—–Brown Shoes, Black Shoes—–
There are these two old men that I see wandering here and there, never quite entering my running environment for some reason. I have seen them when I am pedaling to the store, driving to the post office, or from a bus but have never encountered them while on foot. When I first saw them their number was three. Time being what it is, their age being what it appeared to be, a reduction in numbers was not unexpected, but I watched more closely during their next few appearances—yes, three have become two.
Of the two that are left, having no names to put with them, I know one always has on black shoes, brown corduroy pants, green flannel shirt, khaki jacket, and a herringbone hat with a blue ribbon that almost matches blue eyes that are undimmed by the passing years. The other wears brown shoes, khaki pants, and shirt—creased from the years of wear and many years of ironing.
On one bike trip to the store I was close enough to see the word “Normandy” on brown shoes’ baseball cap. I was flying on the downhill—too fast to stop, even though I was becoming aware of an emerging need. That word on his cap, two smiles, and a chuckle as I zoomed on by were all that managed to be recorded in the abstractions of my mental scratchboard that morning.
Yesterday as I turned up the last quarter mile of trail, I could see Kathy talking to, hmm, two old men. As I got close I could hear words, then a laugh, then black shoes pointed at me and said, “Better give the lad some room,” and motioned for them to move over. Kathy laughed, and I stopped. She explained they (brown shoes and black shoes) were picking mushrooms for soup—and they were showing her which ones not to pick. Minutes passed, old fingers, bent from age, pointed at white mushrooms, red mushrooms—tan and black were disapproved—a good “crop” this year, black shoes said; brown shoes agreed and sliced off a piece of a red cap for Kathy.
A part of my mind was playing with faces and numbers—1944 minus 16 (some 18-year-olds had lied about those last two years just to be in uniform) would be 1928, which would make them 82 years or so old. Okay, seemed to fit.
Mutterings continued back and forth. My curiosity killing me, I finally asked brown shoes about the cap. “Were you at Normandy?” “Yes.” “What outfit?” A pause, they looked at each other, then, “The 82nd.” Oh. There was an aura of quiet. Me and my stupid curiosity and question asking—ratz—then Kathy said, “Sainte Mère Église?” Brown shoes looked at her, then looked at black shoes; both smiled. He asked, “Have you been there?” Kathy replied, “Yes, 2004.” Black shoes looked at her, then at me. “2004, sixty years gone by. Quieter now, I suppose?” Kathy nodded. “Yes.”
Four generations have come and gone since brown shoes and black shoes were born. Kathy and I have seen two more generations. Just long enough to listen to someone pass on the knowledge of which mushrooms to pick for dinner—and other things along the way.