“We aren’t as old as dirt. He is!” One brother pointed back down the dam to the beginning of the path, where another man was shuffling his way toward us.
My family and I had walked half a mile along the dam to our fishing spot at Faraday Lake in Oregon. By the time we had our poles in the water, two older gents came past. They set their gear down, caught their breath, and asked how the fishing was and what we were using for bait as fellow fishermen usually do. After we exchanged information, they told us they were brothers—one eighty and the other almost eighty.
That’s when the older one made a joke about being as old as dirt and the younger brother corrected him and pointed.
“That’s our dad. He just turned 98. We aren’t as old as dirt. He is! And it’s gonna take him forever to get here!” He looked back at us and picked up his pole and tackle. “When he does get this far, send him on down our way.” With that, the pair meandered further along the dam to their spot.
Almost a hundred years old.
As I sat there fishing, I thought of all the changes someone would experience if they lived that long.
When the father finally reached me I said, “Your sons told me you’re 98. I can’t imagine the things you’ve witnessed.”
Glad for a reason to stop, he replied, “Yeah I’ve seen some things. I fought in The Battle of the Bulge. You know, World War II.” He leaned against a lawn chair for balance and looked out over the lake
and was quiet for a moment before he went on. “I was sent out with a group of one hundred fifty men. Things were bad. When it got down to just fifty of us, they sent in another hundred fellas. THAT battalion was cut down to just twenty-five, so they brought in some more.”
He had a faraway look in his eyes as he pulled a wadded hankie out to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “They filled us back up to one hundred fifty, again. Then every man was killed except three of us. Only three!”
He had a tear in the corner of his eye. Almost 70 years later he was still affected. I thanked him and tried to help him carry his gear. He brushed off my offer and cracked a joke about his sons having caught their limit before he even wet his line as he moved on his way.
Saying thank you just didn’t seem enough.
Somehow the residue of that conversation helps me keep my perspective, to appreciate the day I live in despite the hard stuff, and to savor family fishing trips—family anything.
The battle he fought lasted less than a month. About 610,000 American forces were involved, and 89,000 were casualties, including 19,000 killed. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II.