A Gentle Man and a Scholar

China Inn

Tonight, as I was going into my little Chinese food restaurant in a corner of a dingy shopping center, I saw him.  He was an old silver-haired man who had parked next to me.  He was getting out of his car with great difficulty.  His wife had already left the car and was walking around near the door of the restaurant.  He is slow, I thought, because he is disabled.  I glanced back at him.  He had paused in his difficult exit to watch me enter the restaurant.  I thought how pretty he is.  Then I forgot about him.

I took my plate to the white rice cooker and filled it.  Then I dumped the Colonel Joe’s chicken on top and took my seat.  The people there know me.  They already had my ice water on the little table by the arch that opens into the private dining room.  I noticed that the man who rocks back and forth while he eats was already eating.  I checked my watch.  He’s on time, I thought.  He will remain there going through his usual ritual of eating until nine o’clock sharp.

When I looked up from my plate a few minutes later, there stood the old man from the car steadying himself on his cane and the back of the empty chair opposite me.  He was smiling in the most benign and gentle way.  He didn’t introduce himself.  He began talking as if we had known each other for a lifetime.  As if we had paused in our dinner conversation only moments before.  He directed my attention to a sculptured mural hanging on the wall behind me.

I was there.  Standing there in that exact spot in 2004, he said as he smiled and leaned forward so that I could hear.  You mean The Great Wall of China, I said.  Yes, he said, and told me the name of the place.  He had gone there with a group.  He greets the owner of the restaurant in Chinese when he comes in to eat, he says.

His eyes are bright and interested.  He tells me he is hosting a dinner for twelve members of his church group.  I know he is there early with his pretty wife to see to the arrangements.  While he talks, she busies herself with the buffet and the details of the dinner.  He glances at her and tells me that he has buried two wives.  His marriage to his first wife lasted until her death twenty-seven years later.  He does not chronicle the other two.

He grew up in Denmark and never set foot out of the country until he was thirty years old.  He speaks Danish, his native language, as well as English and German.  He made what I know was a teasing little joke in German.  I told him I was in Germany once.  He said, as if it were indisputable, “Your husband was a soldier”.  I didn’t bother to confirm since the matter seemed to be settled already.   This man came to the United States where he entered and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.  He showed his hand with the UP ring on his finger.

“How many languages do you speak?”  He grinned.  He’s teasing me.  His eyes twinkle with boyish mischief.  He speaks four languages, he says.  One is Esparanto.  The international language, he tells me as he points to the pin on his shirt collar.  The pin identifies him as an Esparanto speaker.  He never makes a mistake in English, he says.  I believe him.  He also has no discernible accent at all.  Later, I discover that he teaches Esparanto.  American schools are no good.  They don’t teach anything, he says, and I agree knowing that I am an obvious specimen of that phenomenon.  I tell him lamely that I graduated from college with a degree in English literature.   I hear myself saying it almost apologetically.  And I smile.  He is a funny man.  He has a kindly sense of humor, I think to myself.

 

He notices that I have served my plate and tells me that I should eat since my food is getting cold.  I assure him that food does not feed the soul.  He smiles and makes his way into the dining room to sit at the head of the table.  I finished eating and left.  When I drove into my garage, I knew that I was going back.  I was not about to allow this beautiful man to disappear.  I had just met a wonderful human being.  I ran into the house and grabbed my camera.  On my way back to the restaurant, I hoped that the guests were not seated already.  At any rate, I resolved to interrupt their dinner if I had to.  I was determined to find out this man’s name and to take his picture.   I have walked away from too many fine people, I thought.

Mr. Jahger directed the portrait session.  I wanted to photograph him at the table.  Take a couple of shots as unobtrusively as possible and excuse myself.   He would have none of that.  He would be photographed at the archway.  Was I from The Victoria Advocate?  His wife, Dorothy, wanted to know.  No, I am a blogger.  I write a little blog on the Internet.  She would fetch a business card for me.  Mr. Jaehger explained that his name could not be accurately represented by English characters.  The “a” and the “e” are connected, like a little squiggle, in Danish.  He spells his name “Jahger” in English.  He lives on a street across from Our Lady of Victory.  I know precisely the street.  Frans Jahger teaches Esperanto in his home.   On his business card, there is a notation, printed in a neat hand:  “Call when in”.

