“Sixty-six,” I answer.
“Oh, you’re still young. How old do you think I am?” he says, pulling off his John Deere Tractors hat and bending his white head down for my inspection.
“You still have a lot of hair,” I answer evasively.
“Yeah, I do. I still play horseshoes but I don’t get the height I used to. The shoe slips from my fingers too early so I got to stand closer. But you didn’t answer me. How old do you think I am?”
“I don’t like to say. If I guess too old, you might be offended.”
“No, I won’t be offended. How old?
“Oh, seventy-two,” I respond and watch closely for his reaction.
“Seventy-eight,” he answers with satisfaction and I know I have answered rightly.
“Good for you,” I say.
I had been sitting at my favorite picnic table at the park, getting some sun on my back on this cool day. When I turned around to toast up the other side, he was sliding on to the other end of bench. I had seen him a few times before and we had shared short observations about the weather and about the squirrels.
He pulls a bag of peanuts from his pocket and we sit companionably commenting on individual squirrel’s behavior as nuts are tossed.
“That tan one’s got two in his mouth,” I say, pointing at a particularly chubby one.
“Look! He’s burying it,” he says with a chuckle.
“There was one here yesterday that had a cut on his back. I don’t know what happened.”
“I love squirrels,” he says. “I got these nuts at the store but look how small they are and hard, too.”
“I bring popcorn sometimes,” I add.
“You married?” he says.
“I was a long time ago.”
“I married twice. I had a boy and a girl with my first wife. When she wanted to split up I said I’ll take the boy and you take the girl. He lives in Denver now. Called me to say he was getting married and me and my sister we was going to drive out there but I never heard nothing. So I called him but he didn’t call back. Something must have happened.”
“When was the marriage planned,” I ask.
“Some thing must have happened.”
“Must have. He only calls when he needs something. He hasn’t called so it must be all right.”
“Must be,” I agree.
“Before I retired, I worked at the dairy. Thirty five years I worked. First in the plant. Later on I drove forklift. Better outside. Too much noise inside and when you got down time they always made you work in the coolers. Couldn’t stay warm. That breeze today, I can really feel it.”
“I like sitting in the sun,” I volunteer.
“I guess I’m getting old now. Never noticed it till last year. Just can’t seem to get warm any more. Look at this. See this here scar,” he says holding out his left arm and rolling up the sleeve. “That’s where they took the vein for the triple by-pass. I got on a t shirt, a regular shirt, a vest and this jacket. I still feel the wind.”
“It’s a cool day,” I agree.
“I saw in the paper yesterday that Sears got white cotton undershirts three for $27. I don’t really need any more t shirts but my old ones are getting tight. I’m going to get extra large this time in case they shrink.”
“If they’re all cotton they’ll shrink,” I warn. “But if they have some synthetic they won’t. Be sure to look at the tags.”
“I just throw all my clothes in the washer and the white ones, they get dingy. So I figured it’s nice to have some new white ones for wearing under shirts. Is three for $27 a good deal?”
“Pretty good,” I say.
“My feet got bigger. I got these here shoes,” he says sticking out his legs to display two glossy black feet. “I got me two pairs, just exactly the same. I wear them when I play horseshoes. When I get home I just hose them off. No good for walking though. Don’t breathe.”
“Make your feet sweaty?”
“Yeah. Can’t win.”
“My second wife, now, I met her at the dance. Just a little thing. No more than 5 foot 2. Soon as I saw her I liked her. Yeah, I said to myself she’s the one for me and I followed her around till she married me. She could dance, too. Hardly needed to tell her what to do. She just knew. Yes, sir, she was just about perfect. She never finished school. I liked that. Didn’t want a woman smarter than me,” he says with a sideways glance.
I swallow a smile.
“Women today they want too much. They want men to be able to do everything.”
“It can be hard,” I agree.
“I think I’ll be getting on home now,” I say, rising from the table and rubbing my left knee to get the joint moving.
“Going out to eat?”
“No, I always eat at home.”
“Getting too old for a lot of things now,” he says with a sigh. “Too old to start over, too old to move, too old to get married again. I watch some TV but I can’t stay home for too long. Get restless. Go out to eat most of the time.”
As I walk over the grass to the car I say over my shoulder, “I’ll see you around” but he is already gone.