John Livermore was a proud member of the Retired Warhaven Firefighters’ Association. His faculties were better than most. At age 73, a widower for five years, he still had wit, and would lively polka at the Senior Center with any willing widow. Perhaps his mental vigor was attributable to his conscientious work of forty years at the physical science and physics teacher at Warhaven High School. Perhaps it was his status as Master Gardener or that he and his departed wife, Louise, raised three strong-willed children through schooling and into successful careers.
Regardless, Mr. Livermore, as most of the community respectfully referred to him, was a staunch believer in Newton’s Laws of Motion. One might say this was his religion. Livermore was beginning to experience challenges with balance. John, for better support, swapped out his nondescript gray Hushpuppies for a pair of kelly green hi-top Converse All Stars. He felt like a Boston Celtic! He had had a few minor falls which became clarion calls for a stronger defense. He second reaction was the donning of wrist guards, because the elderly were thoughtless in a fall and put their hands down to protect themselves. Often this proved a bad decision. John began wearing knee pads throughout the day, for which he took some ribbing. John would say, “You know what Sir Isaac Newton said about knee pads?” The respondent shook his or her head. “Nothing,” he parried and would turn and walk on, smiling.
He missed a step once going out the door and nearly broke his nose on a fence post. “Better that than getting impaled,” he reasoned. He considered a batting helmet with face guard to replace his ball cap, but it was just too cumbersome. In town he would be a laughingstock, and that was a nuisance to consider.
Then the greater stumbling began, partly balance related, partly slipping situational awareness, a kind of laziness that can occur with the retired mind. John knew the score and accepted aging. “What the hell,” he said, and began to wear a metal hard hat.
About a year into his gradual change in couture, he added shin guards. A month or two after that the moniker “Shin Guard Jack” began to stick among cronies. He was not, in the least, deterred from wearing this “protection from the Universe,” in red Fraser tartan Bermuda shorts, very publicly stating his treatise of “Defend against the Laws!”
Alone now, Jack played the stock market for a source of recreation. He enjoyed the risk; he savored the variety of various news sources -- and their various spins. No one had a crystal ball, and Jack new it. That was the savory part of it for him, deciphering the fact from the hyperbole. He was doing okay, saving away for a new car. As he fantasized on the car, he began to take notice of all the cool new cargo vans, the Sprinters and Transits and their competitors converted for various recreational endeavors. This led him out of the woods of darkness of his widowhood, a mission of purpose. He would buy one of these vans and take a road trip. It would be an autumn trip and he would revel in the fall colors east of the Mississippi. He would ask a couple of his buddies and they would hit the road playing Jethro Tull, Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and, of course, the Beatles.
On a sunny afternoon at Brown’s he raised his beer glass and sang out for all to hear,
“A day without a scraped or bruised shin, it’s as a day spent with a woman ... in sin!”
John’s closest friend was another retired teacher, of high-needs children, and, likewise, a retired firefighter. Larry Timmons, was taciturn around others, in part for a hearing loss he chose not to correct. The fellows in the Association nicknamed him, “Mute.” When introduced once to an outsider Larry smiled and using American Sign Language said, “Mute’s the name; silence is the game.” Preordained by him, the outsider was his ringer, the new special education teacher, whom he was mentoring. She roared with delight in an otherwise silent, staring café full of folks for Saturday breakfast at Brown’s Lunch Counter. Another of his cronies nudged him, and in a dramatic aside deadpanned, “I bet you can’t do that in French!” This brought everyone to laughter.
John made an exceedingly strong showing the last quarter in the market and bought himself a one-year old blue Nissan 3500 with a V8, 37 horsepower, and four-wheel drive. He did the conversion work himself, with some assistance from Larry, who would be his travel mate. They built two single mattress murphy beds and equipped the galley with propane stove, refrigerator, and hot water. Over single malts and Fig Newtons they studied road maps and travel literature online. “Ahhhh, John exclaimed, “The excitement and anticipation of travel!”