Two Men

By Joe Rector

I know an older man who has been around the area for a long time. He grew up in the Ball Camp community and went to the elementary school when it was grades 1-8. Like all the boys he grew up with, he played baseball, basketball and football, although he wasn’t a star in any of them.

After working for a long time, he finally retired. Before long, boredom set in, and he looked for part-time jobs to take up his time. None of the jobs paid much, but his retirement kept him comfortable enough. The work was to keep him busy and healthy both physically and mentally.

I’m not sure what caused it or when it happened, but one day I saw him, and he’d changed. The youth that peeked out from his eyes disappeared. The wrinkles seemed more deeply furrowed into his forehead, and his face now had a fleshier look. His neck was skinny, but the flesh had lost its elasticity, just like old guys.

Worst of all, he said he felt old. Aches and pains constantly hit him in joints and bones and tendons. The loss of what little strength he once had caused frustration. Doing things that used to be so easy became difficult, and the workhorse he once was now had turned into an old mule that could do no more than half of what he once did.

No matter how the man tried to keep a good outlook on his life and aging, bitterness and sadness too often surfaced. He always said “I used to…” as his head shook in disbelief. The realization that the years in front of him were few compared to the ones that had already passed stunned him. No, he wasn’t afraid to die; his belief in a place better than anything he could imagine was strong. Still, unfinished business ate at him. The things to learn and accomplish were so many that he realized not enough time was left on this planet.

His delight came from his family and friends. He loved his wife, children and grandchildren. Being with them contented his uneasiness. His relationship with his maker and church also made each day a little easier to bear. Those good times only dimmed when he acknowledged that some day they would go on without him.

In contrast to this grouchy, hateful man was a young man whom I’ve known since his arrival on this world. He’s one of those persons who never acts his age. Instead, he is a perpetual teenager who recalls the not-to-distant past events, both good and bad. He laughs at the goofy things he did as a youth, and sometimes, he sheds a tear for the losses of family members or broken-hearted romances. For the most part, high school years were times for being immature.

He loved college because for the first time in his life, he was on his own, and it was in those classrooms that he discovered a real interest in English, history, social sciences, and responsibility. As much as he loved home, he felt most comfortable in his dorm room, a place that he could call his own.

This young man married, but he and his wife waited for a few years before having children. When they came along, those little people stole his heart. He had one of each a — boy and a girl — and declared that if a third kind existed he wanted no part of it. He tried to be a good father, but to tell the truth, he wasn’t. Oh, he put forth the effort, but his temper flared, and his impatience stormed.  The man had no idea how to be a good father because his had died when he was just a boy. Over the years, he loved those close to him, and he did what he thought was best. Hopefully, his children wouldn’t be traumatized as adults.

This young man enjoyed his own family, and he also felt the same for his mother and brothers. It took him a long while to understand that loving one didn’t mean giving up the other.

In case you haven’t already guessed, I am both of these men. Being the age that my Papaw was at his end is shocking. I might be able to work from the morning until about 2:00 p.m., but after that, the time comes for me to lean back in the recliner with Sadie lying on my legs and snooze for a while. I must admit that even as a senior citizen, my mind is still not much different than that of a high school graduate. I suppose that’s one way to stay young, although many times I wind up looking foolish. However, at this age, I don’t much care what others think of me.