"We're not old men, we're MEN!"
Something Told Me to Stop . . .
and for once, I did. I offered my cup of fresh, black coffee that I had just bought from a local restaurant--because I had a few minutes to kill, so what would a hearty breakfast hurt? So upon my arriving to this luxurious-looking Senior Assistance Facility, my breath was cut short when I walked to the top of the steps and there sat three men, I'd say three crusty, salty, and years of their life that wisdom had carved in their faces. At first, I was scared because all three men looked (in unison) at me without cracking one smile.
"Looking for a group of gentlemen who can talk to me about working in the Ship Yards during World War II," I said gently to the three men.
"You found them, youngster--look at us. All three of us have been sitting here for going on, about, an hour and a half," Tom Spencer, the leader of the three replied in a refined voice.
"Okay, thank you for waiiting and letting me talk with you about your time in the Mobile Ship Yards and World War II," I explained.
"Tough work, alright. Tough," the older man said to the other two with no smile on his face.
"Hot too!" the third guy added then lit his cigar.
"Did you three men do the same job or something different?" I asked jotting my notes as fast as the men spoke.
"Well, son, it was this: on one morning, boss tells me to hit the Harbor Guard, this man here (points to the older man) says to him: get with Wally Joe Williams, the Second Foreman, who took over the duties of the Main Line Boss, but he was out sick and this third man did whatever it took to get the work finished," the older man explained to my delight.
Time Ran Like Molasses ...
during the next two hours, I was mesmerized by these three men and their authenticity in how they talked, dressed, and just lived a truthful life. The older of the three broke-out in a huge laugh and he told a quick story about when the shipyard hired me and told him to be at a certain time, so he went ahead and clicked the time card and waited for this man who was supoosed to meet me, but then it was 10 O'Clock . . .then 11:40 a.m., and if this man had not showed his face, it would be Vittuls Time for me. Yeah. I can't work that good unless I got a full stomach. That's the truth," the second old man said while fighting-back the tears concerning his Shipyard job.
Then the third, smaller man shared his part of working for the Shipyard and his story was almost the same as the first name, all except he was younger and had a bad temper. I smiled. He smiled and quickly said, "why you smiling at me? Huh?" "I did and I'm sorry," I explained hoping that I had not sabotaged my story with the three retired shipyard employees.
"Why did you smile and then apologize?" the man said with a stern tone.
"I didn't want to be the root of offense with you, so the thing for me to do was apologize," I said.
"You listen! We three men are just that MEN. This is not to say that we are perfect, because we're not. But we three MEN, let me tell you, when we was younger, not even the white bosses ever took our grub away from us--no, sir. There was some days that when them younger bosses, whites you know, would try to run over us, but we had each other's back and well-being, so it was like one for all and all for one," the man said and very strong in his beliefs.
The third man just sat and listened. He lit another cigar and looked to be like he was enjoying it. I thought that I should ask him a few questions as to not go away leaving him without talking to him, so I asked him, "Did you enjoy the work when those July days were 110 degrees?"
"Do I look like a Fifty-Dollar Fool? Who do you think that I am? Sure it got hot, Very HOT. So hot that we rode across the River Styx on our way over the Lake of Fire and son, that was hot . . .but God led us, even with our sinful backgrounds, to a place where we could work, rest, and not having bosses, white or black, on our backs every minute." I am so glad now that I had asked a question from the third man.
"Uhhh, where did God lead you, sir?" I asked hoping that I had not offended him.
"Right here! The Senior Assistance Home and I tell you before you ask if this is a nursing home, and I will say, NO. Our time is our town--no checkers and chess are ever played unless we play it. We take walks or we just sit and talk over our lives with other men and women.
"So, my friend, you and your two friends here, would say that the years combined would total 200 years of you three working in the Shipyard?" I said.
"Probably 205, (laughs)" the third man said followed by a, "you finished with us?" he said as the other two shook hands with me and they slowly walked into the main office building.
I had my story . . .finally. But I remember too, that when I arrived at my apartment, I had forgotten a key part of the men's lives that if they were available, I could get the last of their stories and then put this story on AP and the major daily papers.
So the drive back to where I talked to them was not that long. I got out of my car and almost ran back to the three men had talked with me, then walked through the big glass door that I found just like the older man had said. Thank God, someone was at the Reception Desk. Within minutes, my story would be finished and I might have a Pulitzer Prize for all the research, questions that I had asked and leads that I had followed. But as they say, "you can't make a good omelet unless you crack a few eggs," and that was true.
I walked up the the Reception Desk and the lovely receptionist smiled and asked what she could do for me. I told her that I needed to talk to the three elderly gentlemen that I had just talked with (points outside) and got all of their facts about shipbuilding in Mobile. Then the receptionist began to look strange, pale, and she hit the phone's main button that summoned one of the security guards--because when I told her the description of the three men, she said that she had worked for this facility for 10 years or more and had never seen any men fitting the description that I gave her.
The security guard, upon hearing what the receptionist and then me, said, "we do not have anyone with such a description--are you mad? I felt a wave of fear run through me.
"They were sitting right over there, I tell you. Right over there," (Pointed to the place).
"Hey, I think that I might be of help to you," said this equally-older man who was pushing a broom and pushing this trash container.
"Yes! I was just talking to three guys (points) over there and as I left, they walked through those big glasses there. I came back to get a bit of information that I forgot to get. I am not here to cause trouble, just finish my story that I have worked on for eight or nine years," i said with tears in my eyes telling my situation to the older janitor-looking man.
". ..Hmmmmmm, let's see now. I do not know who you think that you saw, but about a month or so ago, we had these three men, ohhhhh, about in their 70s, and they must have worked in the construction work or something, and they always walked out here and sat in the sun when it was summer, but NO ONE ever stayed in this facility who worked for any shipyards. Sorry, but honesty is all I got," the humble-spoken man explained.
That was it. I couldn't retrieve the last part of my story that I felt like was good enough for the big papers, magazines, and UP, but now, I do not know," I said to myself as I walked back to my car dejected and defeated.
Then before I could open my car door, I noticed a man who looked like he was in a hurry to get to say something before I left. He was dressed in very stylish attire, carrying his briefcase and umbrella over his right arm. He had a look of urgency on his face and looked very pale as if he had witnessed an awful event or accident.
My feet were frozen. I could not walk any further. The man slowly walked over to the side of my car and looked to and fro as if he were being tailed.
Then with a voice so deep and clear that I almost shivered with fear . . .he said, "We're not old men, we're MEN!" and walked away briskly.
I had no more questions. Maybe in another time. Now now.
April 13, 2019 _______________
© 2019 Kenneth Avery