I saw Doug climb off of his scooter and walk into the café, thinking to myself, yeah, like he needs that thing. But he was heavy and hunched over, so I thought I’d give him a break. Then I saw his hat, I want to say it was the USS Vincennes, but I can’t remember for sure. Don’t think I saw that hat again, it was for special occasions, it was the last day of Farmer’s Day in Bovey and he spent some time at the Moose Club, and wanted Porketta. It’s an Italian spiced pork shoulder roast, slow cooked, a local favorite. We were ready to close but we served him anyway, because my wife wouldn’t have it any other way. When he asked for the bill, she said, you’ve already paid your bill.
Doug stopped in from time to time, he was never a regular, he seemed to enjoy the food, he had his dog Elsie, who rode on his scooter, proud as she could be, between his feet. She always got a treat.
He told me once a little of his life, he served 20 years in the Navy, got out and ran circulation in and around Atlanta for the Constitution, up at 4, done by noon, for another 10 years or so before he came back home. He talked about visiting every port, how he’d loved the sea, but never once mentioned his wife to me.
He’ll be buried above her, in a plot in Connecticut, per his wishes. His family here didn’t quite understand, that cemeteries get filled, they need the land, so on top is O.K, instead of side by side.
He hit a tree at 70, head on, on a road he’d driven many times. On a curve where others had lost their lives, I can’t help but think he planned his demise. I too, might think the same, seeing a living where only hope remains.
He gave his life to all that was true, red, white and blue. It stole his body, but not his mind, soul or spirit.
My friend Nick
Nick came to us the first day we leased the café. My wife Lora greets everyone, regardless of who they are because that’s how she is. We have a coffee shop and café in an antique mall, Nick stopped because it was on the route he walked every day and because he thought the owner’s mother should come home with him to have dinner. He loved people, and his wife who had passed away more than any. Lora never let him pay for coffee, senior discount. The antique mall has many different things, and if there was an odd tool or item we wondered about, nine times out of ten he could tell us its purpose. Because he remembered.
His smile was infectious, as wide as his face, and his eyes when he wagged his finger pointing it at you had a determination and truth that carried the weight of his broken english like a stone. He spoke softly and was often hard to hear. His point was always clear when you listened. The one thing he told me over and over was that I had a good wife and to love her and take care of her. On his 88th birthday he brought in a bottle of cherry liquor from the old country and passed shots out to everyone, and no customer who was there turned it down, and I was proud that he shared that with us.
The last time he came into our café we were busy, he sat down, had a cup of coffee and as he started to leave, I had the chance to walk him out the door. He told me had no reason, no purpose anymore, I told him that was nonsense, and everyday he walked through my door was a good day, and apologized because I didn’t have more time to talk. He waved his hand, smiled and said “You have good woman, be good to her”.
When we first leased this café business was slow and we had more time to talk with our customers. Nick showed me a tattoo on his finger, the number 6, a remnant of his time in a Nazi POW camp. He never talked about the camp, just that he was there. After the war his allegiance was not with the government of Tito. He wanted to leave the new Yugoslavia. He had a friend he could trust in the railroad, and one night, at two in the morning his friend came and said, now or never. They took their son, the clothes on their backs, and pancakes, because that was what they had ready to eat. At 2:00 in the morning, walked in the woods for 45 minutes to the rail yard where his friend hammered them into a crate and sealed it for inspection over the border. It was 18 hours to Vienna. There was a small window to get out of the freight car. As Nick fell out of the window the train started moving. He told me this was the worst moment of his life. He ran until he found a guard to open the door and free his family. They came toAmerica because they were sponsored by a relative.
This is what I know about my friend who died on Monday the 15th of February. I call him friend because he chose to share his story with me. There was a day last fall when I gave him a ride home and he invited me in. He walked me through his home, which was immaculate, just as his wife Katrina would have wanted. He showed me her picture next to his bed and his eyes lit like the sun, and he went on to show me every picture on the wall of his family, and asked me to sit down and have a drink, to talk. I said no because I had to get back to the café because my wife would get angry with me. He smiled and pushed me out the door. I should have had the drink.