massive heart attack. I remember his mother making us take him to church when he was a little thing. Way too little to understand church, but she insisted. So we dressed him up and off we went. It was a really small chapel. Buddy looked at his mother and asked her “Is this where you go every Sunday?” mother replied “Yes, Buddy”. Buddy blared “NEVER BRING ME BACK!” Edmond roared with laughter as if he were sitting in that very pew. “Everybody heard Buddy say that! The church filled with laughter, so, that the preacher couldn’t even continue the sermon!” he giggled.
“Oh, Buddy was something”, he continued. “I made him awfully mad one time and I remember him saying “I’M GOING TO GO OUT AND POTTY ON YOUR WHEEEL!” laughing once again, but, then, in an instant, a stillness fell upon Edmond and the sadness could be sensed. His slight quivering shifted to spurts of violent shaking at times. Then abruptly, ”I’m cold, I’m always cold. I think I’ll go outside and check on that little dog. She’s a sweet little thing. She’ll come to anybody” he said. “They should be done soon now, they’re on the Back Nine. My son-in-laws a scratch golfer, ya know.”
Edmond left my mind reeling. I stood there, gazing out onto the course, saviouring and filing everything away that he had been so kind to have shared with me. He was addicting. A wealth of history. I felt myself wanting more. I went out onto the Golf Course deck and noticed him off into the parking lot walking Gabbie, that sweet little fox terrier he so adored. I called out to him from a good distance not thinking he would hear me. I hadn’t noticed a hearing aid and was pretty sure he wouldn’t. “Edmond?” and he turned a bit, hearing me but not sure of the direction. “Edmond, over here” I called out. With that, he turned and I motioned him over towards the welcoming deck of the Golf Course and it’s magnificent view. There he would share more snippets of his life with me, from one room school houses, horseback, smoking, coal mines, Denver with his wife, shrapnel, bullet wounds and, finally, a tearful hug goodbye.
To be continued…