One of our favorite posts of the week! Reposted with permission.
“We ducked into a small diner in downtown Turkey, shopping for two perfect scoops of ice cream. A man in a navy blue ball cap with gold lettering, six stars on each side, and the words “U.S.S. Tennessee” emblazoned across the front, sat at the next table. It was all Karen needed to strike up a conversation.
“Tell me about your hat,” she asked the man who sat underneath it. The heater kicked on, filling the small diner with loud, blowing air. We moved from our bowls of chocolate to within adequate ear shot of the soft-spoken man.
He told us his name was J.M. Dickson. Mr. Dickson started playing upright bass in third grade, once performing with Bob Wills at a gathering of family and friends in 1933, when he was barely 10 years old. He told us of his life as a farmer, and of loved ones scattered about Turkey, Clarendon, Canyon, Panhandle, Borger, Hedley, Amarillo. Dicksons dot the map like grains of salt sprinkled randomly from a shaker in the Panhandle. He told us of his grandfather — who went off to fight in the Civil War when he was just 13 — and of his wife, IdaLou, and how great a schoolteacher she was and how she promised him her hand and her heart on December 7, 1941, hours before he shipped out to the South Pacific. He and IdaLou were married 62 years, until she passed in 2002. He was in charge of the water cannons aboard the Tennessee. “There were six,” he said, “but we could only fire three at a time because they rocked the boat so much when they went off.”
His eyes came to life as he talked, the weariness of years giving way to a gleam and a glint, and he talked until the diner’s owner popped her head out and told us it was near to closing time. Before he finished, as if something or someone had suddenly poked him, he remembered the most recent chapter of his life. Three weeks earlier, he and other veterans had visited Washington as part of an Honor Flight. They toured the memorials, went to the dinners, mingled with fellow sailors and soldiers, and shook hands with Senator Ted Cruz. But what seemed to impress him most was the welcome they were treated to upon their return.
“When we got off the plane in Amarillo, there were all kinds of cameras, and lights. So many lights everywhere. We even went under an arch of water from the hoses on a fire truck.” He couldn’t believe it. Still can’t. Despite all he had done in life, all he had survived, everything he had seen, and everyone he had loved and lost, the welcome home was one of the high points of his life.
Parts of this trip we’re on were planned fastidiously. I mean, right down to the last detail, mile marker and minute — both a blessing and a curse handed down by my father. But it’s been the things unscheduled, moments happened upon or that we never saw coming – such as a perchance meet up with a veteran — when the most indelible memories have unfolded. Although we have nearly reached the end of our long weekend, these kinds of moments are the one thing we hope will go on.
Mr. Dickson reminded me a lot of a man I ran into at a garage in Florida early on in our trip. A simple hello and nod of the head turned into a stranger’s memoir come to life. There was almost a sense of urgency in the telling of their stories. As if it might be the last time they’ll be able to share, or maybe the first time they’ve shared in longer than they can remember. Or both.
It was November 14 when we met Mr. Dickson and his daughter, Linda, who set aside her life in Austin to move to Turkey to live with her father in this chapter of his life. It was just three days after Veteran’s Day. After we listened to his reflections, Karen wondered why we should be confined to just the one day that is devoted to veterans. Maybe November 11 should come every day. Maybe as a reminder, everyone just writes it in on their calendars every day, so Mr. Dickson and those like him whose numbers shrink with each passing hour, those with gold-lettered ball caps, a head full of memories and a heart full of love of country, will have another chance to share while they can still be heard.
If you wonder just how important one simple conversation can be, just look in their eyes as they remember.”
Note: Jimmy and Karen Patterson, of Midland, Texas, are wrapping up a year living full time in their RV, traveling around America. Jimmy has written about their experiences, Karen has photographed scenes along the way.