“Tribal Marriages, You See”

Posted on June 15, 2011


My car is in the shop again. The issues needing fixing have been a little while in coming, but when I got stranded for more than 2 hours, it’s time for Terrace Auto.

Amanda was so kind as to give me a ride from Publix/Pro-Copy (really probably should have walked home, but I’d already been sitting in the heat for 2 hours, and the short distance for a lift was greatly appreciated), but as I waited in the parking lot, I met an interesting character.

I have no idea what of his story was true, and I forgot to ask his name, but we chatted (mostly him, he was obviously eager for a listener) for the better part of a half hour as I wait for my ride. I was playing WordFeud (Scrabble for Androids) on my phone and he rode by on his old person mobility scooter thing (what do you actually call those?!) and said, “Ah you’re texting away just like my grandchildren!”

As soon as I acknowledged him, he scooted right on over in front of me and told me about how he was on his way back from visiting his friend in hospice who was dying of lung cancer. While he talked I could see his teeth weren’t quite all there and he wore sunglasses so black that I couldn’t see his eyes until he lifted them off in between sentences. He had a faded tattoo on his right arm that I couldn’t make out. He said he sold his dying friend’s gold for him and bought him a cell phone so he could call his mom. Said he had to tell his friend’s 90 year old mother that he’s dying and that he had to give him a hard time and make him talk to her himself.

I said it was good that his friend had someone to visit him. He rambled on about how women today wear too little clothing and how when he was young he’d go skinny dipping with girls and was as wild as they come himself. Told me he’s had 7 wives. I exclaimed that was quite a few. He said he’s still married to three, “One in Africa, one in Nicaragua, one in North Carolina – tribal marriages you see.” He went on to explain that he was in the CIA for 22 years and when you can’t write home or have contact for a year or eighteen months and you come home and find another man in bed with your wife “you can’t even get mad. I mean, she was lonely and you weren’t there. She knew you were alive cause she was getting the check, but that’s about it.” He counted off his grandkids for me and said there are somewhere around 17 with 2 Cherokee twins on the way — the wife in North Carolina is Cherokee.

He rattled off about a granddaughter at Cal Poly and two grandchildren in different years at MIT with graduate degrees and how he wants to talk one into getting his PhD in something agriculturally related so that he can help irrigate all the thousands of farm acres he has between Nicaragua and Jamaica. He told me he likes to play the Wii in his old folks home and that he hoped my friend would arrive soon so I wouldn’t have to spend all day talking to an old man in the parking lot. When my ride did show up he asked how old I was and told me I was the age of most of his grandchildren. I told him it was nice chatting with him, and he wheeled himself off to wherever he was going.

It was a nice half hour. Encounters like that are by necessity the slightest bit awkward, because you have no idea when you’ll meet someone in 3 tribal marriages with 17 grandchildren, so there’s no way to be prepared and your sensibilities are bound to get tripped up at least a little bit, but I was glad to have spent the time with a stranger, because he gave every indication that it made it a better day for him after seeing a dying friend. I know I wasn’t leaving a hospice or a close encounter with death (at least not a person’s), but it did make my day a bit warmer.

We forget how wonderful each other’s stories are when we don’t listen every once in a while.

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