Lonely Old Men

His legs are crossed, he’s flipping pages. I sit beside him. He’s easy to converse with. Men who like dime-novel Westerns usually are.

There’s a long line waiting to get into the breakfast joint. And I see him, sitting on a bench outside. He’s old, and I have a soft spot for old men.

He’s wearing a windbreaker with holes in it and ratty tennis shoes. He’s reading a book—an illustration of a cowboy on the cover.

Many upstanding men have passed the hours with the venerable Louis L’Amour.

His legs are crossed, he’s flipping pages. I sit beside him. He’s easy to converse with. Men who like dime-novel Westerns usually are.

He speaks nice and slow.

He’s in town visiting his son. Only, no visiting has happened yet.

“My son’s got a lot on his plate,” the man says. “He’s not able to break away, he’s just so busy with work.”

Busy. I don’t like that word. Especially when it comes out of my own mouth.

The man’s wife passed two years ago. It was sudden. And even though he doesn’t say, I’ll bet he’s not used to the absence yet. Just eating right can be a daily battle for the man whose wife spoiled him.

“I am what you call a L-O-M,” he goes on. “A lonely old man.”

“Was” is more like it.

Because this year, he’s making some changes. He’s been taking road trips. Mostly, to visit childhood friends and high-school pals. He’s had a famous time doing it. He’s been all over the Southeast.

In the last months, the old man has visited North Carolina, South Carolina, South Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas. He’s been burning the roads, eating truckstop food, staying in hotels. He’s not wallowing in loneliness.

She wouldn’t have wanted him to wallow.

He nods toward his horse in the parking lot. Every man’s dream truck. A ‘89 Ford 7.3 liter, diesel. Red. Cherry condition.

One day, if I play my cards right, maybe I’ll grow up to become this old man.

“Been driving that thing all over,” he says. “I’ll keep her until she tells me she’s had enough.”

He called his son and scheduled breakfast with the grandkids yesterday. It didn’t work out. So they rescheduled today. But it’s not looking good.

The man checks his watch. They are running forty minutes behind. So, he waits. And he reads.

“They’ll be here,” the man says, reminding either me or himself. “Probably just stuck in traffic.”

Probably.

I shake his hand and wish him luck. I tell him not to strain his eyes too much with that book.

He smiles and says, “Too late.”

Inside, I order eggs, bacon, and coffee so strong you can use it to power residential lawn mowers. And I think about all the lonely old men of the world.

While the waitress warms up my mug, I see the old guy through the front window. He’s probably reading about Jubal Sackett’s desperate and heated gunfight at the Last Chance Saloon.

Then, the man digs for a phone in his pocket. It’s a flip phone. I see him dial. He listens. I wonder who he’s calling. His mouth never moves.

He hangs up. Finally, he stands. He tucks the book into his coat and walks away. His taillights leave the parking lot. That truck of his is a beauty.

I’m no judge. And God knows, I get busy just like anyone else.

But I hope that man’s son realizes what a good breakfast he missed today.

25 comments

  1. Sandi in FL - February 10, 2018 8:29 am

    Some future day when it’s too late, his son will face a few regrets due to his busyness.
    His priorities are all out of whack. Thank-you for taking the time to converse with that old man, Sean. You were likely the bright ray of sunshine in his day.

    Reply
  2. Katgy - February 10, 2018 11:53 am

    So sad.

    Reply
  3. Penn Wells - February 10, 2018 12:43 pm

    Years ago, I started keeping a book of quotes. They can come from a chat with a buddy, song lyrics, a poem…anywhere…there’s even one or two from you. But here’s one from Amor Towles that went in yesterday: “It is a lovely oddity of human nature that a person is more inclined to interrupt two people in conversation than one person alone with a book, even if it is a foolish romance (or a Louis L’Amour)…..”

    Reply
  4. Martha Owens - February 10, 2018 1:08 pm

    I wonder if those of us who are of the older generation were as “busy” when we were younger as today’s younger generation is now.

    Reply
    • Debby - February 11, 2018 11:43 pm

      I sure regret the years I was so busy with my own life and didn’t see my parents like I could have. I did’t treat them as this old man was in the story; I could have done more..

      Reply
  5. Connie - February 10, 2018 1:18 pm

    God, that’s heartbreaking. Every time you write about people like this, and it has happened several times, I wish I could reach through my phone and smack the kids who treat their parents so badly. Morons. They are the ones who will cry the loudest when their parents pass on. Sometimes I hate people.

    Reply
    • Jerry - February 11, 2018 2:03 am

      I don’t think we have the whole story here. There may have been many years of hurt his kids are working through. Some things tske a lot of time to get over.

