“Somebody’s there,” my seven-year-old son Evan said as we rounded the top of the hill. Indeed, the bench at the overlook was occupied by an old man, enjoying the peace and quiet that he would soon find in short supply.
“HI!” Evan and his four-year-old brother, Zack, yelled at the man as they dashed past him, looking near the edge of the woods for the old geocache box that they knew was hidden under a pile of rocks nearby. (If you’re not familiar with the hobby of geocaching, it’s like a give-a-penny, take-a-penny for household junk, stashed in millions of little boxes hidden by hobbyists all over the world. You can locate the geocaches by using the GPS in your phone, or by listening for your kids to start hollering louder than usual.)
“Hello! That’s a beautiful dog you have there,” the man said, pointing at Memphis, our black-lab-esque mutt, the final member of my entourage for the day.
While my wife was at work, I’d taken a vacation day to celebrate our complete lack of other childcare options on Presidents’ Day. Since the kids were bouncing off the walls all morning, I ricocheted them out the door to take a two-mile hike in the unseasonably warm afternoon, which is how we happened upon the old man on the bench.
After we chatted for a few moments, the man, who had introduced himself as Al, turned to me and said, “I’m ninety-three years old.”
“Wow, I hope I’m still hiking when I’m your age,” I said, and he gave me a sort of “good luck with that” look, the same look you’d expect Michael Jordan to give if you told him, “I hope my tomahawk dunk from the foul line looks as good as yours someday.”
Just then, the kids finished rifling through the geocache box, not finding anything worthy of exchanging their Happy Meal toys for, and came over to rifle through my backpack. I always bring plenty of junk-food bribes to help my kids enjoy the outdoors, just like Daniel Boone’s dad must have done.
“Here y’go,” Zack said, putting an Oreo into Al’s hand.
“Thank you,” Al said, taking a tiny bite to be polite, then giving the rest to Memphis.
“HE’S GIVIN’ CHOCOLATE TO THE DOG!” Zack yelled, pulling on my shirt sleeve.
“Shhh, buddy, Oreos don’t really have chocolate in them,” I said. The man was a member of the Greatest Generation, and was wearing a hat that suggested he’d fought in World War II. If he wanted to give my dog diarrhea, he’d earned the right.
“Can you take a picture of me at the overlook, and can Memphis be in it with me? And can you send me a copy of the picture? My friends won’t believe I made it up here,” Al asked.
“Sure, I’d be glad to. Do you have an email address?” I asked hopefully, handing him a dog treat so that Memphis would pose with him.
“I’ve never had a computer, but I can give you my mailing address and pay you for the picture,” he replied.
If someone under ninety years old had made that same request, I would have been annoyed, but I agreed to do it for Al, even if we can never be Facebook friends.
“Want to walk back down the hill together?” Al suggested after the photo shoot, and we all agreed.
On the way down, I learned that he had indeed fought in World War II. When he returned from the war, he’d taken a job mopping floors at an insurance company at night, eventually working his way into an office job. He’d been married for sixty-six years. And he walked faster than us.
Someday, I hope I can dunk like Al.
You can bribe Mike Todd with junk food at firstname.lastname@example.org.