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Jerry & Son

Jerry is 90 years old (or thereabouts). He lives with his son but they don’t talk together much. Jerry is widowed after a long marriage. He was in the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor on December 7th; served through the war as a machinist mate on a destroyer. He’s a “Polack” born and raised on a farm in North Michigan. He has sizable memory gaps about events since VJ Day. Jerry is lonely.

I learned all this a few weeks ago at a small Greek restaurant serving good food at reasonable prices to a mid-afternoon scattering of elderly men and women.

Jerry sat across from me separated by a narrow isle. Hesitantly leaning into the isle toward me, he asked, “What nationality are you?”

He had finished his supper and was reaching for his take-out bag; a small tip sat at the table edge. He half-rose and then sat back again. I could barely hear him as he said, “Do you mind if I join you … Shoot the breeze?”

He moved to my table using a walking cane to aid his movement. He asked how old I was. Three times he told me how old he was: 89, 88, 90.
He asked what kind of work I did. He nodded at my response, a vague sidewise movement of his head. “During the war?” he asked.
“In the Navy, I was like you – a machinist mate.”
At this he managed a smiling affirmative head nod.
I asked when his wife died.
“Oh…years…a long time.”
When had he come to Milwaukee? “Oh…oh…I think…sometimes I can’t remember…my son can say.”

Jerry has lost his driving license. His son drove him to the restaurant. His son will pick him up. “I call…three rings.”

As my butter pecan desert appeared, a middle-aged man came toward us. Agitated, loud and scowling. Jerry’s son.
“Why didn’t you call? You’ve been here two hours!”
“This is Joe. A machinist mate!”

The son nodded, curtly, not interested in aging machinist mates.
He grabbed the cane, pushed it at his father.
They left together, not talking, Jerry looking back over his shoulder.

”Shoot the breeze.”
I can’t recall when last I heard that expression.

My guess:

Jerry’s son is a care-giver over-burdened by his task. He is near the breaking point. He wonders, sometimes, how much longer his father will live. Sometimes his concerns verge on hopelessness. Sometimes his love for his father wanes; replaced by hatred.

Jerry remembers enough to know that he’s lonely. When the vestiges of memory leave, will it be easier for him – or harder?