90-year-old WWII vet enjoys daily outing with friends
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Ninety-year-old Lou Cross, a World War II and Korean War veteran, calls Douglas Talbot every morning at 7:50 on the dot.
Talbot then picks up Cross, and they drive to the McDonald’s in Millcreek to meet another buddy, a retired sheriff.
It’s a tradition that started with Talbot’s parents — his father was also a veteran — who were friends with Cross.
“They used to fish and do all this stuff together, but both my parents got Alzheimer’s. Every day, (Cross) would get in his car, drive all the way out to Herriman, pick them up for coffee, and then come home. He did that for two years, every day,” Talbot said as he, his girlfriend and Cross shared coffee and breakfast recently.
The trio of retired men is one of many coffee crews, large and small, who get together every morning at the fast-food chain and other diners around the country. It’s a common scene: A group made up of mainly older gentlemen gathered around a table, cups of steaming coffee in their hands, as they joke, tell stories and discuss current issues.
After Talbot’s parents passed away, Cross called him up and suggested they continue the tradition.
“I used to run around with his dad. And his dad passed away, so I run around with him,” Cross said.
“It just switched a generation,” Kim Woodward, Talbot’s girlfriend, explained.
When she started dating Talbot a year ago, she says she was welcomed by his older friends. “It’s like a gathering place,” Woodward said. “They took me right in.”
She said the men know the staff at McDonald’s by name, and vice versa. Because Cross can no longer drive, the daily trip is usually “his only out of the day,” she said.
A recent AARP article delves into the “widespread phenomenon” of older men meeting regularly to go out to eat or get coffee together.
“Male retirees who live alone are especially subject to loneliness, but even those who are married are often bored with lives limited to browsing the internet or watching TV. They miss the action and the interactions of their working days,” Robert Stock, the author of that article, writes.
Woodward echoed that statement.
“Some of them still have wives and stuff, but they go to coffee anyway to talk ‘guy talk,’” she said. “They can kind of talk openly, they have that youth thing going where they’re like, ‘Oh, look at that cute woman,’ you know?”
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, notes meaningful social interaction can reduce the risk for premature mortality.
“Although participating in social activities can have some benefit, they’re likely to have more benefit if there is some kind of meaningful relationship there rather than just going through the motions,” she told the Deseret News in a phone interview.
Over coffee, the three gentlemen tell stories and joke around, sometimes becoming distracted and making comments about things going on outside, viewed through the window.
And the veteran tells war stories. His stories are oftentimes more colorful than the ones you’ll see in World War II films.
Cross, who wears a WWII baseball cap, served as a 1st class ship’s serviceman in the Navy. He enlisted when he was 16, even though the legal age was 17.
“What they did is they changed his birth certificate,” Talbot explained.
Cross was on the battleship USS Indiana during World War II and on an aircraft carrier during the Korean War.
The veteran recalled one Thanksgiving on the battleship when everyone got sick from eating turkey “that was frozen during World War I.” He laughed, remembering how those on the ship needed to “carry around buckets” after that incident.
Every Tuesday, “the Navy has beans for breakfast,” he said. However, he was favored by the cook, who “fed me like a king,” he added.
He also recounts memories of his wife.
“Well, you know the Navy and Marines. My wife was Marine and I was Navy, and boy, we could start some pretty good arguments,” Cross said.
His wife, Joyce, worked in an aircraft warehouse “dishing out parts” to Marines for their planes during World War II. The two met at a dance in the old Salt Lake City dance hall Coconut Grove.
“I was about three-quarters shot,” he said.
They enjoyed 50 years of marriage, he said, and during that time: “She still wouldn’t let me forget, I never took her to a dance after that. . She didn’t like drinking, and I wouldn’t go to dancing unless I was half drunk,” he said.
For the men, the daily meeting is about more than a boost of caffeine in the morning and the laughter it brings. Cross says that between Talbot and his two daughters, he is “taken care of.”
And for Talbot, who lost his parents a few years ago, ”(Cross) treats me like a son in a lot of ways,” he said before answering his ringing cellphone.
Illustrating Talbot’s point, Cross said, “I’m gonna glue that phone to his ear.”
Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com