It caught my eye at 6:35 on a cold, cloudy morning outside the Carlsbad Village Train Station. At first, it looked like any other metal shopping cart, but as I examined the handle and the plastic flap, I noticed that they were blank. There was no store or organization listed. The other thing that was immediately apparent was the glowing chrome finish. This was a one-off, high-end cart, a little smaller and a lot sturdier than most.
Questions formed in my head. How did it get here and who left it? There were no stores with carts within miles of the station. My first thought was a homeless person, but the cart was shiny new and empty, and it was sitting in plain view at the end of a sidewalk. There was something different going on here. Then I saw it. The long black retainer strap. Now I remembered. I had seen this cart before.
It was usually pushed by an older gentleman from the Carlsbad by the Sea Senior Home a couple of blocks away. He used the cart to fill and transport five-gallon plastic bottles of water from the Carlsbad Alkaline Water facility across the street from the senior home to his apartment. The long black strap securely held them in place. I remember vividly the first time I met this man. He was out early in the morning filling a bottle as I happened by on a morning walk and photo shoot. I waved at him as I passed, and he said in reply, “You ought to drink the water from here. Healing properties. Make you live longer.”
He was a tall, ruggedly built older gentleman with a full head of white hair, and had a helpful attitude that was almost forceful. I liked the guy immediately. As I walked closer, I saw his name on a volunteer nameplate that he wore with pride. In small letters, it said Carlsbad by the Sea and in a large gold monogram, it listed his name, Marvin T. Harold. A man with two first names.
Out of curiosity, I asked him what his middle name was. He replied, “It’s Tiger. At least that’s what my friends call me. You can call me that too.” Then he winked, “Actually it’s Theodore. But no one, not even my wife when she was alive, ever called me that.”
We talked for a few minutes and he related some health concerns. “The doctor tells me I don’t have long to live. Bad ticker. Used to smoke for years. Nothin they can do. That’s why I drink this stuff. An elixir of life, I call it. I was supposed to be dead six months ago, but this keeps me going.”
I helped him secure the bottle in his cart and then he headed back across the street. As he walked away, he said, “My knees have bout gone out, but this cart is like a walker and a whole lot less wimpy. Don’t like to be seen with one of those. That’s why I volunteer. My daughter bought me this cart and I deliver things all over. Gets me out and about. Sometimes I have to hang on for dear life.”
I waved goodbye to Marvin and headed on my way.
Now, a few weeks later, I was looking at his cart abandoned on the sidewalk. I had to know more. I walked the block and a half to the Senior Home and walked in and talked with the front desk clerk.
She smiled. “I’m Clara, can I help you?”
I said, “I saw Marvin Harold’s shopping cart down by the train station. It was parked at the end of the sidewalk. Is he OK?”
The lady shook her head. “Unfortunately, he passed away earlier this week, but he left a note. Are you a friend?”
“I’m an acquaintance. I’ve seen him around town numerous times.”
She smiled, “Everyone loved Marvin around here. Always helping others. He hated getting old. Fought it to the end.”
“What did the note say?”
“Why don’t I show you a copy. We posted a few around here after he died. He wanted everyone to know what his plans were.” She reached under the desk and pulled out a xeroxed copy.
The note was written in his handwriting. It said . . .
I want you to know, I’m going on an adventure. I have a picture that I have to return to the USS Midway in San Diego. I ‘borrowed’ this small picture from the wall of one of the displays when I was visiting there with my daughter over a year ago. It’s the last known picture of my dearest friend, Jerry Hanks, who was a helicopter pilot. Jerry had saved my life during the war. I know it’s crazy, but it’s a memory I’ll always treasure. I need to get it back where it belongs before I die. I’m going to push my cart to the train station and take the Coaster down to the Santa Fe Depot. I have a cane and I can walk to the Midway from there. My ticker’s been acting up the past few days, so if I don’t make it back the same day, at least you’ll know where I went. God said in his bible that you are to forgive someone seventy times seven. It’s been almost seventy weeks since I took the photo, so I don’t want to run out of forgiveness.
If I make it back, you’ll never see this, but if you do read it, know that I love you all.
Marvin “Tiger” Harold.
Tears came to my eyes. “I take it he didn’t make it back.”
Clara shook her head, “He made it on-board the ship and returned the picture. As he was leaving the ship, his heart gave out and he passed away. We found the letter in his room after they called. The man from the ship said, ‘The Tiger roared one last time.'”
I nodded, “The incredible love of a friend for a friend.”
Clara smiled. “You can have the note. We’ll pick up the cart later. There is talk of displaying it in our Foyer as a tribute. Marvin will certainly be missed.”
I smiled back, “I’ve got a picture of the cart and the train. That’s how I’ll remember Marvin. The Tiger that roared.”
(Please note: This is a work of fiction, but one that could certainly happen)