Somewhere, Sometime, USA. “What?” The old man humped over in the passenger seat shot a glance from the corner of his eye. At ninety-seven, side-glances, or any movement, required effort and time to complete.
“I asked if you slept well last night.”
“No. No, the housekeeper does that once a week. My floor doesn’t get that dirty.”
I didn’t try again. The hearing aids didn’t help him track a conversation. Once a week, without fail, I’ve driven my Uncle Rollie to his barber shop. He’d out lived the first owner, celebrated retirement of the second and was working on the third.
In the turn lane, stopped for the light, I grabbed my newspaper and slid the headlines onto his lap. “Did you see today’s paper?”
Rollie stared at the newsprint. “My eyes can’t read anymore.” He eased the paper back onto the seat between us.
The light changed. Rollie had told me he planned to cancel his paper. He’d done that a lot over the years because of the publisher’s political bias. I should’ve known this time was different. He couldn’t see well enough to read anymore. A lifelong news junky, I regretted reminding Rollie of another pleasure lost.
I raised my voice. “Just as well. Nothing but bad news anyway.”
“All they ever print.” He tapped his arthritic finger on the passenger side window. “I’ll buy you an ice cream on the way home.”
Uncanny, but no matter how poor the eyesight, somehow he knew where his favorite treats were dispensed.
I drove into the strip mall and parked in front of the old barber shop. Relocated several times over the years, several do-overs, but the same barber pole spun out front. Not a busy place, but busy enough. I walked Rollie inside at the appointed time and helped him into the chair. A man and two boys waited in chairs along the wall for their turns.
“The usual, Rollie?” The barber asked.
“Just a trim,” Rollie said.
I exchanged knowing smiles with the barber. “I’ll wait in my truck.”
Settled behind the wheel, I smiled to myself. Rollie didn’t have much to trim. He probably should just ask for a shine. It felt good to bring him here. Rollie didn’t get out much anymore. There were doctors to see, church services and this barber shop.
My aunt and Rollie had no children. She passed away years ago and my Dad was gone. I’m the only family Rollie has now. I snatched the paper from the seat.
Minutes later, I caught a glimpse of the barber fanning Rollie with the towel. I jumped out of the truck, paid the bill and escorted my uncle outside.
With my passenger buckled in, I hustled around to the driver’s side. As I slid onto the seat, his gnarled hand had two quarters pinched between the thumb and forefinger. “I’ll buy us an ice cream”
“You bet, Uncle.” I accepted his coins. The aroma from the aftershave flooded the cab. “He sure slathered you with smelly water.”
I increased my decibels. “Lots of smelly stuff.” I brushed my knuckles on his cheek.
Rollie gave a slight smile. “Maybe so. I can’t smell things much anymore.”
At the drive-up, I ordered two cones and paid with a five dollar bill. When I started this ritual with Rollie we could buy two cones for fifty cents. I’d never told him the price had gone up. In fact, the barber still charged him three bucks.
During the drive back to Rollie’s place, I reflected on the human condition. If we’re blessed with long life, we experience joy and sadness, the ugly and the beautiful. By God’s grace, my uncle has endured. Now near the end of his chapter, he no longer sees unpleasant things, he doesn’t hear unpleasant things, and doesn’t smell unpleasant things. But, he can still enjoy ice cream.