Old Mack’s Tales

September 15, 2008

Retirement Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 2:50 pm

Mack sat in the porch swing, bracing his feet on the weathered boards to keep the swing still, massaging his temples with his stubby, callused fingertips.


His wife, Edna, pushed open the screen door with her rump as both of her hands were full; she carried a folding metal TV table in her left and two mugs of coffee in her right.  Mack, still seated, took the table from her and set it up so it straddled his legs.  Edna placed the coffee mugs on it and reached into the breast pocket of her work shirt and withdrew a packet of B.C. Headache powder.


Mack took the B.C. out of her hand, unfolded the paper and sprinkled the sugary powder onto his tongue.  He washed it down with a swig of hot coffee.


Unlike his friends and the men he worked with, Edna addressed her husband as “Claude.”  When she called his name from another room, or from inside the house when he was outdoors, he was reminded of his mother shouting at him, reminding him of some chore he’d left undone and he felt a twinge of guilt.


“Scoot over, sugar.  My feet are all swole up this morning and these shoes are killing me.”


Mack moved to the end of the swing.  The chains suspending it from the porch ceiling were against his left shoulder, reminding him of the arthritis pain in that joint.  Edna carefully lowered her bulk onto the swing seat.  To their son watching from behind the screen door, his parents made him think of the nursery rhyme Jack Spratt.


“Charles Lee!” Edna shouted.  “Fetch us that pitcher of cream from the safe in the kitchen, honey!”


“Just a second, Ma.” Charles hollered back.


Charles Lee, an emaciated man of thirty-one, came out of the house wearing his prison guard’s uniform carrying the small stainless cream pitcher.  Edna took the creamer from him and held out her hand to take his clip-on black necktie.


“Bend down here, Son.”  She said.


“I’m sorry I won’t be here to help celebrate your birthday, Pa,” Charles said, “But I need the overtime.  What with the alimony and child support payments I just can’t make it on forty hours a week.”


“That’s okay, Son,” Claude said.  “I know how it is.  Besides, Bill and Burl both called from Chattanooga to say they’ll be here around noon.  Just give me a kiss and skedaddle.”


Being careful not to upset the TV tray, Charles Lee bent down and gave his father a kiss on the cheek.  When he stood erect again, Charles tucked his shirt into the waistband of his trousers.  “Are my creases straight?” he asked.


“You look as squared away as any Lieutenant I ever saw in the Army, Charles.”  Mack smiled and the wrinkles fanning out from his dark eyes deepened.


Charles Lee walked carefully from the porch to his new Chevy parked under the pines beside the red clay drive way.  He opened the door and then waived at his parents.


“This damned headache ain’t going away.  I reckon you ought to drive me to Sparta, Edna.  If I don’t get some relief. . .”


“You need some help down to the car?” Edna asked.


“I don’t think so.  Just get your purse and the keys.  The pain is something terrible.”


Edna drove their new 1970 Chevrolet the ten miles into town.  But by then Mack was bent double in the passenger seat vomiting coffee all over the floor mat.  So she drove straight to the emergency room at the hospital.


A pair of husky men in whites came out and helped Claude into a wheel chair and pushed it into the ER.


The young intern took a quick look at Claude’s eyes, put his stethoscope over his heart and nodded to Edna.  “This one’s a keeper,” he said, as if talking about fish.


Edna drove home to get her husband’s denture cup, Poly-grip and a pair of pajamas.


By the time she made the twenty-mile round trip, Mack was already dead.  After a time sitting in the waiting room, Edna got up and went to the nursing station.


“May I use your phone?” She asked, “I don’t have any change for the pay phone.”


Edna stood with the phone in her hand.  She didn’t know who to call.  Her daughter would be at work in Nashville; Charles Lee would be on the highway heading to work and Bill and Burl were probably both on the road with their families coming up over Spencer Mountain from Chattanooga.  So she searched through her wallet for the card with the business agent’s number.


The office girl who answered the phone in the Local of the IBEW told Edna that she would inform the men in Mack’s crew.  “Lordy!” the girl said.  “Mack was supposed to start his retirement today.”  Then she instructed Edna to bring the death certificate to the Local so she could get started on Mack’s insurance and annuity.  “Is there anything I can help you with?” the girl asked.


“No thank you, dear.  Mister Hunter will take care of the funeral arrangements.”


Then Edna called me at my home in Oregon.


“I’ll fly into Nashville, Edna.  Please have Charlie meet me at the airport.” I said.




By Ron McKinney © Sunday, September 07, 2008



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