About two years ago a neighbor introduced me to Tom who is a 95-year old Navy veteran of WWII. He was a motor machinist mate 2nd class aboard the USS Moore (DE-240) that sailed with escort carrier Core (CVE-13) protecting convoys in the North Atlantic until the Germans surrendered and then DE-240 sailed to the Pacific. After the war Tom landed a job as a plumber’s helper with Mr. Miller and later operated his own plumbing business. Tom’s sea tales and plumbing stories are engaging, informative and sometimes repetitive. But I thrive on repetitive because I tend to forget some things. (If you remember my story about a friend’s father, Howard, who was an Army veteran of WWII, you will understand my occasional weak grip on details.) Tom and I have had a Wednesday breakfast or lunch together for well more than a year with a break in the action only after we were requested to bend the curve. When we resumed meals together late last May, we chose to order carry-out lunches and dine at his home – usually. Occasionally we have managed manly breakfasts in his kitchen.
It was on that schedule that we had planned lunch for the day prior to Thanksgiving and it was my turn to order. On that morning I took a call from Tom at 09:01 asking if I’d pick up two mincemeat pies that he had ordered from Publix and also grab an apple pie. I advised that I would do so and I’d see him at noon.
I was in line at the Publix deli counter at about 11:45 and waiting as patiently as I could for my turn. I have a quirk that makes me want to be timely – and on this day on-time meant being at Tom’s door, knocking at precisely noon. I could sense from orders being made ahead of me that my timing was going to be pretty dang close – until a woman cut in line. She had ensnared a sandwich maker while he was away from the counter and had kept his undivided attention with her wild hairdo, wild attire and wild looking sunglasses behind which I think she thought other patrons would not see her. But I did see her in-between checking the time on my phone. Eventually with our tuna fish hoagies in hand I went to the bakery to get Tom’s pies. To my dismay, I was told there were No mincemeat pies. The baker said none had been ordered. I recalled a similar issue being discussed last year with Tom, thus I wondered if Tom had not been properly advised that his order could not be filled again this year. Still, to be certain, I called him at 11:57 to confirm that I was in the proper grocer – maybe I should be at Kroger? Nope; he had called Publix and his order had been confirmed. Knowing the baker couldn’t pull mincemeat pie from behind my ear, I grabbed an apple pie and proceeded thru the checkout isle. I would now officially be late arriving at Tom’s; but he already knew that.
At Tom’s home I explained the situation again and he mumbled something in his old Boston accent that I missed, although I sensed his aggravation. He’d clearly placed the order and he wasn’t at all happy that his plan to bring dessert to Thanksgiving supper at his daughter’s home was now botched. His mood gradually settled and we had our hoagies, our laughs, and our conversations about sundry topics. One topic was about a fireplace fan at my home that he thought was performing sub-optimally. It was not, but I couldn’t convince him of that. Typically and briefly we kicked about some hot political issues – with notable, firmly-held, opposing views. We also had a visit from the neighbor widow’s daughter which brightened his mood dramatically. She has that knack – I don’t! At about 14:00 I left to run my 1987 300ZX through the car-wash so I could take pictures of it before placing it for-sale and before the forecast rain negated the wash. I was just short of the car-wash when Tom called at 14:10; the Publix bakery called him to say his pies were ready! Wonderful. I advised that I’d swing by after the car-wash and get them for him. In due time, I arrived back at the bakery and was told, once again, they had No pies. It was suggested that I should go to catering to check with them. Fine, what’s another runaround? I went to the caterer’s desk and was immediately told to go to the bakery – because they (the caterer) did not have whatever I was looking for. The caterer admitted that she had no idea what a mincemeat pie was.
At that point the Thanksgiving mood left me. I signaled for a timeout and asked that the manager be called to meet me at the bakery – and I proceeded to call Tom yet again at 14:34. While the caterer, the baker and the candlestick maker were discussing the absence of mincemeat pies on their shelves, I got Tom to give me the telephone number and name of the person who had called him, and I simultaneously motioned for a pencil and paper upon which to jot down the data. As Tom called out the number I wrote it as legibly as possibly while glancing over at an assistant baker who was comparing the number to a handwritten list of numbers. Plainly, one was the number I’d copied and beside the baker’s number was the name of a Publix farther north. I thanked Tom for the number and hung up. The bakery staff and I had simultaneously reached the same conclusion; Tom had called the wrong bakery! I profusely apologized to the manager, the baker, the caterer and any customer within earshot for my error and departed the grocery.
