Monday, September 20, 2010


“IF YOU’VE MET ONE PERSON with Alzheimer’s disease, you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s disease.” The old man had moved from just around the curve of the full service bar at an oyster house near the wharfs in Eureka California.

I’d completed a grueling 200-mile day – short but made treacherous by winding dirt roads and fifty-mile-an-hour head winds. Eschewing my usual lodging, the Best Western chain, I opted for the classic Eureka Inn. Built in the 1910s, the old hotel sports a huge redwood paneled lobby with an inviting rock fireplace – always with a robust log burning – and both a classy restaurant and a café. I lacked reservations, but this Monday night only four of the 126 rooms appeared occupied, if my count of automobiles in the lot proved anywhere near true.

A shower at 6 PM perked me up and by 6:30 I’d hoofed it north eight blocks to the waterfront. The walk proved good after hours being beaten nearly to death in the saddle. I sought linguine and clams but found the oyster bar. Unlike the Eureka Inn, this establishment teemed with patrons. Each two- and four-place table was occupied and with the exception of two or three odd stools at the bar, there was no place to light.

“Bar’s fine,” I said to the hostess.

“To drink?”

“Sauv Blanc. What’da you have?”

“Handley and Firestone. The Handley’s better.”

I knew this and apologizing for ordering white wine, explained that sautéed scampi would probably be a nice accompaniment, given that there are no clams on the menu.

“You don’t need to hear about the specials.” It was a statement not a question. I liked this barkeep.

THE HANDLEY ARRIVED but not before a couple came in looking for a seat. The old gentleman round the corner, stood, hailed them over and said, “This’ll give you two together. I’ll just move over here.” He boosted himself on to the stool to my left setting a glass of red on the counter.

“How’s your day goin’, sir?” I asked, expecting the light talk that soothes the end of a long day.

He lifted the glass to his lips and then moved it away. “Not so good. So so, I’d say.”

I studied him for a moment. “We’ve got a warm place. You’ve got a nice glass of… what is that? Merlot?”

“Cab Franc.”

“Cab Franc. You going to eat?”

He took a sip and smiled. “Well, tonight was supposed to be date night, but…”

I didn’t want to know but what.

“…but my wife, she couldn’t make it through this time.”

My bar mate had been an aerospace engineer living down in Mountainview (California) for a career. He’d worked on Saturn rockets and Polaris submarines. “Did anything they wanted me to do. Used to be I could design 'n' build an F-18 out of a shoe box.” He laughed and slapped my knee. Then he pulled back, perhaps thinking he’d been too familiar.

“They have a great residential facility up this way for folks like…”

I didn’t get his wife’s name.

“I started noticing long ago, but three years back, I knew I couldn’t take care of her any longer, so we sold the place and come up here.”

He took another dainty sip. Then he asked: “What brings you up here?”

“What makes you think I’m not a regular?” I asked. “I mean I’m sittin’ here at the bar like a regular.”

He laughed and slapped my knee again. “Because, son, I’m a regular. Come here every Monday night with the wife.” He paused. “Sometimes she can make it though and sometimes, she can’t. Tonight, not so good. Now, you?”

I told him about my day, an aborted motorcycle trip up the rugged Lost Coast over something only approximating a road; followed by a battle with the north wind’s teeth that I nearly lost on the oceanfront out past Petrolia.

“Wisht I could do that,” he said.

My dinner arrived. “Go ahead,” he said.

“So,” I ventured, “I know you’re caring for your wife, but how’re you caring for yourself?”

He paused. I could feel the Rolodex of things done being flipped in his head. “Used to go Elk huntin’ up on the Snake in Idaho. Ever been there?”

I shared with him about my earlier-in-the-summer ride to those very parts.

“There’s a place up there where the bank’s about this high.” He held his hand about three feet off the floor. “And the river just slips by and across the river there’s a huge meadow that sweeps up hill into the forest. Always see elk. Always see elk.”

He nursed his drink.

“For myself, now-a-days – at eighty-one – I just think of myself sittin’ on the bank of the Snake. You know the place. With a fly rod and watchin’ them elk. And listenin’ to the wind and the water kinda whisper.”

I’d finished my dinner and was sopping up the buttery sauce with a piece of sourdough.

Then he added: “Makes me wish I’da learned to smoke a pipe when I was younger.”

WE CHATTED a bit further. My glass was empty, my plate removed; his glass still two-thirds full. I rose to pay my bill, but turned to him and patted his tired shoulder. He grasped my hand there and held for only a moment.

“Your wife’s got a good man lookin’ after her,” I said.

He nodded, but I felt him shrug. “I hope so.”

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. PA: This line really got me, "He grasped my hand there and held for only a moment." sniff, sniff.

  2. DSD: Thanks for the story. It was very descriptive! I actually felt like I was there at the bar with you. It truly made me want to go outside and enjoy the outdoors!

  3. Yep, that's a tearjerker. Beautiful narrative. Very relate-able content.

    So glad my Granny's gone home...

  4. Me too, Maria. Me, too.

    And Grandpa Clayton as well. The "Old Timer" still informs so much of my life.