We exchanged pleasantries and I excused myself promising to send a link to my little blog.  I will do that.  I know that I will not forget Mr. Jahger.  I am happy that I ate dinner at the China Inn tonight.   I discovered that there are still Frans Jahgers in the world.  And that is good.

93 Comments on “A Gentle Man and a Scholar

  1. What a lovely meeting! I too enjoy these unscripted meetings with strangers. So does my son, who is 16. When he was in NYC over spring break with some classmates, he met a homeless man on the subway. I’m told they had a very long conversation, touching on several topics of interest. On parting, my son took the time to shake the man’s hand and declare himself pleased to have made his acquaintance. His teachers were not surprised – “If any student was to make friends on the subway with a homeless man, it would have to be Damon!”

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    • Ah, Damon. What a fine young man! You have a crown jewel there. I am always happy to hear that young people are generous and interested in other people. Damon will have a good life. He made me smile! Thank you for relating that about him.

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      • You’re very welcome. Thank you for posting your meeting with Mr. Jahger – it’s so nice to know such jewels still occur daily.

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  2. This is a wonderful story. This happens every day, to everyone of us. Very few of us are able to recognize it while it is happening, very few of us appriciate it, or take the time. You’re one of the few George. Great photos…but they are made by the story.

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    • Thanks, Alex. I think I’m nosy. He is just such a delightful man. You would have been just as interested in him as I was. I hope to see him again.

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  3. What a wonderful story. I love that two strangers can connect this way and just strike up a casual conversation. Too much anymore, people are too afraid to approach an interesting person to say just a few words and acknowledge them. I think you have the beginnings of a wonderful relationship here.

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  4. Holy cow! What a cutie! (no disrespect intended, but he’s very attractive…all that beautiful curly hair, and those Santa-Claus twinkly eyes! Not to mention the mind behind them!) And how well you presented him, when you’d only known him just then! You’d make an awesome reporter…they should give you a Man-on-the-street feature column! Maybe I’ll write your local paper and suggest it…*grins, hugs* You did it again, my George…got me interested in someones life other than my own!

    KC & Co.

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  5. Serious travellers I think have this really unique perspecdtive on the true goodness in the world. It is all too easy to miss that until we fling ourselves out into the unknown a bit. Vulnerable on a journey, we rely on those good hearts to help us along. And then every so often, true treasers among all those others, we stumble upon or are drawn to these ad hoc gurus of wisdom and humanity. This was really a wonderful story. Thank you.

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  6. He has alert, mischievous eyes. There is a good answer to the question “How many languages do you speak?” (Unfortunately, I heard it from the female whom my husband wanted to install in our bedroom, having just told me that he no longer loved me – but that’s another story.) This f… emale used to reply, “Only one. But I speak it very well!” Which I think is a very good answer – in spite of its origin.

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  7. What a lovely story of chance meeting which makes beautiful indelible impressions on memory..
    And you have woven it so beautifuly
    Wish you a lovely day 🙂

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    • I’m certain that he elicits the same response from many people along his way. I was delighted. I hope we meet again at our little restaurant. I’m sure he has many stories to tell, and I would very much enjoy listening. Thanks for stopping by and commenting so that I would know you liked him too.

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    • I felt really lucky too. Apparently, I eat later than he and his wife so I haven’t encountered him before at my restaurant. He was such a joy to talk to. and he was pleased to help me with the photographs. Such a gentleman. Thank you for stopping by and commenting so I’d know that you liked him too. 🙂

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    • I’m glad you liked it. There are a few of his kind left in the world. He’s naturally an open and generous man. I was so shabbily dressed that you’d have thought I’d come to steal the chickens. He didn’t seem to notice. I just visited you. You write really well, you know. I hope you’ll do a reading. Maybe video it. I’d like that. Thanks for coming by. 🙂

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      • Thanks so much. I might be doing a reading or audio soon :). I agree, there are only a few true hearted people left out there. Thanks for the kind comments, made me smile. I will be back on your page again soon. Thanks again!

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  8. You are a good storyteller, not only with your camera. He is such a lovely man. And food does not feed the soul. Indeed. Can you tell me what “Call when in” means?

