During a break in the rain this morning, I took the dog for her walk. As always, she sniffed for squirrels. I relished in the renewed green around me. Summer has faded in the Willamette Valley, and the return of the rain has made everything lovely and lush. I had stopped to look at a Little Free Library (as I am wont to do) when the old man across the street hollered, “Can I meet your dog?”
Tally wagged her tail in agreement.
“Sure,” I said. We walked over to the old man’s driveway so that he could pet her.
“I’m Dave,” said the old man. He was tall and gaunt with papery skin and liver spots on his face.
“I’m J.D.,” I said. “David is my middle name.”
“Want to see my trains?” Dave asked, motioning to his garage.
“Sure,” I said. Dave led me up the driveway through his open garage door. The entire space was packed with model planes, trains, and automobiles. But despite the density of toys, everything was orderly and neat. It was clean. Dave also had a fine collection of military memorabilia on display. I’m not actually interested in this stuff, but two things prompted me to stop for a visit.
- First, even after sixteen years, I continue to practice the power of yes I first wrote about during the early days of Get Rich Slowly, back when it was a new concept to me. Over the years it’s moved from an abstract idea to a sort of guiding principle. If somebody asks me to do something, I usually say “yes” (unless that something violates my personal ethical code).
- Second, Kim and I have been making a deliberate effort to meet more people in and around Corvallis, especially neighbors.
Stopping to chat with Dave seemed like a worthwhile detour. He’s a friendly, chatty old man, although I suspect he’s struggling with his mental faculties. I like him. He talked almost non-stop, rarely pausing to let me get a word in unless he had a question. I was okay with that. Dave was entertaining.
We spent five minutes touring the stuff in his garage. He showed me his model train — HO scale — and some of the special railroad cars of various gauges that he had on display. Below a bunch of military memorabilia, Dave had made a spot four large train cars carrying tanks. He saw me looking at his medals and uniforms.
“I was in the Navy,” Dave told me (although I might have the branch of service incorrect here). “Got out in sixty-three.” That was right around the time Kim’s father was entering the Navy and my father, a conscientious objector, was starting his stint doing laundry for the armed forces in Portland.
“We’ve been in this house for 52 years,” Dave told me. “Care to guess how much we paid? $17,000! And it’s waterfront property,” he chuckled. He was referring to Dixon Creek, which runs along the edge of his lot.
“I’m embarrassed nowadays to admit we paid so little,” Dave told me, “although it didn’t seem so cheap in 1971. The place across the street [where I’d stopped to view the Little Free Library] just sold for $600,000. Can you believe that?!”
“I can,” I said. I didn’t tell him how much we paid for our place two years ago. And I didn’t explain to him how I’ve come to believe that home prices and home buying are merely an exercise in accounting.
“Are you retired?” Dave asked me.
“I’m trying to be,” I said.
“You look awfully young to be retired,” Dave said. “I’ve been retired twenty years. I retired at 65. That means I’m 85 now.”
“I am a bit young to be retired,” I said. “I’m 54.” I wrestled with the dog’s leash; Tally was sniffing under tables and around boxes. She liked Dave’s garage.
“Good for you,” Dave said. “Do you want to come inside and see my den? The dog can come.”
Tally and I followed Dave into the house, through the kitchen, and down the hall. “This used to be one of the boys’ bedrooms,” he said, then told me about his children and grandchildren. As he talked, I looked around. Dave’s den was filled with treasures: more model planes and trains, stacks of World War II books, and shelves lined with war and science-fiction movies. In the middle of the room, facing a television, sat a comfortable black leather recliner.
Seeing this room, and listening to Dave talk, flooded me with memories. A wave of nostalgia washed over me. Dave reminded me of the old men I knew when I was young. In the 1970s, it was not uncommon to meet older guys who had served in the military at some point, and who had let that experience direct their interests in civilian life. Like Dave, they watched war movies and read war novels. They built model jet planes and tanks. They collected uniforms and medals. My mom’s father, for instance, flew a bomber in World War II; he too had an interest in military memorabilia.
Dave showed me two enormous model railcars displayed on a shelf. “When I bought those in Wenatchee, they were basically scrap,” he said. “I restored them. I don’t know what gauge they are. They’re big. The number on that car is the street number of my childhood home in Seattle. The number on this car is the street number for this house. We’ve been in this house 52 years. Can you believe it?”
Dave repeated a lot of info during our conversation. As I say, I suspect he has memory issues — and maybe more besides. He remnains a charming, engaging person though.
“I like your set-up here,” I said, pointing at the chair and TV. “It looks cozy.”
“That’s where I watch my movies,” Dave said. “I watch a lot of war movies. And science fiction movies. I especially like zombies. Do you recognize that character?” he asked, pointing to a toy on a shelf.
“That’s Groot,” I said.
“Right,” he said. “From Guardians of the Galaxy. I paid $1.50 for him at the McDonald’s in Philomath. For that price, I figured why not?” That’s another habit Dave has; he knows where he got everything, and he likes to tell you about it.
As we walked back through the kitchen, he stopped to point out several large pieces of furniture. He told me their origin, including when he bought them and where. “That’s where my wife watches TV,” he said, indicating the television in the living room. “She likes those women’s movies on Hallmark and Lifetime,” he said sotto voce. “I prefer zombie movies.”
“Your house is very comfortable,” I said. And it is. It reminded me of the cozy ranch homes my friends lived in when I was growing up during the 1980s. And no wonder. It occurred to me that Dave was the same age as the fathers of my friends in high school. I’m the same age as his kids. If I’d grown up in Corvallis instead of Canby, it is possible — likely, even — that I would have spent time in this house. No wonder it felt so familiar. It reminded me of my youth because it was my youth.
“We bought the house 52 years ago,” Dave told me for a third time. “But it didn’t look like this. We’ve had the kitchen remodeled since then, and we added on this living room to expand the house. It’s been a fine home. Someday it will belong to my boys.”
We walked out through the garage, past Dave’s trains, and into the driveway. Tally sniffed for squirrels.
“Did you see my palm trees?” Dave asked. “You might not notice them from the road. We planted those trees 47 years ago. My oldest boy was five. We moved into this house 52 years ago, and we planted those trees five years after we moved in. They’re protected from the north wind, so they’ve survived. Now they’re big enough to have acclimatized.”
Tally was tugging at her leash. She was impatient. A pit stop like this wasn’t part of her doggy plans. There were squirrels to find. “It was nice to meet you, Dave,” I said. “Thank you for showing me your trains.”
“No problem,” Dave said. “Come back anytime. You have a good walk.”
And we did.