Submitted by John L. Lincicome.
He didn’t look up. He just kept on a doin’ whatever it was that he was a doin’. I sposed he didn’t hear me, or maybe he was like lot of old folks seem to be when it comes to listenin’ to a kid; conveniently deaf. He was kneeling down, fiddlin’ around with the contents of a cardboard box. The box was on the floor in an aisle near the candy section of the store.
The store was Lakewood Lockers/TomBoy Market. Years later it became Lively Market. The store was at the corner of Washington Blvd and Interlaaken back then. Nothing there at that corner now cepin’ a concrete slab with blackberry vines and stuff growin’ out of it. Maybe a few memories cominglin’ and flirtin’ with the breeze and vines and stuff, too. I sure got some remembers of that old store. Lots of ‘em.
“Hey mister…” I said again.
This time the old fella stirred a bit then looked up, and then my way. His glasses generally lived on the bridge of his nose, but for some odd reason they’d relocated to just under his nose. The old fella struggled to reposition his glasses, to right the wrongs. It was then I noticed there was somethin’ in his ear. He was sweatin’ a bit, and groaned as he rose from the aisle.
He was a tall sort of fella. To me anyway. He had some hair, but not much. The ones he had seemed to be a bit mussed up. As he stood he struggled to get fully vertical. He never quite made it. He was bent over a bit even when he was standin’ tall. I spose that happens when folks get old. There was a firm sort of kindness in his eyes. His eyes looked the question a me. Then he spoke it.
After watchin’ him struggle and stuff my mind got to wonderin’, seemed I’d forgot what I wanted to ask him. I felt a bit foolish as my eyes looked the answer back at him. After a beat he went back to his box on the floor. Back to lookin’ for whatever it was he was lookin’ for when I’d interrupted him. He was a nice man. He was the same fella that…
The summer before I’d got myself into a bit of a fix. I was foot racin’ my friend, David, from 83rd St. to the store. Somehow I’d got all tangled up in the top row of barbed wire on the fence that bordered The Old Settlers Cemetery. As a result my chin was all bloody and stuff, and I was scared I was gonna die or somethin’. Dave & I walked the rest of the way to the store in search of some help.
I remember that the old fella was there that day, and after seein’ my bloody young self, his wife (I assume it was his wife) ran and got a bowl of cold water and a rag. She tenderly wiped the blood from my chin as the old fella looked on. When she was all done she let me keep the rag, “Hold it tight to your chin!” she said as she sent me home. A kid remembers stuff like that.
There were other times, too. Times I’d be lookin’ at the candy and calculatin’ how much change I had on me. Wonderin’ if I had enough to get what I wanted. I remember pullin’ my hand out of my jeans pocket and countin’ the silver and copper coins. I remember he, the old guy, was lookin’ at me from the check-stand. Lookin’ at me like I was swipin’ somethin’. But I wasn’t. I never swiped nothin’ from that store. That said…
I will admit to swipin’ a nickel Tootsie Roll from Phils Shop Rite once. Or tryin’ to…got caught by Mr Phil himself. That day didn’t end well, and after that I never tried to swipe nothin’ again. Kids remember crummy stuff like that, eh? Yes.
I’d stepped outside for a beat and remembered what I wanted to ask him, then went back in.
“Hey mister…” I said again.
Well, it wasn’t an ask I had in mind, it was a tell. I wanted to tell him thanks for helpin’ me last summer, but after I saw that thing in his ear that kind-a-changed my thinkin’ a bit.
He was at the cash stand kind-a-hunched over it. The cash drawer was open. Maybe he was countin’, maybe he wasn’t. I don’t know.
“You again” he said. “What now?”
“What’s that thing in your ear?” I asked. He looked at me like I shot his dog or somethin’. Maybe he didn’t quite hear me?
I don’t know why I asked him that. I’d come to tell him thanks for last summer, but the thing in his ear question came out instead. Life is complicated…
He went on a short show and tell thing. About how it was a hearin’ aid. And how it had a volume control on it and stuff, like a radio or tv or somethin’. I ooh’d and ah’d as he did his tell. I felt a bit of somethin’ akin to shame as he did his tell. Maybe it was my first experience with humility. I don’t know.
Turns out he was partially deaf, and I was pokin’ fun at him for bein’ hard of hearin’ in my mind’s eye most everytime I’d been around him. That’s why I felt shame. Cruelty comes in flavors. Like candy. I was guilty. Ain’t no fun feelin’ dirty on the inside. Ain’t no fun at all.
After he did his tell I said me thanks to him for his help the year prior after the barbed wire fence and I had a fuss. He probably figured I was thankin’ him for tellin’ me about his ear thing. But I was really thankin’ him for helpin’ me out last summer. He didn’t know. And that’s okay.
Kid life ain’t easy. Man, kid life ain’t easy at all.
John L. Lincicome lives in Tacoma and you can read more Kid Life stories on the You Know Your From Lakewood, WA If… Facebook Page.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.