The Old Man and the Pea

Published 10:41 am Wednesday, July 2, 2014

“The tragedy of old age,” Jane said, “is not that one is old, but that one is young.” – Annie Dillard, “The Maytrees”

As he maneuvered his fork, Ed Harris realized that the handle must be lifted higher for the front tines to come down flat on the plate. This would form a level surface on which should roll a forkful of peas, provided they weren’t pushed off the edge in the process. Twisting his wrist to accomplish the task caused a familiar pain in his arm. With a short, quick lunge, he managed to shove his utensil under what looked like a mountain of small green peas. As he did so, his taste buds quickened, causing a watering in his mouth in anticipation of his forthcoming bite.

Eddie loved the freedom he felt as he galloped down the court, weariness being foreign to his springy legs. He easily pulled up and shot a quick jumper, hitting only net. His teeming senses invigorated his being. Life seemed forever.

It was difficult to determine how many he had captured, for all was blurry at such a distance. He slowly lifted the fork so the tines were pointed in his direction. But then that uncontrollable shaking started. He concentrated, trying to take aim. His hand angled to one side, and three peas rolled onto the floor. He didn’t notice, the whole endeavor requiring all his concentration.

Ed was now 40 years old, and life was just starting to fall into place. His income had doubled the last 10 years, they were building another house, and promotion seemed likely.

His hand, arm, and head now had a visible shake, brought on by intense effort. His eyes were grotesquely wide in anticipation. His thin fingers seemed mere bones with leathery skin, moving slowly to his mouth, shaking ever more. He was oblivious to all else, this activity so consuming. With 12 inches left, his small mouth held an open position providing as wide a target as possible. The surging expectancy caused a minor dip in concentration, and raising the handle, six more peas fell into his lap.

Ah, at long last retired. Mr. Harris had longed for this day. No more worries, no more work! Now he could do as he wished. Had he not earned it? He glanced at his golf clubs in the corner. Tomorrow, he would begin a new life!

He didn’t notice, for his feat was now near completion. The fork entered his mouth and his jaws slowly shut, capturing the lone, wrinkled pea. He savored the delicacy, letting it slowly dissolve, using his toothless gums to extract and enjoy all its flavorful offerings.

He rested. Soon he would attempt another bite.

REX ALPHIN of Walters is a farmer, businessman, author, county supervisor and contributing columnist for The Tidewater News. His email address is