It was a day at the end of summer, but for Wilmington, North Carolina, a gift. Almost noon, the temperature not yet seventy. Alan was sitting on a concrete bench, breathing slow, relaxed, and at peace. He glanced over at his nine-year-old grandson, Tommy, who was sitting at the other end of the bench. Instead of enjoying the tranquility of the moment, Tommy was hunched over and with occasional gyrations and sudden movements, playing with some sort of electronic device. Alan wasn't sure if it was a phone or something else.
To Alan, it seemed strange behavior. This wasn't just any setting; it was a cemetery. The two had just visited the gravesite of Alan's wife and Tommy's grandma. Tommy was in his second week of visiting his grandpa. This was the third trip to the cemetery.
Alan finally said, "Tommy, you should be enjoying the day. You can play with your game when we're back at the house."
Tommy looked up, smiled at his grandpa, and said, "Sure. I don't need to do this right now." He turned the device off. "Grandpa, it sure is quiet around here."
"Well, Son, most of these folks don't have much to say." The freckled face grinning back reminded him of the boy's mother, and through the gene pool, his grandma. Both had smiles that could light a room.
"Grandpa, do you ever think of getting married again? Grandma died two years ago. It seems like forever."
"Well, Tommy, it goes to show you how age alters your perception of time. To me, it seems like yesterday."
They were both silent for a moment. Alan finally said, "Don't you think I'm a bit old for finding and dating another girl? I'll be sixty-five next month. Grandma died a few days short of our fortieth anniversary. I'm not sure I'd even know how to find another lady friend."
Tommy visibly brightened. "Grandpa, it would be easy! I saw a commercial on television last night about a dating site on the internet for old people like you."
"Oh, you did, did you? Well, other than emails between you and me and the Skype we set up at Christmas, I don't know anything about the internet."
"That's okay. I know a lot. All we have to do is create an account, post a blurb about you and attach a photo. You don't look too old, you're a great cook, play golf and go fishing. I think you're pretty neat. I bet you get a thousand responses."
Alan had to smile. He recently found himself thinking about a lady friend; perhaps nothing more than that. A friend to share dinner with and an occasional movie would be nice.
"Tell you what, Tommy, when we get home, I'll let you help me set something up." Of course, he was thinking, I struggle to find things for us to do together. This will take up some time.
Alan was having a great time. Tommy, acting like a cub reporter, asked questions and posted his findings down in a spiral pad. Even though their family was close, it was surprising how little the boy knew.
"Gee, Grandpa. I knew you were in the army, but I didn't know you drove tanks. Did you fight Hitler? Did you kill any Nazis?"
Laughing, Alan answered, "I know I'm old, but not nearly old enough for World War Two. I wasn't even in the Vietnam War. I was involved in the Gulf War, the first one they nick-named Desert Storm. By then, I was still a tank driver, but more of a Battalion Commander. That usually meant I didn't get to do the fun stuff. I did have some great guys working around me and they did some terrific things. Years from now, if you go into the Army, they'll probably be teaching from what our guys accomplished."
"Did they kick butt?"
"That would be a big Hooah!"
"What does that mean, Grandpa?"
"It's Army slang that means all in the affirmative with no negativity." Looking at the puzzled look, he corrected, "It means yes, but yes with an attitude."
"Do you miss the Army sometimes?"
"I do, Tommy, but it was a great day when I retired four years ago. Grandma and I bought this condo and started to kick back and enjoy life. It's a long way from Chicago, so we didn’t get to see you, or your mom and dad, as much as we'd like. I never even tried to get another job, just stay retired."
"Last summer you worked at the paint store here in town, didn't you?"
"You have a good memory. That wasn't a real job. My friend, Mr. Dillon, had to have some surgery. As a favor to him, I ran the store for a while. I'm afraid that out in the real job market, there isn't a lot of demand for broken-down old warriors."
"Grandpa, I think I have enough history and stuff to set up your account on the internet. Since I'll be working on that, maybe you could call and get us a pizza? You know I like pepperoni and sausage."
“I can spring for the pizza, but all my pictures are boxed up.”
“That’s okay Grandpa. I’ll come up with something.”
