While changing after swimming at the fitness center I looked over at a gent sitting on the bench near me and asked, “How’s your day going?”
He stood up, looked me right in the eye and said, “Pretty well, and you?”
I asked if he’d been lifting weights that day. He stood up even taller and said, “No, I get up every morning and do 80 pushups.” He demonstrated that motion with his arms. “Then at night, I do 80 more before going to bed.”
“What sports did you do when you were growing up?” I asked.
He set his jaw and replied. “I was a boxer.”
Then he explained that when he was young, he couldn’t find many kids around his neighborhood to box. “The only guys I could find weighed two hundred pounds. And when they hit me, I fell down.”
“How much did you weigh back then?” I inquired. “126,” he chuckled. “I weigh about 150 now,” and he patted his body.
A young man in a red letter jacket from the local high school overheard our conversation and told us that he’d been boxing before taking up mixed-martial arts. “I don’t like that stuff where they kick each other and wrastle each other to the ground,” he replied to the young man.
He was born in 1932, one of more than a dozen children raised by his parents. “We lost a couple along the way too.”
His father was a carpenter who also excelled in fixing electrical problems and other trades. “But he couldn’t get a job with the union because he was black,” my new friend said. “He was a tough father though. If we got in trouble he pulled out a switch with the leaves taken off and whipped us without any of our clothes on. I’d have welts this high on my body.” He held his fingers a quarter inch apart.
By the time he’d reached his teens, he followed in his brother’s footsteps by building a shoeshine box and shining shoes in downtown Aurora, Illinois. Then he landed in the military along with four of his other brothers, “But I didn’t see no war,” he related. Apparently his service did not lead him into action during World War II.
Back home he landed a job with a big manufacturing company where he worked for many decades. Then he transferred to another company and worked there another twenty years. Most recently he worked for a bank doing the hedge and maintenance work around the downtown facilities. “But they let me go a couple weeks ago,” he said with a touch of remorse. “They hired a contractor to do all that. I’ll miss it through.”
His name is Eugene D, an abbreviation because I didn’t ask to use his last name. I observed that he’d probably seen a lot of change during his life. “Well, the important part is that I wife and I read the Bible every day.”
“Do you have a favorite book in the Bible?” I asked.
“I like them all. They’re all good,” he smiled. Then we shook hands and I thanked him for taking the time to talk to me. “I like to come here, meet the people, and take a nice shower,” he told me.
“Well, Eugene, I’m really glad I met you.” Then I crouched a little and faked some boxing moves. He laughed at me. Oh, the things he probably could teach me about the Sweet Science. And life in general.