Inspired by a man I met last Thursday night, after a lecture on research/historical fiction.
You stayed after the lecture.
Dapper in your out of style windbreaker, hands shyly tucked into pockets.
“May I tell you my story?” you asked in a quiet voice
accented by a geography that no longer exists.
You were fifteen. Escorting your uncle to the train.
It was Easter Monday. 1945.
You say this twice.
Easter Monday. 1945.
And you were strafed.
Well, the train was strafed. P-39s. Americans.
Why? I asked, my brain sifting through my WWII research notes. Why?
You shrug. The Germans. As if this explains everything.
Ack-ack guns on the train. They were transporting men. Materiel.
You lean in, continue.
When I got here (you point to the floor, meaning the US, not the Skagit Valley Senior Center), well many years after I got here, I did some research.
(You are eager to tie this story into the topic of my lecture)
I have the photo, you say,
of the day I was strafed.
(I step back. A photo. Think of it.)
I found the pilot, you continue. We’ve had lunch.
You offer this to me with casual generosity as if you are sharing your lunch of Guláš :
“take a taste.”
It is sour and peppery, this pungent bite of the past.
And I chew and chew and chew.
Your white hair.
The fifteen year old boy.
The story yet to be told.
And full of mystery and things unsaid. What comes next…
This arrived on a sunny but cool Saturday afternoon when the Gopher football team lost their game. You came along, Kirby, to take my mind to other things…
Thank you for the photo of your new family members. Great! And your wedding photo! 40 years!!! At 40 our kids gave Bernie and me a silver tray inscribed, “WOW” 40 years!” Their explanation: Well, we knew it wasn’t all happy happy all the time…”