A Man Named Ed

by Nia Simone

I parked my car on Scott at Chestnut and fed the meter.

A man approached up Scott and touched his fleece sweater. “It’s a bit cold out today, don’t you think?” said the man whose name I later learned was Ed.

“Not for me,” I said, touching my sweater. “Because instead of that newfangled material you have there, I have real wool. From Ireland.”

Ed approached and touched my sleeve in wonder. “That’s a really good sweater.”

Then he asked me if I was a certain age, about 18 years younger than my actual age, and when I told him my real age, of course he protested that it was impossible. But then he shifted to the main point, which was to ask me to guess his age.

“Fifty-six,” I said.

He said, “Come on. Try again. Really try.”

“Fifty-seven,” I said. I didn’t want to guess 60, because I thought he probably was 60, and it’s always nice for someone to guess just a little bit younger, at least.

“Eighty-eight,” he said, with obvious and well-deserved pride.

After much debate and marveling, I had to accept he knew his age and we moved on.

“The problem with being 88,” he said, “is that most of your friends are dead.”

“I understand that,” I said. “But you are still here and you just met me. And I’m really glad about that. How have you done so well?”

“I was never the strongest and never the weakest,” he said, pressing his hand to his trim chest. “I was a pilot in World War II. I flew planes off an aircraft carrier. In the Pacific theater.”

“My dad was a pilot in World War II,” I said.

“Army or Navy?”

“Army,” I said.

“The B24 or the B17?”

“The B24 over Germany, then an instructor after completing his tour, in a B29, stationed back in Texas.”

“He’s lucky he’s not dead.”

“He is,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” Ed said.

“In 2000. After the war, my dad counted every moment as borrowed time.”

“So do I!” he said, looking startled. “So do I. Now, my doctor made me go to the VA,” he waved in the direction of the Presidio, “because he wanted me to have a connection there in case something happens to Medicare. The doctors there said of all the World War II vets who saw combat, only 10% are still alive. And furthermore, you guys are dying at the rate of 1000 per day.”

“Why did he have to tell you that?” I said, horrified.

“I don’t know, but I said, ‘You aren’t my doctor anymore.’”

“Good.”

“I already know this. Of my squadron, only two are still alive, me and one other, and he is on dialysis.”

I shook my head, not knowing what to say.

“But it’s nice to meet you,” he said, “and that’s a nice sweater.” And off he went, with a jaunty stride, up Chestnut Street and into the Bank of America.

The grounds of the Presidio, San Francisco
The grounds of the Presidio, San Francisco

8 thoughts on “A true story from San Francisco on March 12, 2013

  1. My father was a pilot too – he gained his wings before WW2, but left the Air Force and served in the Army (though he was allowed to wear wings on his uniform). He ran an aerial top-dressing business in New Zealand’s north after the war – until he’d crashed all his Tiger Moths! His brother, also a pilot, flew in the Battle of Britain then was sent to Canada to train pilots. This is a heart-warming story – and an unexpected connection.

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    1. Wow, Mercedes, that is a wonderful connection! Frightening regarding crashing all his Tiger Moths. I just looked them up, beautiful planes! Your dad sounds like he was a rugged go-getter with a lot of courage!

      And your uncle flew in the Battle of Britain. That was very intense. I have a book written by a former colleague called Those Angry Skies. It’s based on his father’s experience in that battle. He was American but went over and flew with the Brits. It’s a good novel and I learned a lot from it. It was published by a small press over here. I’ll see if I can get you a copy.

      I left out how the meeting with Ed made me feel; I wasn’t really emotional at the time, just very in the moment and appreciating him. In writing it down, I wanted to capture the facts and a bit of the feeling. But later, I realized how nice it was to stand there on a foggy San Francisco morning, and in a very random set of circumstances, meet someone who reminded me so much of my father. It was like my dad was there with us, with all that optimistic exuberance of those WWII pilots. A precious generation whose spirit I can carry within me and which was reawakened yesterday.

      I decided against layering my reactions into the story. To leave it clean for the blog, so I’m glad it worked out for you and John. Let people have their own reactions. An interesting distinction between blogging and romance writing. And one I’ll be thinking about as I launch my new story format here.

      Many thanks for coming by and for your post, which builds upon mine so much!

      Warm regards,

      Nia

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  2. I came over from Susie’s party and have had a great time visiting several of your blog posts. Ed’s story particularly speaks to me, as my own father served in the (Army) Air Force as a navigator in WWII. He passed away a few months ago at 88. But before that he was famous in our family for never meeting a stranger. He would absolutely have talked to you about your sweater, and then would have told you–in great detail–about his ten children and thirty grandchildren.

    So thanks so much for taking the time to talk to Ed, and for sharing his story. (And thanks for your visit to my blog!)

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    1. Hi Barb!

      I’m glad you liked that story about Ed and that it resonated with your experience of your dad. These men who survived WWII had such humility and joie de vivre that I find inspiring. My dad was like that too, very proud of his children and grandchildren and happy about every day he was alive. Pretty much half the men didn’t make it back from each mission.

      My condolences on your loss. I know you must be feeling the loss of your dad keenly.

      Thank you for coming by and sharing about him. You have reminded me of the lessons of these men, to enjoy the simple things of every day life and to be humbled just to be alive.

      So glad to meet you and looking forward to following your blog.

      Warmly,

      Nia

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