The Old Coots: Blue, Gray and Gold
Tom Hansen closed his eyes and shook his head. “How did this happen?”
Sam Whitmore inhaled and frowned, his lips disappearing into his thick, gray mustache and beard. He held his breath a moment before his shoulders drooped and he exhaled with a groan. “I don’t know. It’s surely a mystery to me. I don’t remember it happening.” Sam paused then added. “Well, I do remember, I just don’t want to.”
The two men eyed each other from where they stood in the parlor of the home Sam shared with his daughter and her four children in Harrisonville, Missouri.
Where had the time gone? For Sam it had vanished like rain into the deep cracks of a drought weary land. The lines in their faces, like cracks in the earth, the gray in their hair, and the weariness in their souls, told the story. They were old.
When had it happened? Sam wondered. One minute he was a young man, raising crops and a family, trying to decide their future. Then suddenly he was fighting for that family, and his life, in a war he didn’t believe in or want to fight. Tom had raised horses, instead of children, and fought that same war—on the other side. Somehow they’d survived and, in what seemed like a heartbeat, they’d become old. He wasn’t just the “old man” the boys he’d fought beside in the war used to call him, since he was already forty when he enlisted. He really was old now, closer to sixty. So was Tom, and they both knew it.
Sam shook his head. He knew his face mirrored the confusion he saw in Tom’s eyes as they stared at one another. Were they both looking for remnants of who they’d been long ago? he wondered. Were they searching for something, or someone, that was no longer there?
Sam recovered first. He took a deep breath and the several painful steps it took to walk to the man who had saved his life, his limp more pronounced than it had been over fifteen years ago when he’d last seen his friend.
“Tom.” Tears brimmed in Sam’s clouded eyes.
“Sam.” The emotion in Tom’s voice mirrored everything Sam felt.
The two men embraced—and cried without reserve. Childhood friends who’d grown up together and fought on different sides of a war, who wanted to forget the worst and remember only the good.
It was long minutes before they pulled away from each other.
Sam waved Tom to a seat. “Please, sit down.” He watched his friend take the offered seat before thumping his way to another tattered chair where he sat down with a groan.
On Sam’s left, Tom just stared.
Sam stared, too, before he finally shook his head and said, “I’m glad ye came, Tom.”
“I’m glad to be here, but I was surprised to get your letter asking me to come.”
Sam frowned. “We’re in a bad way, Tom. I need help an’ yore the only man I trust te help me.”
Tom swallowed and took a deep breath. “What do you need?”
Tom frowned and Sam saw worry jump into his old friend’s face. He chuckled and decided to ease his confusion.
“I need three thousand dollars.”
Tom jerked upright. “Three thousand dollars! I don’t have that kind of money anymore, Sam. You know if I did I’d help you without question. If I did I would have helped you out a long time ago, but after the war…”
Sam stopped Tom with a raised hand. “I know what happened to ye after the war, Tom, an’ I know ye ain’t got any more money than I do. Well, maybe a little more, but I have this idea…”
“What idea?” Tom interrupted this time. “What do you need three thousand dollars for, Sam? And how soon?”
Sam lifted his shoulders and rolled his head, the muscles in his neck snapping like a brittle twig. “I need it te save this place, Tom. Fer my daughter an’ her childern.” Sam blinked his eyes to keep his fear from overwhelming him, as it always did, at his inability to take care of his kin.
“Where’s her husband?” Tom asked. “I recall he was a fine man.”
A lump formed in Sam’s throat and he almost cried out, but regained himself. He leaned toward his old friend. “It’s a long story.”
Tom relaxed and put his hands in his lap. “I’ve got all the time you need, my friend. Tell me.”