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  9. Reblogged this on The Blissful Adventurer and commented:
    I do not Reblog usually because I feel like this site is a forum for my own creativity. Considering I have been recently Freshly Pressed I would like to use my stroke of luck to promote my friend and wonderfully talented blogger George Weaver. I am not sure George will even like this because she works so hard to take care of all her people and if she now has more people it will mean more work. Well George, I have news for you. If not for your encouragement I would not have been pressed or discovered by so many wonderful people. This brilliant piece you have written here is why we all love your work. I hope more people fall in love with The lady who keeps a parrot!

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  10. This guy reminds me of what I admire in people. He is confident, charming, and without the need for banality. I would have loved to have been at the China Inn. This is a top post and I hope more people will read it.

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    • Thank you, Michael. He is the most unassuming person I’ve met in a very long time. He goes through life genuinely having a grand time. And he is such a gentleman. I hope we haven’t lost his brand of gentility entirely! 🙂 You would have enjoyed him. Really enjoyed him.

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        • Yes. I commented on that somewhere! You are such a sweetheart boy, Michael. I appreciate it. I really do. You encouraged me from the start. I think I would have given up on this had you not been so accepting and complimentary. You can’t egg on an old lady unless you want to deal with the consequences, you know. I’m so looking forward to Italy and your stories about your visit. I know how much you love the country. You are getting there, Michael. I knew you would! 🙂 🙂

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    • Yes. He is one of those rare people whose photographs look exactly like he looks. I think it must have something to do with his sense of self. He is a most unassuming man who is comfortable with who he is. I am glad you liked his story. I was determined to have a picture to show you guys when I told his story. When I told him that, he got right up and directed the whole thing! Nothing takes him aback, I think. I hope we can meet again for dinner together next time. Thanks for your comment about the photo. 🙂 I am insecure about my photos, you know…

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    • Thanks! I was too excited to check the settings on the camera. We started talking and I just started snapping when he said to snap! He’s such a funny man. And such a joy to talk to. You encourage me with your approval of my portraits. That makes me happy! 🙂

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  11. Great post and great writing. You are so nice dear George, your photographs so beautiful. Thank you, Blessing and Happiness, with my love, nia

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    • I’m happy that you liked his story, Nia. Thank you for your approval of my photographs. I am not a good photographer, but I am trying. 🙂

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  12. This sounds a bit macabre to my ears, but I feel as if slowly, eventually, an entire culture will be lost to us. This man is a treasure. He is someone I would want to know, someone I could listen to for hours, content to be enraptured by the life he has already lived, and the life still very much inside him.
    I’m glad you went back for your camera, George.

    C

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    • I agree, Mollusk Girl. I am fearful of the same thing. It really hit me when I was talking to Mr. Jahger. His kind of gentility is rare now. His comes from the heart too. He is the most unassuming of people. He is simply gracious, generous and kind. His enthusiasm for life shames me by comparison. I felt his enthusiasm although I am not easily inspired toward enthusiasm. 🙂 Thank you. I hope to meet this couple again soon.

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  13. This is the line that will stick with me all day: “I assure him that food does not feed the soul.” That is about the most gracious reply anyone could have given, and it doesn’t surprise me a bit that you were the one who gave it. This is a delightful post.

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    • His “presence” prompted me to say that, I suspect. I didn’t think it; it just came out of my mouth. I meant every word of it. What a gentleman he is. I was really shabbily dressed, but I didn’t think about it. Normally, I would have made a mental note of it, but he was so generous and uncritical and interested only in the conversation that I forgot how bad I looked. He took my hand in both of his and kissed it when we said our goodbyes. Only a gentleman practiced in that art could perform the gesture so easily with absolute sincerity and grace. Everything about Mr. Jahger was delightful to me. I hope we can have dinner at our mutual restaurant. I would like to hear more about him and his life. Thank you for your constant support, Lance. Sometimes, I feel a little foolish when I write my little stories! 🙂

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  14. What a beautiful post, George. Such radiant warmth…and as for the photo’s, so illuminating, one can truly see and experience the presence of this wonderful man. Very, very nice work.

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  15. As soon as I found your post I needed to stop and read it all trough the end! I was not disappointed! Another great story…thank you George!

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  16. When I read your stories, George, I feel as though I’m right there in the thick of it along with you. I love this gentleman for his joy and his obvious connection to you. My favorite picture is the second taken in the arch where his eyes and smile tell it all. Let us know if the newspaper follows up on this wonderful man.

