The Old Man Walking Down The Road

Here is an excerpt from my self-published book, “The Plight of the Hare & Other Stories From the Shoe”. Illustration by Breena Nuñez.

old man

I was driving home one Sunday after trying to go to church. I was angry we hadn’t made it to the service because of the little war that erupted in the car. While driving, I noticed an old man walking on the road. The road was a busy four-lane street without sidewalks. He was walking in the direction I was driving, and I was coming up behind him. From the back, I noticed his ill-fitting suit and his brown derby securely on his head. He reminded me of my old, agile Portuguese neighbor whom I’d admire from my window as he repaired his roof.

I passed the old man and glanced at him in the rear view mirror, thinking maybe I would see that old Portuguese face. I knew I wouldn’t because that neighbor had already left this world. And this man was very much alive. He was defiantly smoking a cigarette while walking at a brisk pace. He wanted to cross the four-lane road, and I glanced in my mirror again to see if he was successful. I thought maybe I would stop to help. But, he was determined and sure-footed. He didn’t need my help, he would make it.

This old man, his clothing, his hat and his defiant manner reminded me of my carefree childhood when men like him were all over the place. The most discomfort I felt was the anticipation of doing chores, or the consequences of not doing homework. My most pressing concerns were whether that cute guy was going to be on the bus or if I had a ride to the dance on Friday. What a stark contrast to today! Driving home with a car full of children worrying about a bank account empty of funds, my concerns had dramatically changed. There are creases on my brow from the sheer weight of my responsibilities. Men, like that old man walking down the road, had the same creases. My father had the same creases.

My father told me of a time when the weight of his responsibilities were at their heaviest. Confronted by his boss to quit drinking or to quit, he purchased a six-pack to think it over. After that was gone, he got a ride to the Russian River where my mom and we kids were. In the cabin, he was lying on his bed contemplating the wife, the kids, the mortgage, the houses, all the cares; and these responsibilities pressed hard. He could hear the kids splashing and laughing as they swam, careless, without worry, while he was carrying the load, however imperfectly, on his fragile shoulders.

Fast forward forty years, my children were silent in the car because they knew I was mad. I looked nervously at the little gaslight that comes on when the tank is empty reminding me of the many empties in my life. Now the burden was on my even more fragile shoulders, and I felt like my father did. But that old man reminded me of the kind of folks who were around when I was a kid; they had their creases, their responsibilities, but somehow they made it. That six-pack was the last my father bought, and he made it, too. I looked back one final time and saw that the old man made it across. So I drove home that quiet Sunday afternoon, believing I would make it too, like my father and like the old man walking on the road.

Playing in God’s Backyard

God'

This blog was featured in my self-published book, “The Plight of the Hare & Other Stories From the Shoe”.

Like a lot of San Francisco families, my parents have a cabin up at the Russian River. We’d spend all summer there when we were kids until the summer of ‘72 when we all got busted raiding the parents’ bottles. Before that though, after our chores, we kids would find our friends and hang out. We’d walk into town and get candy at Lark’s: the berry lollipop, the apple rope gum and even the candy cigarettes. We would hike up the hillsides and build forts. But most of all we would spend our summer days swimming in the river.

I took my kids up there a lot too. We couldn’t swim until the sun hit the pier. So while we waited, we would go to the park or to Armstrong Woods or even hit up Lark’s like I did as a kid.

Sometimes though, we would just hang out in the backyard, and the kids would start digging holes. My kids love to dig holes. What is it with kids – a shovel, a pail and a ton of dirt? I don’t know, but they can be happy for hours playing in the dirt. Sooner or later though, my father would holler from the deck some 25 feet above them and tell them to quit digging holes and to fill ‘em up. We sadly filled the holes and just waited for the sun to hit the pier.

Another time, my kids were in their own backyard in the East Bay, and they started to dig a giant hole. They spent hours and hours digging it real big and played in it like it was a fort. I couldn’t care less, I always enjoyed when they were wholesomely occupied. But their dad showed up and told them to fill the hole and not to dig anymore of them. What a bummer!

One day, years ago, my sister, her kids, my kids and I went to Pacifica State Beach in Linda Mar. We grabbed all of the play toys and marched to the shore. What do you think was the first thing the kids did? Yep, they started digging holes. But, unlike the other times, no one told them to stop. Rather, it seemed like God joined them in their play. His laughter roared in the sound of the waves as they played. The waves would playfully fill up their holes. And as the surf retreated, the kids were challenged to dig more holes. And they did!

The waves roared back, laughing, playing with the kids. They played all day digging and running away, only to dig and run away again. It was delightful to watch. No one told them not to dig holes; instead it seemed as if God was playing with them. He didn’t mind them digging holes in His backyard.