Judges answer to "Your Honor", a new acquaintance might hear "it's an honor to meet you". There is even a perfume named Honor. It's a word thrown around every day, but the term took on new meaning for me after meeting our neighbor.
Henry is 94 and can always be found with a whittling knife and block of wood in his hand, sitting in the shade just inside his garage, in a folding lawn chair draped with a towel.
Every day he is impeccably dressed in linen pants pulled high on his waist and suspenders over a crisp white cotton shirt. His hair is combed over with hair gel and his broad smile lifts his glasses. He is a thin man, white hair, walks quickly and talks just as fast. His accent is New Jersey.
There is no moss growing on Henry. He builds beautiful bird houses and carves small wooden animals and knows every single neighbor within a few blocks.
Before selling his paint company, he and Sarah raised a family, built a home on the side of a mountain and were part of the society circles in Birmingham. After 70 years, they retired and move south to sunny south Alabama.
We became fast friends with Henry, mostly because he keeps a keen eye on our place. He sits directly across the street with a direct view of our front door and garage and he is quick to greet us with "Hello!" when we walk outside.
Not long after we got into the house we trimmed a tree out front and before the limbs hit the ground Henry was picking them up and placing them in the trash. This little man worked circles around us and talked tirelessly the whole time without breaking a sweat. He never got out of breath and never took a break. It was amazing and shameful to us "young folks" who needed Epsom salt baths and a muscle relaxer afterwards.
We have lived in this house a year and we were told that Henry painted the interior of our house for the previous owner. Now, think about that..a 93 year old painted the entire house. I just hope I can open a jar of peanut butter at that age, and this man painted the entire interior of a house (including the ceilings) at ninety-three..
Sarah, his wife of 70 years sits beside him in the garage. She has alzheimer's and is out of touch as Henry is on top of things. They balance each other out.
Sarah has a beautiful smile and a soft southern accent and asks us, as she does every day "Have you ever picked cotton?" he tells her in a gentle voice "honey, you just asked them yesterday". Of course, we always play along and answer "No ma'am, we never have" and her reply is "well, you have nevah worked a day in ya life". She is probably right. Picking cotton is known to be one of the worst ways to make a buck, and I am happy to say I have never been forced to earn my grocery money by cotton picking. Tomorrow Sarah will ask us again.
Henry pats her hand, and smiles and then she will always say she needs to "go inside and check on the girls". Their "girls" are now retired and drawing social security and they are not inside, but Henry says ok and helps her into the house to check on the children. He pats her back and helps her up the stairs and the gentleness and patience and sincerity in his touch overwhelms me every time. That's honor.
Henry is a veteran, as most of our neighbors are. We live in a place that is retirement friendly, especially veterans, with a warm climate and local military and VA medical facilities. Most every house has a flagpole in the center of the front yard and directly below the American flag you can determine which branch of service the resident served in by the second flag flying. Ours is the Navy flag.
Henry doesn't talk much of his service in WWII, but we know he was in the Battle of the Bulge at a very, very young age. When Henry speaks of his service, which has only been one time - he mentioned his love for the German people and his shame in what happened during wartime in Europe.
He has not spoken of it since to us, but I think to myself-this man has been carrying this darkness around inside for all these years. He carried out his orders as a soldier honorably, but in a way that didn't sit with his moral compass. He loved the enemy he was fighting, yet he loved his country more. How often does that happen? Young men with love and tolerance in their hearts, yet their honor and loyalty to their country is as real as the guns they carry. They serve and protect out of honor.
Thank you to all the Henrys who laid their personal views aside to fight for our country. The ones that didn't get to come home and grow old with their best girls, didn't get to raise the family and retire down south.
The honor and bravery of these soldiers kept the path clear and wolves from our doors and they deserve a day to honor them-and much, much more.