When I was a kid, I rode my bicycle all over our small town. On summer mornings I often saw a few old men in deep conversation sitting on a bench in front of a grocery store.

The bench might hold lugs of cherries or peaches later in the day, but before the store opened it was host to an informal senior citizen discussion.

I never stuck around to hear what the old guys were discussing, but I observed laughter and remember hearing some Norwegian language spoken. The old guys were obviously having a good time.

These fellows came to mind again this week when two fellow-septuagenarian friends and I gathered in a shady park to enjoy coffee and conversation safely in a Covid-19 world.

Keith and Lyle live on the east side of the metro and I reside on the far west side. For some time we have met regularly for breakfast at a centrally-located establishment. The restaurant has earned our business with good grub, a cheerful waitress and an unending supply of coffee.

All three of us are prime candidates for the Covid-19 virus and are reluctant to meet in enclosed places. So it was that Keith suggested we meet in an outdoor setting.

We decided on a city park about equal distance from our homes, but discovered it was inaccessible because of street work. Keith found a wonderful alternative — a small city park with lots of mature shade trees.

On a recent morning, the weather was perfect for outdoor coffee and conversation. We each brought our own Thermos of coffee. I picked up some cookies at a c-store and Keith’s wife kindly provided homemade cookies full of cranberries, peanuts and chocolate chips. It should be noted that there were no leftover cookies.

With Lyle sitting on a picnic table bench and Keith and I in our lawn chairs, the coffee poured and cookie consumption began we launched into a conversation that may have made the old men on the grocery store bench 63 years ago proud. Minus the Norwegian talk, of course.

In the course of our conversation we observed others in the park. Children played on a modern version of what we used to call “monkey bars.”

An older man and a boy were searching for treasure with a metal detector and shovel. We saw them dig a few times but never saw what, if anything, they found.

Several people were walking their dogs through the park. One excited pup on a long leash sniffed our feet. Apparently Lyle’s feet bore a scent of significance because the dog proceeded to urinate on one of his shoes. The dog’s owner was embarrassed but Lyle’s shoe was a rubber clog so it was no big deal. Besides, when you get to be our age you’ve already been peed on more than once, metaphorically speaking.

Nearby was a splash pad, and about midway through our morning conversation a young man activated the water and the two boys with him jumped into the spray. In short order, other young parents brought their children and we watched at least a half dozen youngsters reveling in water as only youngsters can. It didn’t seem like so long ago we were young, I thought, and would have delighted in splashing in the water, too.

Soon enough we had solved many of the world’s problems and it was time to pack up our stuff and head home. We said our good-byes and agreed to meet in the park again sometime soon.

As we walked to our cars, our pace was slower than when we knew each other as teenagers nearly 60 years ago. During our conversation, we had each admitted to physical maladies associated with age.

It’s possible the children in the park that morning saw three old men drinking coffee and eating cookies in the shade. I wonder if, when they grow older, they will remember us like I remember the old men on the grocery store bench.

As I placed my lawn chair in my car, I remembered an old quote from Andy Rooney: “I didn’t get old on purpose, it just happened. If you’re lucky, it could happen to you.”


Arvid Huisman began writing Country Roads 32 years ago, and today the column appears in several Iowa newspapers. He can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com.