I was in a neighborhood grocery store a week or so ago, looking for a properly butchered piece of consumable dead mammal, bouncing along to the muzak, when I realized I was singing “Sympathy for the Devil” i.e., “… but what's puzzling you is the nature of my game…”
Yes yes yes, being old is so strange. Me 66 now. ME, I am sixty-six. “Ewwww, like, a so so gross old person”, as my more youthful and insightful students would say. Guilty as described. On that note, I am driving 3½ hours each way tomorrow to my father’s 100th birthday party. He doesn’t think much of it as occasion. Especially since his own grandfather died on the job as a harbormaster in nineteenth century Beirut when a crate fell on him at work. The gentleman was 102 at the time. I still have the gold watch his employer gave my widowed great-grandmother upon his death.
So yes I may genetically have a long way yet to go to the big old stable in the sky, though that may become debatable if I keep abusing this fleshy shell so badly. I signed up for Social Security this past July, but I am not taking payments until I am 70, so that my monthly payments will go up to the max. I will need every dollar if I am to last another thirty years. I signed up for Medicare too, as required by law of every citizen who has even a chance of “retirement”, though that has become a rather nebulous term in these economic times, but again, I am not going to participate until at least then, as my current University benefits are substantial in the meantime. And I intend to keep working this gig until they kick my wrinkled and ancient butt out the sacred door of academia.
But as I said, then there is The Old Man. Who I will visit tomorrow, a day which has been designated “James A Gabour Sr Day” (versus “Jr”, who is me) in Pineville, Louisiana. Turns out that he has the longest running business in the history of that city, and he still goes to work every day. He works on many of the same machines he has owned for much of his life. Here is the back of a card he recently printed:
So he drives the twelve miles to work every morning, and back in the afternoon. And has become something of a legend to people in the modern graphics business.
Plus from 11am-1pm Monday through Friday, he volunteers at the Senior Citizen’s Center there, “serving meals to old folks”, as he describes his weekday philanthropic activities. No sense in having idle hands.
To prove that point once again, he has mowed his acre of lawn in advance of the arrival of family houseguests over the next few days.
* * *
In spite of his current domesticity and civic conscientiousness, he was rather a raucous young man who loved large motorcycles – he drove a multi-cylindered Indian – fancy clothes and fancy cars.
His pal “Sugar” Hardin, a cartoonist,
painted a fretting Donald Duck on the
spare tire of my father’s convertible.
Dad said it suited him.
He traveled coast to coast in his car with one of his brothers and his Aunt Martha, and was a frequent visitor to New Orleans, especially during racing season. Travel and a tad of adventure continually filled his life. He climbed radio towers to change out bulbs because he liked the adrenaline that the danger produced, he walked airplane wings while flying with stunt pilots. That sort of thing.
The life suited him.
Dad, front right, on his touring bike with his buds.
He also toured constantly on his motorcycle, until one particularly long trip where he and his partners were traveling two to a bike, one driving and one catching some shut-eye, strapped on in back. On one of those very sorties, while he was sound asleep and yet still holding on, a car came over a hill on the wrong side of the road and drove all the bikes and their riders crashing onto the gravel shoulder. Dad woke up sliding down the rocky surface on his behind, taking off a great deal of flesh as he did so. Though he called it “nothing but a road rash”, it took him some months to recuperate at the family home, where his mother forbade him further motorcycle adventures, no matter his age. He reluctantly obliged, and the Indian was sold.
When WWII entered the picture, he joined the Army and was made a mess sergeant, was a great success at the job, and was finally assigned to the troops guarding of the Panama Canal for the duration.
His wartime job allowed him the opportunity to occasionally indulge in some recreational activities, a proclivity for which I seem to have inherited.
The Mess Sergeant tapping a keg of local brew in the Panamanian jungle in 1943, a valiant non-commissioned officer dedicated to keeping US Army troop morale high.
Though he did indeed witness some action, especially on troop vessels dodging U-boats in the Atlantic, he maintains only that he came back from the war with a great tan and a taste for cooking with habanero peppers.
The Mess Sergeant in Panama.
That cooking for companies of hungry eaters also is a part of the legend as to why he and Mother had six children: she says that he only possessed recipes that had been calculated out to feed more than thirty people – dividing those quantities by four was absolutely the smallest meal he could accommodate.
The Honeymoon Night 1946. The Old Absinthe Bar, Bourbon street, New Orleans.
There was indeed that marriage. The two met while they were both working at the same daily newspaper, he as the Union Foreman in the backshop and she as the budding young reporter up front. She was assigned to cover a huge refinery fire some hours away, just as he was getting off for the night. He offered to drive her, they had a pleasant evening documenting a flaming disaster, and the inevitable celebratory event sealing the deal did indeed eventually happen some few months later. Marriage, and eventually, me.
The author makes his appearance.
After that, possibly sensing somehow that the worst that could befall them had already occurred, their mutually shared sense of adventure once again intervened. Between babies, the pair struggled to save up for a time-line of their own, finally scrimping together enough cash to put the down payment on a tiny chain of weekly newspapers.
She wrote all the stories and managed the business, he set the type, printed the papers and got them on the streets.
From age eight until I went to University at eighteen, I worked Mondays through Wednesdays after school at the print shop, especially on the late Wednesday nights when the papers went to bed and I did not. It was a great experience, filled my childhood with a sense of purpose, and probably instilled in me the ability and will to work without reservation for what I want and/or need.
I now know that everything is all possible, a lesson that came directly my folks.
They sold the names to the papers almost forty years ago, but kept the print shop where my Dad continues to work.
And tomorrow at 12:30pm, he will walk the one-and-a-half blocks from his shop to the Pineville Community Center, and celebrate his one hundredth birthday.
Tomorrow he will be back at his shop, and at noon he will be back serving meals to “old” people.