Tink and Ram 4

“Mornin’, Ram.”

“Mornin’, Tink,” he respond­ed as she took her place in the chair on the oppo­site side of the thir­ty-inch round met­al table which was part of the group­ing of tables on the side­walk in front of the store­front café that spe­cial­ized in break­fast and lunch.

“Nice change from the park bench,” Tink con­tin­ued, glanc­ing about.

“Yeah, I thought we could stand a lit­tle change.  I ordered tea.  Told the serv­er to bring it after he had seen you join me.”

“I don’t like tea,” offered Tink, turn­ing up her nose a bit at the remark.


“Don’t know.  Just don’t like it.”

“When was the last time you had tea?” Ram asked.

“Don’t know.”

“Wait a minute.  You don’t like tea but don’t know why and you don’t even remem­ber the last time you had any?  Isn’t it pos­si­ble that you might have devel­oped a taste for it in the span of time dur­ing which you haven’t had any?”

“Doubt it,” she remained adamant.

“Well, this morn­ing you’re going to have tea, whether you like it or not, your crazy reluc­tances notwithstanding.”

“Okay, okay.  What’s the big deal about tea, any­way?  I coul­da had cof­fee.  I like coffee.”

“Tea is a more sophis­ti­cat­ed drink, more gen­teel, more refined.”

“Horse hock­ey!” she teased. “You don’t get that much class from a glass of Louis Latour Montrachet Chardonnay.”

“We won’t be hav­ing Chardonnay this ear­ly in the day, so set­tle for the tea.”

The serv­er set two white porce­lain cups before them.  Each cup con­tained a teabag with the string looped over the side.  There was a small stain­less steel pot of hot water, steam ris­ing gen­tly from the spout and Ram poured a por­tion of the liq­uid into each cup.

As Tink petu­lant­ly dunked her teabag in and out of the cup she reached for the sug­ar and milk con­tain­ers still on the tray that had been left.

“You’re not real­ly going to put sug­ar and milk in that are you?” asked Ram. 

“I told you I don’t like tea.  Maybe they will make the taste bearable.”

“Try it with just a lit­tle sug­ar at first.  It’ll take the bite out of the tea but allow the fla­vor to come through.”

She did as he asked.

“Do you put sug­ar and milk or cream in your coffee?”

“Sure,” she respond­ed.  “Doesn’t everybody?”

“From what I’ve noticed over the years, it seems that women are more inclined to add those things to their drinks.  Don’t quite know why but it’s an inter­est­ing phe­nom­e­non.  Men seem to take their cof­fee with­out anything.”

“Maybe men don’t have taste buds.”

They both hoist­ed their cups simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, each tak­ing a short sip of the still-hot liq­uid.  Tink’s nose squinched up a bit.  She couldn’t see the slight smirk on Ram’s face as he watched her over the rim of the cup.

“How old are you, Tink?  I hope you don’t mind me asking.”

“Not at all.  I have no pre­ten­sions about age, mine or any­one else’s.  I’m twen­ty-eight.  Why?”

“I’ve been think­ing about how we go through life with­out real­ly think­ing about how we con­tribute and I won­dered if you’ve ever giv­en any thought to what you would like to accom­plish. You’ve got a lot of years ahead of you, plen­ty of time to real­ly make a mark for your­self, become some­one impor­tant.  Or do you just want to coast through life, let­ting it lead you along hith­er and yon, with­out purpose?”

“You mean do I want to write a clas­sic nov­el, become a world-famous actor, win the Nobel Peace Prize or dis­cov­er a cure for the com­mon cold?  I guess any of those would pro­vide some lev­el of sat­is­fac­tion in life.  What are the odds of any of that hap­pen­ing?  Pretty darn slim.

“I guess I’d be con­tent to find a good man, get mar­ried, have a cou­ple of smart, well-behaved kids, maybe be a com­pe­tent nurse.  If I can get through life being kind and car­ing and help­ful and hon­est, maybe that’s enough for any one person.

“How ‘bout you, Ram?  I don’t mean to sug­gest that you’re on your last legs, but you’ve obvi­ous­ly lived a full life.  Do you feel like you’ve con­tributed some­thing positive?”

“Does get­ting you to try tea count?” he asked, sip­ping his tea and look­ing over the rim once again.

“When you get to be my age,” con­tin­ued Ram, “you have a lot to look back on, a lot to pon­der and won­der if you’ve had any influ­ence on peo­ple.  At least I do.

“I was a mediocre stu­dent in school.  Graduated with okay grades, but noth­ing spe­cial.  I liked school, but real­ly didn’t apply myself, just kin­da coast­ed. Shortly after high school I joined the Marines.  Back then the draft was still in place and I knew I didn’t want to go in the army.

“Within a year I was in Korea, not long after the North crossed the 38th on June 25th and pushed the U.S. and South Korean forces back into a small perime­ter at the south end of the coun­try.  Pusan it was.

