Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Generation Lost

The usual morning crowd had gathered with their cups of coffee and morning politics. I had been too busy to notice the old man had been driven to the shop by his granddaughter. A strange occurrence as he was, even in his late eighties, an independent old cuss.

We had been friends for many years. It had been quite some time since I'd last seen him, and was a little embarrassed with myself when I couldn't remember how long it had been. He had changed. He seemed frail and bent, time worn. His face had, as Hemingway had once written, the appearance of a death mask.

He came in and mingled, shook a few hands, asked if I'd please get him a cup of coffee, said, "Sure," then, "Any new items to show and tell?"

"Not today", he replied.

We had nicknamed him, Mayor. You've met the type; knows everything that happens in your small town or neighborhood. Has all the local news and gossip worth spreading, respected by all.

Now, prior to that morning if I had asked if he had 'items' to show he'd set a grin on his face and excuse himself and walk back out to his car. He'd always, and I mean always, walk in first before bringing in his items, mostly firearms. Once told me it wasn't his habit to just walk into a business with a gun in tow as it might scare any women and children, if they were present, said it was tacky, and after all, he was gentleman. And he continued, it would show lack of respect to me the business owner, made sense to me.

The Mayor was a veteran of the Second World War, served in the Pacific, highly decorated. Though you wouldn't know it by looking at him, he was very well educated, a civil engineer, well read, and an avid collector of fine firearms. He tended towards the military versions, historic pieces when he could find them but wasn't above sneaking in a piece of hunting hardware if it had the lines and grace and a piece of fine walnut attached.

His speech patterns came across like an inbreed hillbilly, the juxtaposition was scary. A dapper old man that spoke like he'd just ridden out of the Smokey Mountains but who would drop lines of Shakespeare at a moment's notice.

It'd go like this; he'd walk in with a nice Russian AK-47, one of the older models, and I'd caress it as he put a grin on his face, him waiting. I say it, "what 'ya asking for it?" I mean, we're talking milled steel receiver here.

He'd answer in his normal laid back cat eating poop grin, "Isn't for sale, boy." Called me boy.

Or, his prize of the day might be a nice FBI issued Smith 19-3 chambered in .357, a sweet deeply blued baby with a Pachmar grip installed on the original stocks. Again, I'd asked the price. He'd reply, "Now, Boy, if the Good Lord saw fit to place this nice piece of handgun in my hands why in the world do you think I'd allow you to take it away, hell, you don't have enough money to buy my gun." Like that.

And so it would go. A Springfield M1, or a Greener double once used for driven grouse in Great Britain, perhaps pre-64 Model 70 Winchester; one never knew. His collection was extensive. He never sold, never. Lord knows I tried.

That last day; he mingled and chatted and when he was finally ready to leave he walked over and gently took my right hand in his and with his left placed a large coin in it. I can remember his hands were soft and warm, like old tanned leather, yet firm. He glanced up, smiled and said, "For you, remember me."

That's when I knew.

It was a 1929 Silver dollar. Nice old piece. It now sits in my safe, its worth now measured in memories.