      Reply
  6. dudleygilmer - February 10, 2018 1:38 pm

    Yet, who knows the background of this family…? I like the fact that Sean didn’t make a point of judging the son. Not all old men were kind fathers in their day. Some were despicable. (Having said that, I would like to see reconciliation and forgiveness take place, of course.)

    Reply
  7. Debra Gallaway - February 10, 2018 1:47 pm

    My heart is breaking.

    Reply
  8. Dianne - February 10, 2018 1:58 pm

    What a shame that this man’s son couldn’t take time from his “busyness” to bring his children to have a wonderful breakfast with their grandfather. No matter the history of the father and son, the children at least deserve to spend time with their grandfather and form their own opinions. Feel sorrow for the old man and his son, as well as the grandchildren.

    Reply
  9. robertb - February 10, 2018 2:00 pm

    This is a great observation but is only one side the full story.

    Reply
    • theholtgirls - February 10, 2018 4:46 pm

      Pastor Adrian Rogers used to say, “It’s a mighty thin pancake that only has one side.”
      That said, I’m calling my Daddy right now!

      Reply
  10. pearls4me - February 10, 2018 2:16 pm

    Perhaps long before there was a LOM, there was a LLB. A Lonely Little Boy who longed for his father to see him, delight in him, and pursue his little boy’s heart. Perhaps that Lonely Little Boy grew up to find a woman who did this and now he is giving his all to be this type of father to his own children. Perhaps LOM is simply reaping the cruel harvest of the neglect he sowed.

    Reply
  11. CKD - February 10, 2018 2:27 pm

    Sometimes missed opportunities, come to find out, were our last chance. I pray not for the son and his children.

    Reply
    • Guy Anthony - March 30, 2018 3:16 am

      Missed opportunities, I missed an opportunity to be a better father and now I don’t have no chance. My son has passed March 15th 2018 now sitting all alone wondering how I could have been a better father but I have no chance to find out.

      Reply
  12. Laura - February 10, 2018 2:34 pm

    No one, when they get old, says “I wish I had spent more time at work”… Our regrets most often are that we didn’t spend enough time with family. Even if the childhood of the son was not good, he said he would meet the father with the kids for breakfast- not once but twice. People should say what they mean, do what they say they will and own what they do (or don’t do). Leaving the father hanging is just plain cruel.

    Reply
  13. Sue Cronkite - February 10, 2018 2:59 pm

    Those who are “too busy” to spend time with those who love them are the ones who wail loudest at the funeral.

    Reply
  14. Barbara - February 10, 2018 4:04 pm

    Working in healthcare I have seen this all too often. Even experienced it in my own family. One day while out with my 90 year old dad, he said, “I’m one of the invisible people now” further explaining that folks avoid/ignore him because they don’t think he has his marbles or that he can contribute anything meaningful to their lives. How incredibly sad. I’m so glad you took the time to chat a few moments with the fellow. I experimented once with not talking to anyone for 24hrs. It was incredibly hard and depressing. All you heard were the voices in your head. Imagine some of the elderly who go days without conversation! Bless you and your humanity for reaching out.

    Reply
  15. eddie owens - February 10, 2018 4:47 pm

    Cats in the cradle!

    Reply
  16. Dorothy - February 10, 2018 4:51 pm

    So so sad. If grown children could only realize how old parents yearn to be be with them, if only occasionally or as frequently as time permits.

    Reply
  17. Jack Quanstrum - February 10, 2018 5:23 pm

    Beautiful story, sad ending!

    Reply
  18. Phyllis Hamilton - February 10, 2018 9:00 pm

    I find it extremely sad that the millennium children of today are so…selfish. if it does not personally benefit their needs, you can forget hearing much from them. This is not gossip, I have 3 of them. I would never in a million years left my visiting family sitting on a bench waiting.!!!

    Reply
  19. ponder304 - February 11, 2018 12:53 am

    Lonely Old Man and one day the will be a Lonely Son……whether he knows it or not!!!!!

    Reply
  20. Peggy Bilbro - February 11, 2018 3:59 am

    This is one of the saddest stories you’ve shared. Makes me want to cry.

    Reply
  21. Curtis Williams - February 13, 2018 9:39 pm

    Yesterday morning, I pulled out of Orange Beach and drove north to I-10 and then east across Mobile Bay to Tillman’s Corner where I met my 87-year old daddy for breakfast at Dick Russell’s. If you’ve not had the bacon and biscuits at Dick Russell’s, well….then you ain’t had bacon and biscuits. This is a once-a-month standing meeting, with me an my daddy swapping the latest family news, rehashing the Tide’s championship win, and me hearing how lonely an 87-year old widower can be. I love this old fella, and your post here made me value time with him all the more. One day he won’t show at Dick Russell’s, and I figure I’ll never eat there again. But for now, I don’t miss a chance to connect with my dad, and hearing your story makes me thankful that he stuck around. I appreciate you Sean. CW

    Reply

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