11/27/2010 By Shawn Burns

The day after Thanksgiving I was chasing Adrian around a playground in a Sacramento suburb when we were approached by First Lieutenant Jimmie Davidson, Air Force (retired). Jimmie wanted to show me something, but as he started to pull it from his pocket I interrupted with “I don’t have time right now!” and caught up to Adrian.

First Lieutenant Jimmie Davidson, Air Force (retired) was wearing a working man’s fall jacket, bright blue and insulated, and a trucker hat. He sported a moustache that was functional instead of fashionable, useful for keeping his face warm in the chilly autumn air. He rode a Wal-Mart bike and smelled of stale beer.

Why was he at the playground? He wasn’t drunk, but he had been very recently. I think he just liked seeing people living happy lives.

I caught up to Adrian, picked him up in my arms and then turned back to First Lieutenant Jimmie Davidson, Air Force (retired) as he approached a woman sitting on a curb to show her what he was keeping in his pocket to talk about with playground parents.

“Do you want to see it, Adrian?” I asked my son. I had already sized up First Lieutenant Jimmie Davidson, Air Force (retired) as harmless, and the smell of lonely alcoholism evoked some familial response in me. I wanted to let the old man share himself with a world that had no need of him anymore.

First Lieutenant Jimmie Davidson, Air Force (retired) was just pulling the object out of his pocket as we walked up to him.

“This,” he began, proudly, “is my baby picture.” It was a black and white photo in a wallet album. The baby in the picture was wearing a fur-lined nightdress. The facing page of the wallet album contained First Lieutenant Jimmie Davidson’s Department of Veteran’s Affairs card, confirming his identity to a world that smelled and judged him first and cared second.

“I’ve carried that picture with me my whole life. My parents always laughed at me, carting it around, but I’ve always had it.” Then Jimmie began flipping through his wallet album, finding that he had an audience for the short narratives he wanted to share. “That, she, I was married to her there for eighteen years. She was my…second wife. The other one, her I married first and we were married ten years.”

There were no pictures of any children in his wallet album, apart from the baby picture of First Lieutenant Jimmie Davidson, Air Force (retired) himself.

Adrian and I went back to playing on the playground when the wallet album demonstration was over. First Lieutenant Jimmie Davidson, Air Force (retired) slipped the album back into his pocket and wished us a happy holiday before mounting his Wal-Mart bike and pedaling away, up the hill toward the street.