He ambled through the aisle of the convenience store. His hat read “Veteran: World War II.” I beamed at him, as I do at most elderly people, and he stopped moving in order to really smile back. He was shorter than I, wearing beige suspenders, navigating the store with a cane. I thanked him for his service and asked, if he didn’t mind my asking, where was he deployed during the War? He was in the Pacific. I sighed, I could feel my eyebrows gathering down over my now-watery eyes. He drove a boat that took the troops to shore. He spent his 18th and 19th birthdays on invasions. He loitered by the Gatorade. I fought the urge to hug him or see if he wanted to tag along to Nebraska. Friendly has a fine line.
In the parking lot later, he labored to get into his pickup. He hoisted himself up, leaned in, leaving his cane behind, then once firmly in his seat he craned out to grasp the handle of the cane. He placed it in the seat as a passenger. He could feel me watching him. I kept my grin wide and politely affectionate, since I didn’t want him to think I was strange. Or, bad strange. I started my car, he started his. We shared a quick departing wave of gratitude.