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  Jackie Kays

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 An Old Gold Watch

An old man walking slowly down
the street, his clothes were tattered
and torn, his white hair was long,
and unkempt and his tired blue eyes
projected his feelings of being forlorn.

He stopped me and in a low
rumbling tone, asked,
"Young man, can you
tell me what day it is?"

I said,"Yes indeed, it's Sunday."
He said to me,"Sunday."
I replied,"Yes,the
twenty Sixth of April, 1950".
A tear appeared in his eye,
he quickly looked away
then back again and said.

"Mister, many years ago today,
my horse and I were in Tampa Bay
getting ready to ship away."    

"If you can spare a minute
or too before you go,
I’ll tell you a story of woe."
I really didn’t want to hear
his tale of woe, but he simply
wouldn’t let me go.

We sat down on bench under
an old oak tree. With trembling hands,  
he took an old black  pipe from his
pocket,  struck a match and lit the pipe.
He took a long puff, and as the smoke
curled into the cool air, he began to
slowly speak.

"I haven’t always been so old you know.
Once upon a time when I was young
and in my prime, a war had started
in a far away place, called Cuba."

"Teddy said we had to go to
fight for our country's rights
So I rode my horse named Joe all
the way from New Mexico."

"We boarded a ship in the bay,
with flags and banners waving,
we sailed away."

From the beaches, we fought our
way up San Juan hill, with Teddy
yelling; "Boys, send them to hell!"

"We came home to cheering crowds
and waving flags. Heroes one and all.
Time has passed, and no one seem
to remember that war at all."

He pulled out a small bottle of Scotch
and offered me a drink. I declined.
He took a swig and put it back in a blink.

He continued,
" As life went on, times got rough.
A hobo,I became and rode the rails.
Mud and rain, hunger and pain,
box cars from town to town,  
never to settle down."

"Where do you go from here?" I asked.
He replied; "Don’t know, maybe
back to New Mexico."

From his torn coat pocket,
he took out a shiny gold watch,
and held it up for me to see.

He looked me in the eye and
sadly asked,"Would you like to
buy this old watch from me?"

He laid the watch in my hand.
I opened it up, and the inscription
read. "To Wild  Bill Cline  for service
rendered to his  country and his fellow
Rough Riders. From,Theodore Roosevelt…1889."  

I told the old man that I was awed at his beautiful
gold award, but I couldn’t buy his life long reward.

He gently put the watch back in his coat pocket.
I placed a ten dollar bill in his hand.
He thanked me and a tear came to his eye.
He thanked me over and over again.
We shook hands and parted friends.

He shuffled off down the street.
Talking with a Rough Rider turned
out to be quite a treat.

After all these years, I still wonder
what happened to that old Rough Rider,
his gold watch and his little bottle
of Scotch.

Jackie R. Kays

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