“Well, we start­ed push­ing back, expand­ed the perime­ter and in September made an end-run up at Inchon, got behind the North Koreans, recap­tured Seoul and start­ed push­ing north across the par­al­lel.  Went all the way to the Yalu and found sev­en­ty thou­sand Chinese wait­ing on the oth­er side, despite the fact that the big­wigs, sit­ting com­fort­ably in heat­ed offices back in Tokyo kept say­ing the Chinks wouldn’t come in.  They did.  And between the Chinese army and temps thir­ty degrees below zero, we near­ly lost a com­plete divi­sion.  We fought eighty miles across the coun­try, killed prob­a­bly thir­ty thou­sand gooks and got our ass­es out.

“I rotat­ed back to the states short­ly after, spent the rest of my enlist­ment at Camp Pendleton as an instruc­tor, get­ting more Marines ready to be can­non fodder.

“When my enlist­ment was up, I spent the next two years just bounc­ing around between menial jobs, gro­cery clerk, pump­ing gas, deliv­er­ing papers, work­ing in a sawmill.

“The sec­ond year I was out my dad died.  Pancreatic can­cer.  He went quick.  Fourteen months lat­er mom died.  Broken heart, I think.  So I decid­ed to go to col­lege.  Enlisted under the GI bill.  Suddenly my slack­ing off in high school was behind me.  I found myself total­ly immersed in learn­ing and my grades were great.  Finished in three-and-a-half years and had a teach­ing job wait­ing for me.  Taught civics at the get-go.

“That was back in the days when high school­ers were expect­ed to know some­thing about how a democ­ra­cy works, pres­i­dent, vice-pres­i­dent, some mem­bers of the cab­i­net, mem­bers of the Supreme Court, UN ambas­sador, gov­er­nor, may­or, coun­ty judge, their sen­a­tors.  Every year I took class­es to meet­ings of local gov­ern­ment.  We had mock courts.

“Then the schools quit teach­ing civics and I shift­ed over to his­to­ry.  Took a lot of it in col­lege.  Could have claimed it as a minor.  Taught U.S. his­to­ry in four semes­ter cours­es, all elec­tives.  Started with pre-colo­nial times and end­ed up at the present.  The last semes­ter still had a lot of civics in it since we were deal­ing with more recent history.

“Funny thing about his­to­ry.  Kids either loved or hat­ed it, noth­ing in-between.  Hot or cold, noth­ing luke­warm.  Some of the kids who took the cours­es thought they could coast, pull an easy ‘C.’ A few did, not many.  Some who real­ly didn’t care much about his­to­ry at first real­ly got into it after a spell.  There were some I nev­er got through to.

“Tried writ­ing a his­to­ry text­book for a cou­ple of years but couldn’t get the inter­est of a pub­lish­er.  Some of the big text­book com­mis­sions around the coun­try — espe­cial­ly Texas — pret­ty much dic­tate what goes into text­books.  If they don’t approve con­tent, pub­lish­ers won’t print them.  They have to have access to thou­sands of school sys­tems in order to make a prof­it.  It’s a busi­ness and a lot of pablum goes into textbooks.

“Thirty-sev­en years in the class­room and I loved just about every minute of it.  In all that time I only missed six sick days. Don’t know how that hap­pened; must have sched­uled my sick days on holidays.”

He smiled, think­ing of the possibility.

“My wife divorced me after four years, no kids and I nev­er remar­ried.  Not sure why, but the school kids absorbed me, kept me sane and on keel.  They filled me.  I didn’t need any­thing further.

“During that time, and after retire­ment, I got appoint­ed to some local com­mit­tees.  I may have become some­thing of a pari­ah.  I prob­a­bly had a rep­u­ta­tion for not hid­ing my thoughts and I expect I hacked off some of the peo­ple who typ­i­cal­ly appoint com­mit­tees.  I know I hacked off some elect­ed offi­cials when I wrote let­ters to the papers about the crum­my jobs they were doing … at least accord­ing to me.

“But I didn’t care.  Still don’t.  Too late in life to wor­ry about the feel­ings of some pis­sant politi­cian suck­ing at the pub­lic tit.

“So here I am, spend­ing a cou­pla morn­ings a week with a beau­ti­ful young lady who’s will­ing to sit and lis­ten to the ram­blings of an old man.

“So all-in-all I guess I’m sat­is­fied with how life went for me, no great accom­plish­ments, noth­ing to be remem­bered for, just some self-sat­is­fac­tion … and contentment.”

“Not true, Ram,” said Tink, softy.

“Hmmm,” he murmured.

“You’ve accom­plished more than 99.9% of all the peo­ple who ever lived, Ram.  Think of the thou­sands of kids you ush­ered through and into life, so many of them anx­ious to go look­ing for the future.  You wouldn’t have been teach­ing for thir­ty-sev­en years if you weren’t good at it; you’d have been back work­ing at the sawmill.

“I only hope I can look back on my life in fifty years and see as much ful­fill­ment in it.” 

She reached across the nar­row table and light­ly touched his hand.

“Thanks for the con­ver­sa­tion, Ram.  It’s been a beau­ti­ful morn­ing and the rest of the day looks like it’s going to be great as well.  See you Thursday, back at the park bench?”

“Of course,” he replied, “have a good day.”

“You, too.” 

She waved and near­ly bumped into a lady com­ing to sam­ple the morn­ing fare.

Ram sat for a while and a wide grin crossed his face.  He noticed that Tink’s cup was empty.

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