More than 20 years ago I lived in a trailer, on a hill, along a logging road in West Virginia. My neighbor was a sweet old man named Eddie.
Eddie had seen the world,He had sailed on a rich mans yatch, he had back packed as far as his wandering feet would take him andhe had been a steward on a cruise ship for the 15 years before he had retired. He had come back to almost heaven after his partner had died in Singapore.
I would try and sneak over for tea with him once a week, while my son, "napped". I always loved listening to the stories he told, ports of call I can only imagine from his words; Tunis, Monaco, Greenore, Galle and Buenos Aires.
One day as I was packing to move, he came over with a parcel. He said " If you don't want it, I will completely understand, but I thought that you might appreciate the story behind it."
I opened the package and there inside was a bible. Of course I raised my brows at him, for Eddie was both an atheist and had been raised in the Jewish faith. He laughed at my look and told me this story.
He had wanted to join the navy, the army anything to go fight in the war. However, he was slight of frame and even at 18 had to have his father come forward and swear that he was of age.
" I was johnny come late" his reedy voice filled with a deep sigh. "By the time I got in and deployed we were almost to Berlin. I had marched for what seemed like forever it was strange to be headed in one direction when so many would pass us going the opposite direction. One day we came to a town, I wish I could remember the name of it, but it looked like so many of the others. Bombed, broken down and destroyed by the war. We were sitting around waiting. Something they can make you do a lot of in the military. I was on this pile of rubble, staring off, not really thinking anything when I looked down into the pile of rocks there that I was sitting on. I saw something, and so I started pushing rocks and dirt out of the way. There was this pile of books, all of them in German of course. " he smiled at me and shook his head on a laugh. " I had no clue what any of them were until I pulled out this one. Doesn't take a genius or someone who reads German to figure out when you have a hold of a bible. I had cracked it open to a page that had a picture of a women finding a baby in a basket floating on the river. Doesn't that crack you up?" he asked me. " a skinny Jewish boy finding a bible in Germany and the first page he comes to is Moses?" I turned through the book until I found that particular plate. He smiled and nodded when I showed it to him. "It became my souvenir. I suppose the family was gone, I'll never know. But the bible is old, I think some one told me it was published in 1890's. I had a friend who could read German.." he said with a smile.
Gathering dust on my shelf is a book old and falling apart. It's not light, has some weight to it and it's hard for me to imagine that frail old man carrying this book around in his back pack as he tromped around the countryside. He died the next year, I will never forget his graceful if some what effeminate hands patting the book and smiling at me " It's really not the book, it's the story."