I was waiting for a game to start at Sam’s Town in Tunica. I’d staked out my position in the #6 chair at the table. Sitting next to me in the #5 chair was a man that was even older than me. He was sort of scruffy looking with longish gray hair and on my side, at least, had a hearing aid.
We got to talking. His end of the conversation:
“I joined the Navy in the 40’s just after the war. When I got out, I worked at one job or another and joined the National Guard. I got called up when the fighting started in Korea. After it ended, I decided just to stay in the Army and stayed there till I retired in the 60’s.
“The wife and I had been all over and we had 8 kids. Seemed like every time I get assigned some place and then come back home, she’d had another one.
“Anyway, while I was in the Army, I kept getting promoted until I got to be an E-3 but then I couldn’t make E-4. I asked ‘ em “Why” and they said that it was because I hadn’t finished high school. So I went back to school and got my high school diploma. Same thing happened a few years later when they wouldn’t promote me because I didn’t have any college education. So, I went back to school there in Texas and Uncle Sam paid for it so I got an Associates Degree in music.
“I had my 20 years in the military by then and so I retired. I got a pretty good pension. Enough money to live on but I got bored. I finally found a job teaching music in elementary schools there in El Paso. They told me when I started that I had to keep my hands off the students. If they needed discipline I was to send them to the principal.
“I really enjoyed the job and felt like every once in a while I made a difference in some kids life. It was tough, though, because more than half of the kids didn’t speak very good English. They heard and spoke Spanish at home and that’s about all they knew.
“I taught for about 10 years or so. I had enough money to live on with my pension from the military so I just had my pay from the schools put into an IRA and I had quite a bit of money put away after those 10 years.
“One day, two of the kids got into a fight and I had to break it up. I grabbed one of the kids by his shirt and sat him down at his desk. Everything calmed down but later in the day, the principal came down and said he wanted to see me. Told me that the kid had said I manhandled him and bruised his chest and that the school was going to have to suspend me. I explained what had happened. He said it didn’t make any difference. He had to do what he had to do. I asked if I had enough time in to retire and when he said I did, I said ‘I do’, and walked out.
“So, now I had another pension coming in. Wasn’t much. But, they’ve sent me $300 a month for almost 30 years now.
“Well, course by this time all my kids were grown up and away from home. Most of them had moved so far away that they couldn’t get to visit very often and we didn’t get to their places a lot. So the wife and I got a map of the US and spread it out on the kitchen table. We put a pin in the map for where each of our kids lived and then figured out the place that would be closest for all of them. We wound up moving to Alabama and for a few years we saw a lot of the kids. Then they started moving again and we’re about back where we started.
“Anyway, we’re getting older. The wife’s in a wheel chair. And I don’t drive anymore. “
I interrupted. “How’d you get here from Alabama?”
“My son came and brought us over here for my wife’s birthday. “
“Does he live pretty close?” I asked.
“Nope, he lives in Duluth, Minnesota. But, he came and got us and he ‘s coming up here and get me pretty soon if this poker game doesn’t start.
“Anyway, we moved over to Alabama and bought us a house where we’ve lived for quite a while now. We’re going to move into assisted living, though. It’s gonna’ cost us $5,000 a month. We get everything for that, though. Three meals a day, four snacks a day, they clean your place, do your laundry, do your ironing, and take you to Walmart two times a week. It wouldn’t cost us that much but they rate you by the extra care you need and charge you more. I’m a level 2 and it costs $200 a month more for me. My wife is a level 5 and i t costs $700 a month more for her. “
By this time another man had joined us while we waited. He spoke up “$5,000 a month,” he exclaimed. “That’s $60,000 a year.”
Just then, the card room manager came over and sent me to an empty chair in a game that was already running so I didn’t hear the remainder of the conversation.
About 10 minutes later I saw a younger man come in the poker room, speak to the old fellow, and they left. He waved at me as he went out.