The week passed quickly. As Alan drove Tommy back to the airport for his flight home, he realized how important such a simple thing like company in the house could be. He had permission to escort Tommy to the gate.
As Tommy got ready to leave, he looked at his grandpa and said, "Okay, Grandpa, I've got you all set up on your dating site, but if you don't sign on and check it out, it won't mean squat. Promise me you'll check-in. Send me emails because I want to know, know, know!"
Alan knelt and gave the boy a big hug, "You know I'll keep you posted. Your grandma was Jewish, so know that you are now what's called a Shadchan. That's a fancy name for matchmaker. If I find a lady friend, you will have certain responsibilities. You may have to come back to help your old grandpa out."
One of the flight attendants came to get Tommy. As she held his hand to lead him to the plane, he turned to Alan and said, "Shadchan or Shazam, I'm always ready to help you, Grandpa."
Alan watched as the two moved toward the plane. He did notice the accentuated wiggle in the way the flight attendant walked. Maybe I do need to find a friend. Tommy turned to wave. I'm a tough old bastard. There's no reason to cry. He did anyhow.
The next day, Alan got an email from Tommy. A pretty simple message, "The Shadchan says, don't forget to check your website."
With a huge smile, he had to admit, "Well, Little Buddy, I did forget."
Alan went to his office and logged on to his computer. He didn't have the thousands of messages that Tommy predicted but had a dozen or so. One got his attention, "Saw your post on the site, think I'd like to connect. If you're interested, here's my profile."
The message looked great. The picture was of an attractive and seemingly confident woman of sixty years. A fairly cryptic part of her response intrigued him "I've done this before. My experience is that it would be best to meet at a bar for drinks. If we don't think there's hope for the next step, we'll shake hands and go our own way. The Dock Street Oyster Bar is a nice place. Even if we don't click, the drinks are good and we'll have time to get to know one another. Just know that I'll insist on paying my way. Regards, Laura."
After reading the message, Alan thought, this is perfect. They communicated and agreed to meet in two days, at five-thirty.
A military habit, he arrived a few minutes early. His thought, I always like to reconnoiter the battlefield. Nearing the restaurant, he was pretty sure he spotted his date. He was comfortable enough to approach her. "Hi, I'm Alan. Unless I've missed the boat, you must be Laura?"
After a beautiful smile, she said, "Yes I am." Holding her arm out, she said, "Shall we?"
Seated in a quiet part of the bar, they started at what was at first an awkward conversation. The awkwardness didn't last long. Laura's husband had been a career naval officer, so they compared postings and found that they even shared time in the same cities. Of course, the subject of previous spouses came up. Both spoke in loving and respectful tones. Alan's wife died of a sudden and unexpected brain aneurysm, Laura's husband died in an automobile accident.
After the order for the second round of drinks, they had decided to go ahead and have dinner as well. Comfortable with their bar table, it wasn't necessary to move. Not too shabby really, their seats were in a quiet corner that was out of the breeze and private.
With a slight chuckle, Alan said, "You know, my daughter said that folks on the dating websites often doctor up or photoshop their pictures and don't look anything like them. You proved her right. Your picture was good, but didn't do you justice."
Laura just looked at Alan. Her silence seemed to stifle the moment.
He finally said, "I'm sorry, that wasn't a come-on or anything. It was a sincere compliment."
Her small smile turned into a peal of laughter.
Puzzled, he asked, "What's so funny?"
Wiping laughter tears away, Laura paused a moment and said, "Alan, the synopsis you wrote and the accompanying picture made me curious, I knew I wanted to meet you."
Alan rolled his eyes. "Tell me what the synopsis said."
She pulled a folded sheet from her purse. "The synopsis is short and sweet; 'Broken down old warrior, can't get a job, need a friend."
Alan covered his eyes. "Dare I ask to see the photo?"
Laura giggled. "You mean you didn’t post that either? The picture is of a very handsome Hollywood actor named Chris Evans." Handing him the sheet, she said, "Perhaps you'll know him best by his uniform."
He looked at Captain America staring back at him and said what he thought appropriate, “Hooah!”