After getting back into my still dry 300ZX, I left the parking lot and drove to the intersection with the state highway running either south towards my home or north towards that other Publix. That is when a light drizzle began to slide off the windscreen on which I had recently applied RainX; and drizzle was also running off the car – perhaps the car-wash machine had applied a light coat of wax. Perhaps. While I really didn’t want to test the effectiveness of the wax application, I nevertheless turned north towards a darkening weather system bringing the forecast rain – not just drizzle – and towards the town of Tyrone which was 12.2-miles distant with 8 or 9 traffic lights to further delay the ride. While stopped at the 4th light, I looked up at the window of a Ryder truck thru which the passenger was taking a video of my 300ZX from end-to-end. I smiled for the camera – hoping maybe he was a potential buyer even before I listed it!
In Tyrone I parked and headed towards the bakery where with practice I asked to pick up two mincemeat pies. I got a look that was telling — and then a reply that could stun a bull. No mincemeat pies! No mincemeat pies? Can’t be! There must have been something in my otherwise calm demeanor that suggested to the young baker on my side of the counter that she should seek a better answer. OK, it was within the realm of possibilities that there was something in my tone of voice. Well, it also could have been something in my eyes because the mask would have hidden a developing facial tic. Nah – it was my calm demeanor; I am certain. It matters not; she was gone to get that better answer. In a quick conversation with another pastry chef, I overheard “shelf” and saw him point to a rolling rack on the bakery side of the counter. There she lifted two pies and brought them to me along with a generous smile. I thanked her profusely. Reluctant to confirm they were indeed mincemeat, I walked purposely towards the checkout isle. I simply was not primed to have the label on either pie read apple or pumpkin or pecan or corn or lemon.
I paid for the pies (and forgot to purchase whipping cream for my bride as I had offered I would), hustled back to my car, drove ten miles, and shortly after 15:00, was back at Tom’s front door. After knocking and upon hearing “Enter”, I walked inside to where he was watching television and extended his mincemeat pies. His eyes reflected puzzlement since he was only aware of my last report: there were No pies at our Publix. I had not informed him that he had, well, called long distance to another Publix! I gave him the rundown – twice – so that like me he did not miss a detail. Then with a grin as wide as his face he asked, “Would you like a piece of mincemeat pie?” I was wondering what took him so long to make the offer! I also asked him if we could have a nip from that bottle he kept in a kitchen cabinet for special occasions. With our drinks poured at 15:20, we toasted friendship and a Happy Thanksgiving. Then we each enjoyed a very tasty piece of mincemeat pie at 15:21.
While driving to Tyrone with some degree of untargeted annoyance, I’d prepared myself to hear an apology from Tom because that is the kind of thoughtful, sincere man that he is. And as anticipated, back at his home, Tom apologized for inconveniencing me with the trips around our town and to wherever. He apologized several times. I then looked at him steadily and said, “Tom, how could I be inconvenienced by a half hour trip to a get two pies – two pies – after you were inconvenienced for two years in WWII by a call-to-arms. No, I wasn’t inconvenienced; I was glad to help find your pies!” And on that note, we had another nip.
At 15:57 that afternoon following a 4th trip to a Publix that day to get whipping cream, after wiping my car dry and after feeding my two Beagles who must had thought I’d abandoned them, I sent a text to Tom’s daughter who lives in town and gave her a thumbnail of our morning:
“My favorite Thanksgiving story occurred on a beautiful day in a hangar during Ranger School in 1973. (…conjunctions are my favorite parts of a sentence.) Today was so very, very close to that. Mr. Tom should tell you the story because he’ll add a laugh or two that I could not re-create if I wrote the story. So, ask him to tell it to you. Here are some keys words to coach him along the sequence (as I might write it) and the general sequence in which it occurred:
- His phone call (09:01)
- P/U Request
- My phone call (11:57)
- 1x Pie
- Fireplace (totally unrelated!)
- Neighbor visit
- Car wash
- His phone call (14:10)
- My phone call (14:34)
- 2x Pie
- WWII service
- Nip @ 15:20
- Snack @ 15:21
Of course, he should give you the short version!
I would have to later add:
- Whipping cream
Sent from my iPhone