I know, I know- I’ve been slacking. I haven’t written an entry in quite some time and worse, I teased you with a little message assuring you that more stories would be pressed shortly. For that I apologize. However, over the holiday season I clocked over 50 hours a week, lost rather than gained weight, completely threw out my neck and left shoulder all the while looking like a hamster on a wheel who had been slipped a methamphetamine. However, I am proud to report that the season was good to me in providing me with new material for you.
Although I’ve eluded to the madness that occurred over the holidays, I’d like to ease into this years’ entries by starting with a pleasant one. Not to worry, I have many chronicles suited for the misanthropic, one that truly merits a Darwin Award. Yet, seeing as I’ve just come home from a lovely holiday abroad now betrothed (insert congratulatory message here), and that my posture does not resemble that of a Tim Burton character, I’m in a remarkably good mood. On that note, I give you the story of the Centenarian. Enjoy.
Twas the day after Christmas and all through the restaurant, not even a drink order, not even a tip. Almanac tendencies for diners after Christmas and before the New Year. Everyone has eaten, drunk and spent far too much over the holiday but have gotten sick of leftovers. Hence, the crowd.
But let us not forget that birthdays do occur throughout the holidays and are still celebrated.
Enter the Centenarian.
The lunch shift was about half way done when a five-top walked through the door. Two women, a young man in his 20s, an older man in his 60s and an elder man following behind. Greeting one of the women, I marked off their reservation and walked them over to their table. All smiling as they sat down, the younger gentleman alerted me that we had a birthday at the table.
“And who should I wish Happy Birthday to today?” I asked.
The eldest man rose his hand and gave me a big smile, without saying a word. I recognized him as I had waited on this man before. A priest in the local parish, he is the oldest serving man of faith in the southwest, if not in the nation. Last year he made local headlines by delivering a sermon on his 100th birthday. Although I did not attend the sermon (as I am about as pious as Dolly Parton is flat-chested) I still held admiration for the man. Religious or otherwise, reaching such a milestone and illustrating such devotion- how can you not be moved by such a thing?
But today he was not delivering a sermon. He was not holding confessions, lending his sage advice and counsel, or performing a baptism, confirmation or wedding. Today, he was off the clock for it was his birthday. His 101st birthday.
I proceeded to wish him a very happy birthday and expressed how lovely it was to see him again. Although I had waited on him before, I couldn’t help but to be completely fascinated by him. There was something about his 101st birthday that struck me more than his 100th. Perhaps it was because I had more time than normal to think about it. I wasn’t juggling a dozen drinks on a tray in one hand, carrying four soup bowls in the other and wishing that three arms would spurt of of my chest- transforming me into almighty deity Vishnu- for I would kill to have three more arms as I needed three cappuccinos, someone to run my food and tend to the drink orders that are pouring out of the machine. A run-on sentence yes- welcome to my job.
But not that day. It was surprisingly quiet, mellow and only mildly irritating. I posted up at the host stand, examining the Centenarian. At one point, he may have been about 6’2 or so, but in his old age has curled into about 5’7. He wore a hat which revealed thinning locks of white hair that collected at his nape like little cumulus clouds. The wrinkled lines on his face mirrored those of a topographical map and the texture of his skin of tissue paper. His ears fascinated me as they were nearly half the length of his head. Wrinkles poured over his ears like tidal waves and draped beneath them like theater curtains. His forehead showed signs of endless serious thought and his eyes years of happy memories. A bulbous and slightly Roman nose punctuated the center of his face.
But most incredible were his eyes. Despite all the evidence of age, his eyes remained bright and curious. A deep shade of brown, yet nothing a thread of dullness. They were as bright and as new to the world as those of my baby brothers, yet had witnessed so much more.
I began to calculate the year he was born. 1909.
A dusty history booked slammed itself upon my mind’s desk and started to flip through thousands of pages and years of time. When he was born, there were only 46 states, 8,000 cars on the road and women were being arrested for smoking in public. He witnessed this country become a world leader, and heard the first news of World War I. Experiencing the great Stock Market Crash and then the Depression, it only led him to witness World War II of which I am nearly certain he served in.
From listening to radio to watching films, the Centenarian experienced the Golden Era. He participated in the Baby-Boom and saw this nation put a man on the moon. He lived through a time where a great leader fell and a nasty one rose. Through the fear and farce of McCarthyism, to relishing the sounds of Paul McCartney. He watched wars come and go, watched four new states be inaugurated into this nation, medical advances increase life expectancy, technology advance at 50 words per minute, see the constitution be applied for a law that humanized all races and in my fantasy; he saw every great musical artist that perished before my time and danced with Fred Astaire too.
This man, blew my mind.
In a strange way, I was jealous of what those bright eyes had seen. History, revolutions and change that he witnessed first hand; and that’s only in the United States! I know in his life before becoming a man of the cloth, he served in the Army. As what, I am not quite sure. From what’s been alluded to in articles about him, the Centenarian carried a military importance and is lightly decorated. If nothing else, today, he was heavily decorated with 101 candles on a cake.
The Centenarian and his four guests enjoyed a three course lunch together, skipped dessert and went straight to coffee. I walked over to offer him a bit more coffee and without saying a word, he smiled and gestured with his hands that he content. The woman at the table signaled for the check and I printed it just as quickly. As I walked back I took my time getting one last look at the Centenarian, as it may have been my last. Sliding his chair out and grasping a hold of the table, the Centenarian pulled himself up. He was handed a cane that I noticed he used as a mere accessory. Although his age had curled his posture into a crowbar and he his pace was tarry, he had no issue of balance or strength to move forward.
I presented the check to the woman and made my way over to the door to hold it open for the Centenarian. He slowly shuffled his feet making his way to the door and must have seen my feet. He stopped, took off his hat and looked up at me revealing those bright eyes and wrinkled face. His lips began to twitch as he was preparing to say something to me. Smiling, I lowered my head to be at eye-level with him.
“Happiest of birthdays to you, sir.” I said.
The Centenarian smiled and opened his mouth and revealed the sole feature of what revealed his age. His voice. In the scratchiest, brassiest, most parched voice- sounding much like the Nazgul from the Lord of the Rings (yes, I just said that)- his chin quivered as he struggled with uttering the most polite response.
“Thank you, dear.”
And just like that, he was gone.
Happy 101st Birthday, sir.