BY RON THOMPSON
In a series of contributions on CommuterLit, Ron Thompson is surveying the seasons of our lives, 100 words at a time. Today’s column is the last instalment in the series and comprises five independent stories touching upon old age. Wisdom and grace, bitterness and spite – we’re only human, but hopefully we learn something along the way. Copyright is held by the author.
THEY ARE OLD now, and dying off, men who only reluctantly acknowledge who they were in their youths: a teenaged stoker on a sea-tossed corvette, an air-sick tail gunner over Hamburg, a starving POW in Yokohama. These are men who stand when a woman enters the room, whose strongest curse is “damn” or “hell.” They offer details shyly, as if they could not possibly matter and you, a kid, could not possibly be interested. They’ve never dwelt upon themselves, nor needed a reality TV show to demonstrate their worth. They did so early on, then got on with their lives.
THERE WERE certainties when we were youngsters. Canada was the best country in the world. The U.S. was good, too, our best friend, and we were Americans also because we lived in North America and talked like them (especially the ones who’d freed the slaves). We were also part of that pink grouping on the globe, and all those pink countries were good, because they stood for fair dealing and wise governance by white people. Riots, strikes and human rights violations were the work of evil, godless communists.
There are no such certainties now. These days, everything’s so darned complicated.
OLD WALTER was never one for strong language. He swore only when he did carpentry, or when certain sensitive topics came up. These included separatists, draft dodgers, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Walter believed Trudeau to be both a separatist and a draft dodger, and only grudgingly changed his mind during the 1980 referendum. Trudeau, he concluded, was not a separatist at all — just a draft dodger. He never forgave the PM for sitting out WWII, for he recognized he had the right stuff. A spoiled, sissified college boy like Trudeau, he opined, had all the makings of a good officer.
FRANC AND MARK had been put out to pasture by Kid Euro who (they grumbled) wasn’t such a hot shot. They’d never reconciled to retirement. “I miss the travel,” Mark moaned constantly; he’d once had a yen for Asia. Franc was bored too. He spent his time romancing the ladies, who Mark dismissed as “silly old gits.” Lira, Peseta and Drachma were always partying. Word was they’d squandered everything and might have to go back to work. “How come Stirling never had to retire?” Mark asked bitterly. Old £ was still working, and clearly would be beyond a buck sixty-five.
SHE PLANTED the magnolia when they bought the house, insisting (over his objections) that it go beside the deck. She mulched, fussed, and watered it assiduously during droughts. Every spring she rhapsodized over its pink blossoms. She drew comfort from that tree, and during her final illness she sat on the deck beneath its boughs, warm beneath a blanket, sun dappling sunken cheeks.
It is spring now and she is gone, but her magnolia is resplendent once again. He is waiting until its flowers wilt. Then he will cut it down and plant a proper shade tree in its place.