The battered gold panning pan was next to a neat cardboard sign emblazoned with:
HOMELESS VET - ANYTHING WILL HELP
The hirsute fellow with the shillelagh at his side and the worn khaki-colored 'Nam campaign hat certainly looked the part. His ZZTop beard was properly ragged and untrimmed. He made no eye contact with the people making a pee stop at this beautiful forested glen. His pan had a handful of change and a couple dollar bills. I watched as a 40-something woman approached and said, rather apologetically, " I don't have any money but I have this..." she offered a Trader Joe's energy bar.
"Mmmm, thank you, peanuts!" The Vet said brightly.
"Yes. Uh, thank you for your service." A proper, politically correct exchange.
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players..."
"Thank you, ma'am," said The Vet, humbled and grateful. The nice lady retreated, ebullient and self-satisfied to have helped the poor homeless hungry Vet. I mused a bit about the exchange, our societal reaction to homelessness, veteran-ness... but, just a sec, something wasn't right here... The Vet was raggedy, but CLEAN... his eyes were downcast, but not beat down... he wore a campaign hat, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, but there were NO INSIGNIA adorning said hat. My curiosity was peaked.
The Vet had caught me staring at his gold pan and smiling to myself. I grinned at him and asked, "So, are you really A Vet?"
The Vet smiled back and said, "Yes, ma'am." He had all of his teeth. Hmmm... not all methed-out, perhaps. He was leaning heavily on the stick, he looked thin, could be frail, but after all, he was HOMELESS, ANYTHING WOULD HELP, and he was A VET, possibly wounded in combat, one could surmise.
"No peanut allergy, eh?" I said as I walked away. He laughed.
"Nope, I'm lucky, I guess!" I thought about how many of us make our own luck, be it good or bad. So much is based on our perception of any given moment. How could a homeless vet call himself lucky? I thought about the silver coins I brought along on this quest to give away as I choose. I had made them back in 1989 when I was cutting coin dies and pressing fine silver, one-ounce rounds, back when pure silver hovered around $6.00 per ounce. I went to my car trunk and dug one out. Maybe this Vet needed a lucky token. If he was really down on his luck, he could sell the silver now for $50.
The Vet was from Fresno. He lived in safe hidey holes off the sides of abandoned logging roads now. (Maybe.) He dredged underwater for gold until his equipment was stolen from his truck a week ago. (So now he has a truck.) I asked him when he served. He countered with, "What year?"
"How about '67?" He was in high school in '67. (Hmmm, a youngster, then. In good enough shape to work underwater to dredge for gold.)
"Then, how about '69?" Still in high school. He mentioned the Army '72 through '74.
I said, "Where, in Germany?" and he looked at me in dumbfounded surprise. He'd been found out. "You served in Germany in 1972 through 1974? My first husband did, too, and he said it was an extended vacation!" The Vet laughed out loud. He agreed, he'd been very lucky, indeed. He only wished he'd stayed in until '02 and retired... but life occurred. And now, it appears, that he dredges for gold as his day job and panhandles as The Vet at rest stops on weekend gigs.
I gave him the silver coin, anyway, explaining that I hoped it would bring him good luck as a lucky token, that it was worth real money if he ever truly found himself down and out. I told him that I had learned cool engraving skills that nobody much needed anymore, and this coin was my proof, lots of detail, et cetera. I said I hoped he'd find the guy who stole his stuff, and whack him with the shillelagh and get his stuff back but not kill him while he carried my token. The Vet grinned again. "Yes, ma'am, thank you. Actually, I need the luck more than the money." Well, don't we all?
"They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts..."
As I drove away, I looked back. Germany, sheesh! The Vet was studying the details on the coin. Good luck, buddy.