From Magic City Morning Star|
Years after having left the Merchant Marines, Macaroni still proudly wore his shabby, moth eaten navy blue pea coat with his round white sailor's hat perched on the back of his head. He stood about five feet six inches tall and his body shape was very difficult to define. He was about as nondescript as one could get and still be. His hair was neither long nor short. It wasn't red, it wasn't brown and it wasn't blond either. His eyes could have been blue, gray or hazel. It was almost as though when he was being formed, his genetic code went haywire somewhere and produced this washed out human being by accident.
If you asked someone, who had known him for years, to describe Macaroni, they’d look at you for a few minutes and then say things like... "Well, he's about... or, His hair is kind of... You know, he's, well..." and that's the way it was. It was impossible to give anyone an accurate description of him. He was, but he wasn't.
Macaroni didn't walk like most other people either. He had a habit of walking with both feet pointed in the opposite direction and he always wore a pair of black rubber boots that were a couple sizes too large for him. If someone asked him why he walked like that, he'd duck his head, shuffle his big black gum rubbers and say, "I donno, my feet takes me where I wants to go. Sometimes I go east and sometimes I go west."
He only had a third grade education and at the beginning of the Second World War, he joined the Merchant Marines. In his twenty-five years of service, he'd traveled to many exotic ports of call around the world. Upon his retirement from the Merchant Marines, he'd returned to our northern Maine town to help his relatives manage their small sheep farm on the Garfield Road just outside of Ashland.
Somewhere in his worldly travels he'd picked up the habit of chewing tobacco. He'd often be found with a huge plug tucked into his cheek and he'd chew and spit where ever and whenever he got the urge. Consequently, his mouth was stained a deep, reddish brown and when he laughed, it was disconcerting to see his teeth. What teeth he had left, were all split and cracked and were worn down to little brown stubs. He was often used as an example by parents around town to show kids what could happen to you if you ate too much candy or if you didn't brush your teeth. After viewing Macaroni's teeth, candy sales to kids around town, dropped off to almost nothing for at least a week. Everyone agreed that a view of Macaroni's teeth was better than a visit from the Maine State Dental Society.
It wasn't uncommon to hear stories about Macaroni at our family gatherings. After hearin several scandalous or downright outrageous stories about his carrying ons, Mother wouldn’t hesitate to point out that he was only a distant relative of ours, "On your father's side." She'd say. Her dark brown eyes would flash and she'd say with a sniff, "There's no fools in my family!" Dad would just give us a wink and a big smile and let it go at that.
After years of hearing about Macaroni and his escapades, I finally got to meet him in person and I'll never forget that day as long as I live.
It was the fall of 1957 and I was then about thirteen years old and it was potato digging time in our neck of the woods. As was the custom, especially in Aroostook County, our whole family, with the exception of my father, would go to pick potatoes for our great Uncle Hal. When his fields were finally all dug, we'd then go to pick for any other local farmer who needed extra help.
Since potatoes are usually planted in long rows, each picker is assigned a certain section of the newly dug row to pick. My cousin Arthur, Uncle Hal's son, was the foreman and he was responsible for selecting the sections that we were assigned to pick.
Arthur was a jokester in the truest sense and since he was our older cousin, he thoroughly enjoyed making us miserable and if there was a way to torment us, he would certainly find it. He took one look at all of us pickers sitting on our baskets in the bright morning sunshine, waiting to be assigned our sections, and then he pointed to me. With a grin on his face and a gleam in his eye, he commanded me to follow him. One could easily see that he had a plan. I walked down the long row behind him and then he stopped and turned around and measured the distance he'd paced off. He then stuck two sticks into the ground to indicate the length of the row that I was to pick. This was my section.
I dropped to my knees and rapidly began to fill my basket with the large, white Green Mountain potatoes. It didn't dawn on me to turn around to see who the nearest picker was until I heard the potato truck drive up and heard the laughter of several of the high school boys that I went to school with. I turned around and then I saw why they were laughing. Arthur had given Macaroni the section adjacent to mine and Macaroni was playing the roll of clown to perfection. He danced round and round in the freshly dug earth, in his large rubber boots and juggled potatoes. Every now and then he'd spit a great stream of brown tobacco juice high into the air and he'd leap and cavort like a wild thing, ever the amuser.
Suddenly, the boys spied me and pointed me out to Macaroni. He turned his foolish gaze in my direction and I shrank back against the potato barrel hoping against hope that he would find nothing interesting in me. Macaroni let out a whoop and started for me in a dead run. I gasped as he got closer and found myself unable to move. I was paralyzed with fear. Seeing the look on my face, Macaroni dropped to his knees and looked at me. I could hear the boys laughing as they urged Macaroni to grab me and kiss me. His mouth was stained a muddy brown from all the tobacco he'd been chewing and it was even more gross when he suddenly smiled at me.
Macaroni reached out his dirt covered hand and touched my hand then he said in a quiet voice. "You don't have to be afraid of me, little girl, I won't hurt you." He then got up and shuffled back to his section to pick his row of potatoes. Macaroni flew up and down his rows and he could pick potatoes with the best of them. It wasn't uncommon for him to average over one hundred barrels a day but at twenty-five cents a barrel, we didn't get rich.
Each time Uncle Hal came by with the digger, Macaroni would scurry up and down his two rows and when his section was clean, he'd come help me pick mine. Soon, everyone began teasing me about being his girlfriend. I was mortified about what my classmates would think. I didn't want anyone to think that I had a boyfriend who was old, chewed tobacco and was a fool to boot!
Macaroni must have sensed my unspoken feelings because he suddenly sat back on the heels of his big rubber boots, looked me squarely in the eyes and said, "You know Toots, there are people in this town who laugh at me and say that I'm a stupid man. They spend hours trying to find ways to ridicule me and make me look foolish. Perhaps I am stupid, but I don't care what they say about me. I've traveled to more countries and seen more things than most of them will ever see. Most of them ain't never left this little town and I've been around the world twice. If you don't want me to talk to you, I won't bother you again." I looked at him and I felt a flash of shame wash over me. I shook my head and told him that I didn't care what the others said either and I felt that perhaps we should stick together. "After all," I said to him, "We're cousins, aren't we?" He laughed and slapped his leg and we commenced picking our potatoes side by side.
His attitude about life was infectious and I found myself looking forward to seeing him each day. He related fabulous stories to me about his travels all around the world, to Guam, Costa Rica, Panama, Malta, Spain, Mexico and on and on. He'd visited nearly every port of call around the world in his twenty-five years in the Merchant Marines. He explained that he had a wife and children in Guatemala and another family in Panama but none here in Maine. When I got home that night and told his story to my mother, she listened to what he had said and then she sniffed and said, "That's just like a man, they're never satisfied with just one woman."
I hated for the potato picking season to end that year. I had learned more from those potato field geography lessons than I had ever learned in any geography class in school. All my classmates were jealous when I got paid that fall because, thanks to Macaroni's help, I had earned more than they had.
The years went by and I didn't hear too much about Macaroni after that. One day I asked Dad what had happened to him and Dad said that he didn't know, he said that eventually Macaroni had just seemed to slip away and that was that. To this day, I don't really know what became of him, but it is my fondest wish that he lived out his remaining days in peace and happiness.
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