I was 8 then. It was a hot day in the 1930s, and there had been a parade. Those days were full of things designed to keep our spirits up: movies, radio shows, dance contests, parades. Always parades. It might have been any holiday. It doesn’t matter.

My father was sitting on a bench in Carondelet Park near our house with the late afternoon sun on his thinning white hair.

I was sitting with my brother Bud, who was having a cigarette with his best friend, Emmett Keogh. They went to this bench near the street to smoke, because my father didn’t smoke and didn’t like anyone who did. They were drinking beer from brown bottles. My mother didn’t like that.

Pop was sitting alone staring into space around him, past the kids, past the girls in their summer dresses, just staring into the trees.

“What’s the matter with the old man?” Emmett asked. What Bud answered I will always remember: “The old man is just tired.”

I remembered it again last Christmas Day, when I was sitting in my living room trying to come up with an idea for a column. I was staring out the window into the trees and my oldest came and put her hand on my white hair.

“What’s the matter, Daddy?”

“I’m just tired.” Oh, boy. Finally, here I was, an old man feeling tired.

I remembered all of that again last night, as I nursed my supper beer and watched the candidates slash and burn one another in the third Democratic debate.

I stared straight ahead, past the audience with smartphones held high, past the questioners in their light summer jackets, into the parade of candidates and up to Joe Biden.

Beto O’Rourke was taking a question at the moment, and Joe was looking straight ahead. He was listening, of course. This is the way he listens.

When something was said that brought the camera close to his face, I searched for it, for that light in his eyes, the light that shone so brightly when he stood beside Barack Obama in the early days of their administration, that light that women called his “Irish twinkle.” Yes, that light.

I know it’s there somewhere, and I wanted to see it. I need to see it. I can’t say it was gone, but maybe only diminished. That happens with age. The light always dims a bit in all of us.

They still smile, those old Irish eyes, but we have to look harder to see any light.

It’s an Irish thing. When they’re coming for you, make a fist and keep smiling.

It’s understandable, of course. He’s been taking a beating lately. Not just from that dank, dark cave where Sen. Mitch McConnell and his flock hide from any light, but from friends, old friends, friends who should know how much he needs them.

When the young blade, the ambitious Julian Castro, who has little chance of going any further than the next debate, came for Joe in those few heated moments a huge gasp went up from the house.

Much of it, I’m sure, was from the rows of white-haired fans of Joe who have stuck with him for so many years, so many times at bat.

Julian Castro is  a good man with an impressive career. He is not, at heart, a bully like Donald Trump, but that was a bully’s punch. And I think he knew it the moment it left his mouth. Still, he persisted, once, twice, three times.

Yes, the old man is tired. He lost his first wife and infant daughter to a car crash years ago and then watched his beloved son Beau die of brain cancer at age 46. It’s hard to keep a light burning in eyes that have seen all that, and harder yet to smile.

Joe is tired, but if he can find the light that once burned so brightly in those Irish eyes and hold onto it, who knows? Many are rooting for him.

There’s another old man there, the crusty, vibrant, old man with more fire than simple light in his eyes, who wants the other contestants to get off his lawn and let him save America. Many are rooting for him. The millennials love him.

Why? Hard to say, when most of them in their hearts seem to feel that the territory ahead is no country for old men.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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