The man in the photo is Steely Hawkins. He and I grew up together. I called him yesterday. Today is his birthday and I wanted to bring him a present. Sort of help him celebrate his birthday. It’s good to do that, neither me or Steely have many friends left.
Anyway, I grab my smartphone and the gift, hop on my John Deere and roll on down the road to his place. He’s waiting on his front porch for me. I drive in, cut the power to the machine, and look around. I’m amazed. Since his wife passed two years ago, Steely hasn’t paid much attention to his place. Too bad.
“I’m fine. I brought you something, like I said. Happy birthday. Hope you like it.” And I hand him a rectangular box wrapped in brown paper ‘cause I didn’t have any fancier stuff.”
“Thank you, Ted. Much appreciated. Pull up a chair.”
Steely and I move to a pair of old creaky porch rockers with a small table between us. And I watch my friend undo his package with swollen arthritic fingers on unsteady hands. He folds the heavy paper aside and reads the printing on the box. “Oh man, is this what’s really inside the box?”
“Keep going, and find out.”
“Okay. Hah. Oh, LAWDY ME. Oh my, my, my.” And he holds his gift high in the air.”
“Happy birthday, Steely.”
“You sit right there, Ted. I’ll be right back.”
And my friend sets his gift on the table very gently, hops out of his chair as though all his body joints worked perfectly, and dashed into the house.
I could hear a kitchen cupboard door slam shut, as well as the sound of dishes and silverware being moved around. A minute later Steely came back to the porch. He set two still damp water glasses on our little table. One on each side of his gift.
“Go ahead, Ted. You do the honors. I can say that ‘cause it’s my birthday.”
I took my time undoing the bottle top, and taking care to not lose a drop of the precious liquid, poured two fingers of Makers’ Mark into Steely’s glass.
“Pour yours a little faster, would you Ted? I can hardly wait.”
I obliged and raised my glass. “Happy birthday Steely.”
My friend’s eyes thanked me louder than his words ever could. They still retained the soul-piercing sharpness from which his nickname sprang.
We eased back into our chairs and the next hour began with Steely saying, “Do you remember, Ted….”