Walking with Curtis

October 2nd, 2017

Jules took us to a park in Tenafly. It’s an urban park, which means that its open space really isn’t that open. There are houses up against three sides of the park, and a railway hugs the fourth edge. However, the park is a welcome patch of green, with mature trees and a walking path that goes around the perimeter. The park gets plenty of use. Even in the early morning, there are people exercising and walking on the trail.

It was our last morning with Jules, and he wanted us to walk with him and his friend, Curtis. We left Jules’ house at 6:45 AM. It was cool outside, and the ground was covered with dew. It was sweater weather. We met Curtis in the parking lot next to the walking path. Curtis smiled and greeted us.

Curtis is an old black man, tall and thin. He shook my hand when we met. His hand was strong and gnarled. Somehow, Curtis reminded me of an old hickory tree. Curtis has been around for eighty-six years. I would never have guessed that he was so old. He was alert and talkative. He was alive in a way that I seldom see in people half his age.

The path forms an oval that is a little less than a mile and a half in circumference. Jules and Curtis like to make two trips around it. They walk rapidly. Karin was only able to make one of the two round trips before she got out of breath. She retired to Jules’ van after the first cycle. While Jules, Curtis, and I made the second journey around the track, Karin said her morning prayers. She just managed to complete them by the time we returned.

Curtis is a vet. He was in the Army a long time ago. I mentioned that I had stationed in Germany. He told me,

“I was supposed to go to Korea, but the shooting was over before they could send me there. So, they shipped me to Germany instead. I was at Ulm, way in south Germany. I saw them mountains with all the snow on them. I ain’t never seen nothing like that before.”

He went on, “We was always in the field, nine months out of the year. I carried everything on my back. I was Infantry. Sometimes, those tankers, they gave us a ride, but mostly we walked everywhere.”

Jules and Curtis made an interesting pair. They were obviously close friends, but I am not sure what they all had in common. They just walked together almost every morning. I guess that’s enough.

We weren’t alone on the path. Other people were walking or running alongside of us. Jules and Curtis greeted an older black man who was resting on a bench. This guy walked a bit every morning too. He didn’t go as far as Jules and Curtis, but, hell, he’s  ninety-one years old. As we got near to Jules’ van, a jogger passed us by. He was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, running shoes, and a black yarmulke. Only in New Jersey.

On the way back to Jules’ house, I looked out the car window to view the neighborhood one last time. We passed the yeshiva and the Brazilian jujitsu school. We went by the New Jersey National Guard Armory, with its antique tanks rusting in front of the building. We drove near the Chicken and Rib Crib. I saw Bergen Pizza and the kosher deli, the Korean grocery store and the Filipino restaurant.

It’s a world of its own.




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