Adult biographies

When gray hair meets green

Age has its privileges and the freedom to dish out sympathetic sarcasm is one of them

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Half his head is shaven. The middle part is green and the right side bright orange. He is clean, very clean. His red jeans are ripped, to show his boxer shorts. His torn T-shirt is white and clean. Lots of piercings; huge earlobe holes, like some African tribesman. Have not seen that since 1954.

He is talking to an old crying Native man. I see him going to the coffee counter and returning with a coffee and a bun and giving it to the Native man. That was the last I saw of him that day.

Two weeks later he wandered into the kitchen while Sue and I were trying to figure out how to feed about 80 people on 30 eggs and 72 buns. First we decided the staff would not eat that day. No worries there as this allowed me to stick to my diet plan. Someone brought in a hot apple strudel, six inches by twelve. We looked at it and just laughed.

He stood in the doorway as we boiled the eggs – very small eggs, not meant for sale and therefore donated to the shelter. He got in my way as I was peeling the eggs. Suddenly he found himself with a spoon and knife in his hand. “Cut the eggs right through the middle and scoop out the egg, dump it in the green bowl.” The old lady, me, had spoken.

He looked at me funny and went to work. One of the guys ran out and got a jar of Mayo. In no time at all, we had egg salad on the buns and got the kid to bring out the trays to the hungry.

When all the buns were gone and the apple strudel still on the counter, the kid got busy. He ran to the back freezer and came back with ice cream – two half full pails, chocolate and strawberry. It was just the two of us in the kitchen. He found the styrofoam soup bowls and plastic spoons. We divided the strudel into some 60 pieces and added two kinds of ice cream. When he carried the first tray out, he was greeted with a shout of “Dessert!”

Sue came back and took the second tray. He came back into the kitchen and again it was just the two of us working together. When everything was gone, he suddenly said: “The way I live I have about 10 to 15 years to live.”

“So do I,” I informed him dryly.

He glanced up at me with a stunned look on his face. Then he started talking again. “I’ve had fun. Got drunk every day, that’s why I’m here. Community service. Can’t wait to get back to drinking.”

“First time?” I asked him.

“No, the second and the last time,” he said.

I agreed and told him that the third time would probably be jail and even more fun.

He asked, “Well did you have a fun life?”

“Sure did and no splitting headache in the morning. Besides that, I can even remember the fun I had.” I asked him if he’d ever played in a band, toured Europe by motorbike, or traveled all over the world. I told him that I completely understood that going to a bar and spending the evening drinking and then staggering around with a splitting headache was, of course, much more fun. But at least I had fun for more years than he had had.

We cleaned the kitchen, no longer talking. Before he left, he told me he had six more hours to serve and probably would not see me again. I agreed with him and told him I realized that it would be jail for him. He left but came back a little while later. “Look,” he said, “if I ever want to be told off, can I look you up?”

“Sure, be glad to,” I replied. We grinned and shook hands! So now there is another kid in my prayers and I do not even know his name. 

This is a chapter from Gerda Vandenhaak’s book “Geertje: War Seen though the Eyes of a Child as an Adult” which is available at www.gerdavandenhaak.com or Alder and Elm Christian books (1 587-988-1619)

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