Lunchtime—a service station somewhere in Alabama. He was chatty. Too chatty. He was as tall as boom-truck, big ears, dirt smudges all over his work clothes, a wide smile, and some gray on his temples.
The place was crowded. His voice was the loudest one in the room. He talked to anyone who’d listen. And it drew looks from other folks in line.
If he’d been this talkative in a Northern city—say, the wrong side of New York—someone might’ve tried to quiet him by landing one on his chin. Though chin-level is five feet above eye-level.
As it happens, New York is where he just left. Last month. But he’s not from there, he’s from here. And to listen to his accent sounds like an afternoon holding a fruit jar.
He was a marine. Semper Fi. He’s retired now. When he left, the first thing he did was travel here. He couldn’t get back home fast enough to see his mother.
“You know what I miss most?” he said, between bites of his gas-station hotdog. “Not being in a hurry. You take it for granted. In a city, they’s in a hurry for every-damn-thing.”
Every damn thing.
Yeah. I know what he means. I know some folks in such hurries they can’t use microwaves without cussing at them.
My new buddy went on to explain that he’d spent a lot of time traveling between New York and overseas. While across the world last year, his mother passed. It happened suddenly, and it about killed him.
“I had a service for her, where I’s stationed. Our chaplain said a few words over a picture I printed on the computer. All the guys in my unit came. I was supposed to be tough, but I cried pretty hard.”
His eyes got glassy when he said it.
He visited her grave within the first five minutes of crossing the county line. He suffocated her in flowers. He wept. Then he stayed for half the day—until he got dizzy from hunger.
“You know,” he went on. “I ‘member when I left for basic training. Mama was so proud’a me, she told me, ‘William, do good work, and be somebody.’ I promised her I would. She made me the person I am today.”
By the time he paid the cashier, he’d already finished his hotdog and was halfway into his Mountain Dew. He turned around to bid me goodbye, winked, and said, “Have a good day, boss. And God bless you.”
God just did.