ON EACH AND EVERY WEDNESDAY
He’s part of a gathering of ancient warriors, veterans of similar wars. He continues to
come to the coffee shop at the same time every Wednesday. He never misses. He’ll come
of course… until he can’t.
Old Bill, as he’s affectionately called, was born in 1916. He is a man of diminished
stature, the curve of his back confirming his age and infirmities. His fingers, like
parakeet’s feet, clutch the arms of an aluminum walker behind which he shuffles with
baby steps. Clean shaven, he dresses in a beige zip-up jacket, smartly creased gray
trousers and laced white tennis shoes. He’s the picture of conservatism, except
for the bright red felt Fedora hat he wears, his trademark flag of attitude. Faded
cataract-blue eyes behind light tortoiseshell-framed glasses search a clear path forward
as he maneuvers the walker between the tables and chairs at the coffee shop. His face is
etched with wrinkles, from too many smiles perhaps.
Old Bill, invisible to the young who bear him no consequence, may be indistinct but
if one looks closely and listens carefully as he reveals his past, a miraculous
transformation occurs. He joins the group, settles himself in the hard- backed plastic chair
and converses with others who understand where he placed in history. The man of his
youth emerges, animated and alive behind the façade of old age. I may write about his
tales but the true prize has been his friendship.
Having mentioned my upcoming trip to England, he reached out, clutched my arm and
turned to me requesting a small favor. I was to go to the place in his memories, stand on
the shore where he once stood and look out to sea beyond the dunes, just as he had done
so many years before.
He’d been in England on D- day listening to the deafening roar of planes. The hot
smell of acrid engine oil permeated the air as he watched the bombers take off and
darken the sky on a mission to free our countries from oppression. I am here only
because he… was there. I did as he asked.
The beaches, unchanged by time, looked exactly as he’d described. Nearby, the
old aerodrome, now a university, stood testament to his accounts. I plucked two stones
from the sand, flint that was rough and grey on the outside, smooth, shining and glass-
like on the interior… unpolished gems- just like Old Bill. I pocketed them and added a
Upon my return I handed him the treasures. He clutched them to his heart. The old
man’s eyes welled up with tears of sad remembrance while the young man inside him
rejoiced in holding a small piece of a place he loved.
Old Bill has been married to his high school sweetheart for sixty-eight years and the
transformation of youth reappears when he speaks of his love for her. She doesn’t know
about me…she doesn’t know about anything or anyone, not even Old Bill.
I’ll continue to be there on Wednesdays, just as I have for years, but know the day
will come when I sit at the table… see his empty chair, his coffee getting cold and I’ll
know why he isn’t there.