People of the neighborhood shortly said that the oldest man among them, white-bearded, dark-eyed, 75-year old Brittan Courvalais, loved his only grandchild Shag in a deep and special way. They said there was a virtual connection, a most generous connection between them, more than the usual. At times they dwelled on the love ingredient, and then on the old and the young, the near gone and the coming. On days when young Shag came by, just an infant in his mother’s arms, the old man’s step changed, his gait changed, his shoulders stiffened, his voice went lyrical. Some heard him singing under the silver maple tree in the side yard, the tone reaching, ascendant, carrying more than day in it or cool evening or a new stab at dawn. Shag would come, put his arms out, and nestle against the old man’s beard.
The pair would look into each other’s eyes and the world about them seemed lost, distant, at odds with the very young and the very old. Brittan’s daughter Marta could only beam when the topic was broached, or say, “I don’t know what it is. It mystifies me, but it’s as if they share an infinite else.” She’d smile broadly when she said it, shrug her shoulders, be fully happy in her puzzle.

From just about every aspect, Brittan Courvalais was a very ordinary man, until such time as an extraordinary demand was placed upon him. Neighbors of the old war dog only knew what they saw and heard but a little of the hidden parts of his life, where valor had surfaced when needed. Stories had been told, sometimes whispered. In Korea, it was said, he’d taken on a mountain and the enemy and beat them both.

Just after Korea, out on the highway, he’d pulled an unconscious truck driver from the cab of his truck minutes before the whole rig exploded in a huge ball of fire that shut down an overpass for nearly five months. Later, on a cold spring day, skies heavy, off the wash of Egg Rock out in Lynn Harbor, he’d gone under a capsized boat and extracted two unconscious sailors. And every year since then, without exception, and for the everlasting grace of the neighborhood, the two sailors, on the morning of the Fourth of July, would set up a flag on Brittan’s front lawn, plank down three or four cases of beer and drink them off in a day long salute. Three or four times the truck driver came to celebrate. People said that other unknown visitors would drop by, have a beer, casually say a word or two to Brittan, shake hands and quietly leave,
like shadows in a man’s life. Such shadows made more stories, and naturally, with such kicks for a starter, the Fourth always came up a party.

Otherwise, in his quiet and retiring life, Brittan Courvalais raised an exceptionally small patch of tomatoes with an exceptionally good yield, so good that from that little patch some neighbors could preserve a great deal of tomato sauce. That a 75-year old man had such a green thumb was quite acceptable; he’s been around, hasn’t he? That’s why his lawn was generally trimmed and healthy looking, a few beds of flowers hosted a smash of colors every year. His small cottage stood as a marker of time, of the seasons, a sort of contentment in itself. Retirement in a very
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