Will Chasers…Those Nasty Buzzards…I Mean Bastards…!

| March 26, 2011 | Comments (0)

 

Don, Emma and Merv are all over 85.  All three live in the country, buried deep in what used to be farmland two hours northwest of New York City. They live alone  in spacious, slightly tattered  homes that have been passed down over the generations by their soil-tilling forebearers.

 In the sewing room of his colonial farmhouse, a small cozy space on the second floor where Don’s old aunts used to assemble to sew and do “fancy-work” – crochetting doilies for the arm-rests of the sofa and chairs  in their   formal front parlor – there hangs an oil-painted map, executed in the early 19th century before the advent of the camera, depicting in beautiful detail the neighboring properties – the homesteads –  and their manor houses. Don still lives in such a house, built by his Dutch ancestors in the late 18th century, still very much as it was over 200 years ago.

Except for the usual aches and pains that accompany advanced age these three octogenerians are fit and agile-minded, active and thoughtful. Delightful folks who love to spin a yarn over a cup of coffee or lend a helping hand however they can.  Although Emma reluctantly gave up her license last year, Don and Merv still drive, often handless, as they gesture with animation during conversation-filled, harrowing motor  jaunts through the countryside  careening down rural two-lane roads.

Aside from such similarities, these delightful oldsters have something else in common. They are the unwitting objects of calculating persons who are best called “will-chasers.” They are  avidly cultivated not out of love or even motives of friendship, but  for  their fat bank accounts and the considerable value of their extensive spreads of what used to be cultivated fields of waving corn and barley, now fallow in their old age. Not to mention the antiques and baubles that such old people still use and consider as everyday objects. The old hand-painted property map in Don’s house is worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Living by themselves, isolated in the countryside, these old people are lonely. Spouses have passed away, children, if they have them,  have moved to distant cities and most of their friends –  fellow  farmers who lived lives of toil – have not managed to reach their 80s. Although happy people by nature, as most God-fearing, hard-working Americans of their generation are, their eyes often carry a sad expression, especially as they sit alone on gray winter afternoons when shadows lengthen and darkness descends by 5 PM.

 Don is a confirmed bachelor who has never admitted his gayness inspite of a cache of Men Only magazines tucked under a stack of old phone books in what used to be his farm manager’s office. With Don, it all began with chocolate chip cookies.

 Reggie, a sporadically-employed neighbor, a man in his 30s began visiting Don, first as an electrician who had answered a call for a repair job. Sensing Don’s loneliness and need for friendship, Reggie  became a regular visitor always bringing a bag of chocolate chip cookies which he learned were Don’s weak spot. As time passed, Don looked forward eagerly to  Reggie’s daily drop-ins.

As frequent a caller as he was, whenever Don’s “bachelor” friends from the City would visit, Reggie would disappear like a vampire before garlic. Reggie let it be known that he disliked  New York City and its “weird” places like Greenwich Village.

Reggie’s campaign of ingratiaton continued. Nothing was really required of him other than just being around. He didn’t even have to talk; just sit and listen to Don spin yarns about the old days, about when he was a merchant seaman during the Second World War braving the stormy North Atlantic dodging the German U-boats as his ship delivered Lend Lease supplies to the beleaguered Soviet Union.

One Spring day when I drove up from the  “weird” metropolis to visit Don and his border collie, Sallie,  I found him in especially high spirits. I joked and asked him if he had hit the lottery jackpot, and he replied that he had finally “done it.”

“Done what?”  I asked. When pressed for details, he announced with great satisfaction and pride that he had deeded over to Reggie his farmhouse and 200 acres of prime land.  He added that a clause had been included in the contract that allowed him, Don, to live rent-free for the rest of his days on what now was Reggie’s property.

Half-way through Don’s revelation and my stunned reaction, a smirking Reggie entered the kitchen boasting he had just bought a metal detector to scan the surface of the  farm for any hidden treasures that might lurk beneath the soil. As if Reggie had already not mined enough treasure from Don’s farm! It was all I could do to prevent myself from leaping up and strangling him. Ofcourse, Don had paid for the device. I saw that he had become a landlord of leisure and that such pursuits  now constituted what passed for his  “work.” Don was enchanted with  Reggie’s inventiveness. Just his presence was all that seemed to be required.

But Reggie’s presence soon became a scarce commodity. Shortly after his benevolent gesture to Reggie, Don was emergency-evacuated to the VA Hospital in Manhattan where he underwent triple bypass surgery and remained three weeks for post-op convalescence. During visiting hours, Don’s hospital room was crowded to capacity, but Reggie was never one of his visitors.

After we brought Don back to the farm, I had the temerity to accost Reggie. I asked him point blank why he had never visited Don in hospital. His reply was straight forward and, at least, honest.  “New York City creeps me out”, he said.

These days Reggie is a less frequent visitor and Don is more subdued in his praise of his “heir.” I will give Reggie his due though. He knows the art of making cameo appearances. A friend and I went up to the farm and cooked Thanksgiving dinner for Don. As we were preparing to sit down for turkey, Reggie appeared, deux ex machina-like, saying he just stopped by to say hello but couldn’t stay long since he had another party to go to. Don begged Reggie to at least have a drink with us, but he declined.  I timed Reggie’s “celebrity” stopover. He stayed three minutes.

As Reggie exited, an ear-to-ear grin on his face, I saw Don’s lip tremble and a tear roll down his cheek onto his plate. I turned up the stereo and we raised our glasses to a Happy Thanksgiving.

Emma and Merv have been “done” but at least the objects of their generosity deign to stay for dinner. There are chiselers with class…and then there is Reggie.

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