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Timeless Asa

It was not Ajax or Adonis that Odysseus admired until he wished he might have ten of them -- it was Nestor. Nestor, King of Pylos and Messenia, led his troops to the Trojan War in his extreme old age, and distinguished himself by his wisdom, his sense of justice, and his oratory. I suggest all our editorial writers and political experts who have so slyly insinuated Ronald Reagan's age into our present exercises pick down the books and read about Nestor. Also, Cicero's essay on old age might help if astutely perused and sensibly understood. I don't mean this as a paean for Mr. Reagan; rather, I'd like an end to the piffle of generalization about the accumulation of years. Nobody seems to come right out and say, in so many words, that anybody over whatever the hump is should be discounted as senile and shopworn, but with an excuse-me-please, the notion is adroitly forwarded that we should all beware of the elderly. Mr. Reagan may be possessed of all his marbles and maybe he may not, but he certainly appears to me to be smarter than the hacks who keep harping on his birthdays.

There used to be an old duffer named Asa Bilodeau who lived alone about halfway up Mount Hunger in a tumbledown tar-paper shanty. His whiskers were many years long, and his clothes were in shameful tatters. Nobody knew how old Asa was. Older citizens remembered him as an old man when they were boys. The story was that in the days of long logs he had made a bundle in pine and spruce, and the supposition was that he had that bundle tucked away somewhere about his humble residence. (Cicero said he never knew a man to grow so old he forgot where he hid his money.) It was common knowledge, anyway, that Asa always had thousands of dollars in the wallet in his hip pocket. Mount Hunger is away up back, well off any beaten path, and in those times nobody ever gave a thought to the possibility that Asa might be mugged. He never was, anyway. The few people who chanced up the Mount Hunger road would wave at Asa if he were in sight, and often he was -- he'd be bucking up firewood in his dooryard, and he'd wave back with the bucksaw. A character.

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Well, down the valley a few towns, my uncle was the country storekeeper, and he operated a "rout" up through the hills to accommodate the country people. In my time he had a monstrous old Reo touring car with wheels nigh as tall as I was , and he had built it over into a kind of van. He also had a cold-box that he could shove inside the van, so he made two trips about the circuit each week -- one with dry goods and such, and one with meats. Accordingly, my uncle came to be something of a caretaker to old Asa, and looked in on him regularly. When Asa bought something, my uncle learned that the story was correct -- Asa would haul this great leather wallet from his hip pocket and count out whatever amount was due for his groceries. My uncle said, one day, "Gorries, Ase, you're luggin' quite a wad there!"

"Eyah -- 'nough to last me, I guess."

"Jevver hear tell of a bank?"

Anyway, it developed that my uncle used to take visitors up to Mount Hunger to introduce them to Asa, and he rigged a small strategem so Asa's wallet fortune would be exposed. He'd tell his visitors to be sure and have a hundred dollar bill handy, and to make some remark about the difficulty of getting it changed away up here in the tree country. So they would arrive in Asa's yard, my uncle would introduce his friends to Asa, and Asa would hear this remark about changing a hundred dollar bill.

So Asa would offer to change it, and out would come his wallet and the visitors would see that he did, indeed, have maybe fifteen or twenty thousand dollars right there. Asa would take the hundred dollar bill, then count out 98 one's and hand them back.

"But you've given me only ninety-eight dollars!"

"Eyah, I don't do business for nawthin'."

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My uncle told me to the best of his knowledge Asa was still working this on younger people into his 101st year.But my uncle was then about Reagan's age, and he would chuckle about how, next time he came by on his grocery "rout," Asa would split with him. Dollar for dollar, they did this for years, and all kinds of people in their thirties and forties would tell about funny old Asa.


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