The short, round man was sitting in the outsized rocking chair looking happy and carefree as an elderly woman walked up to him and whispered in his ear.
His eyes grew large, and he smiled before he laughed.
“I am doing fine,” he told her. “I am eighty-three, you know.”
It was one evening last week we came upon the cheerful gentleman gently rocking outside near the entrance of the Cracker Barrel restaurant when we arrived for supper. The weather was warm, with a soft breeze touching our faces, like a cool breeze through a screen door.
Brenda and I walked up the sidewalk toward the entrance — past the long line of black and white rocking chairs that sat under the antique signs that urged us to drink Crush pop, buy Purina Chow, or visit Rock City in Chattanooga — when we saw the man with the big smile sitting in the rocker.
“Hello, there,” he said good-naturedly. “Isn’t the weather beautiful?”
“Yes. It is a beautiful day,” we responded.
After enjoying our meals of beans and cornbread, we were surprised to see the man still sitting in the rocking chair. He continued to greet everyone who entered the restaurant.
“May we join you for a minute or two?” I asked, as we pulled up two rockers next to the friendly gentleman.
“I’ve been sitting here for four hours like an old crow, talking with folks,” the man said.
“Do you work here? “I asked.
“No. I just like to come here, sit in the sunshine, and meet people,” he replied.
Just then, a thin gentleman stepped out of a car with Kentucky license plates and approached the restaurant. “You look like a gospel singer,” the rocking man said curiously.
“Well, I’m not,” the other man snapped. “I’m 91 years old, or will be in three days.”
“OkK. Enjoy the chicken tenderloin,” the man in the rocker said, changing the subject. “The gravy makes it special.”
A young couple then approached the man. “Looks like your baby likes to eat and blow bubbles,” he said with a smile.
“Yes, he sure does,” the young couple laughed as they and their chubby baby entered the restaurant.
As we stood up to leave, the man shook our hands and said, “This is how I want to be remembered, don’t you see? I have been blessed financially, but spending time with people brings me the most joy. This is how I want to be remembered,” he said again.
“Isn’t that an interesting perspective on life?” I asked Brenda as we drove away. “For a man to sit for hours in a rocker greeting strangers in front of a restaurant?”
Turning right off Wilmington Pike, we decided to take the scenic route home and cut across Spring Valley-Paintersville Road. Within a few minutes we arrived at Middleton’s Corner on State Route 68 and pulled up to the old market.
I told Brenda I had read in the paper that Don Middleton from Xenia had died recently. Although I didn’t know him, I remembered my family stopping at his small grocery in Middleton’s Corner on hot days for pop and sandwiches.
His obituary said he and his brother ran the store, and he was a nice man who cared for others and had a sense of humor.
“That is a fine way to be remembered,” Brenda replied.
“Speaking of remembrance, I had the opportunity at the commissioners’ meeting this morning to remember Charlie Fischer, a man I had known years ago,” I said.
Charlie Fischer had bequeathed the county money in his will to fund the Charles F. Fischer Trust Fund.
“Charlie wanted to make sure handicapped or medically needy children in Clinton County were cared for,” I said. “His trust gives money to assist in meeting the medical, dental, optical, mental health needs, and artistic growth of such children.”
Charlie Fischer, Don Middleton, and the man in the rocking chair will be remembered, and remembered for what they chose to be remembered for.
They understood it won’t be for the money they saved, or the cars they drove, or the houses they bought, but rather for the kind words to the customers at the country restaurant, or handing a kid a cold pop on a warm summer day, or generously giving money to the less fortunate.
People will long remember if we showed kindnesses to others, and how we treated them along the way.
“Brenda, I read where the Supreme Court nominee said the other day he would like to be remembered as kind and mild in private life, dignified and firm in public life,” I said.
The least we can do is remember.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.