    Enjoy your day!

    elisa

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    • Ha, Elisa! “In the thick of it” is usually exactly where I am. Stumbling around in the middle of whatever is happening. He is a delightful man with that twinkle in the eye that only people who are thoroughly enjoying themselves have. To be so comfortable in life. That is a wonder in itself. I will let you know about the newspaper.

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    • I was delighted to have met Mr. Jahger. He is a delightful man. He’s one of the most unpretentious people I ever met. He is having fun in his life to the very end, I am certain of it. I smile when I think of him. Thanks, rumpydog. I’m glad you enjoyed him.

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  17. And how wonderful that there is a Woman Who Kept a Parrot in this world! Thank you for an amazing story. I applaud not only your open mind and heart, but your act of bravery in going back and talking to him, exchanging information, and taking photographs. Two wonderful people made a lovely connection, and now you have shared it with all of us. Thank you so much!

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    • I told Mr. Jahger that I wanted to talk about him on my blog, but I needed a picture to show everybody who he is. He understood instantly and was as eager as I to get a good one. He is such a charming man that going back to ask for the photograph required no courage at all. I’m glad you enjoyed hearing about him. I will meet him again, I’m sure.

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  18. You are so precious, George…which I’ve been saying for a little while now. Thank you for sharing your new friend with us…and thank you for the lessons in your words, too…about having walked away from too many fine people…and knowing that you were going to walk back to this one. Your tender heart…thank you.

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    • Ah, Scott. You are too kind. We see the same things. Old social workers never die, do they? I just enjoy people who are interesting and have such a history as Mr. Jahger has. He is so easy to know and such a treat. It’s so good to find a person who stands still long enough to see us these days.

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      • No, I think it’s in our cells, George…it was a treasure to read about your special evening…your special friend.

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  19. It’s a nice story George!
    You made my day; I’m here tired and I jsut wanna go to sleep now, but your story kept me awake 🙂
    This man looks very nice, I’m pretty sure his lastname is Jægher 🙂 You brought me back so many memories from Denmark.
    I’m sure he says that the schoolsin the States are not good because in Denmark they always teach english, german, french, and sometimes spanish and italian, sure that’s why he said so.
    Have a great friday 🙂

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    • Yes, Pablo. I knew how it was written, but I couldn’t find it on the Internet so I had to explain it the way he did. I really did enjoy talking to him. He is such a gentle and kind person. I knew why he said American schools are not good. I agree with him! Get some rest. Have a good weekend too. Thank you for staying awake for my little story! 🙂

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    • Thank you. I thought so too, Shimon. I don’t often have the opportunity to meet such a gentleman.

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    • Indeed, he does. He has that unmistakable twinkle in his eyes. A delightful man if I ever met one.

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  20. Fabulous. I so enjoyed reading about Mr. Jahger. I LOVE that you went back for your camera. These portraits are wonderful! I can absolutely see the sparkle in his eyes. This post just makes me smile from ear to ear, George. Thank you! Thank you for not missing this chance, for not walking away, so that you could then share your exchange with all of us.

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    • No flash either! 😉 Somehow, the flash went off when I shot the wife. Those photos were bad. He was absolutely the sweetest man. When we parted, he took my hand in both of his and kissed it as only an old gentleman, who is practiced in the art, can do. I am going to send a link to this post to the local newspaper guy here and suggest a human interest story on this man. I can only imagine the interesting things he could relate given the time. He’s as sharp as a tack too. What a good feeling I left with. Thanks for your compliment on the post. It was from my heart.

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      • No flash, George. 😀 Brava! There is such a soft luminescence radiating from these images: the light and joy of the moment shines through. I hope the newspaper will follow up on your lead! Keep us posted!

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        • Thank you for nudging me along with the flash business. I don’t know why I had it on the camera, but it went off when I snapped Mr. Jahger’s wife. Those photos were garish and awful. I do so appreciate your help, Lemony! I liked his photos too. I sent them to him along with a link to the blog. I hope he likes them.

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  21. I love this post George. It bursts with your joy and enthusiasm at meeting a gentleman who no doubt is as joyed at having met you. You managed with your words and GREAT photos to convey exactly why you were so thrilled. And you did it succinctly, which is no small feat these days. Thank you.

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    • Thanks, Mike. I loved every minute of our meeting. He is absolutely charming and interesting and full of life. He must be eighty, but he has not lost a drop of his enthusiasm for life. Would that there were more of him!

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    • The China Inn has boiled shrimp and bacon-wrapped shrimp and broccoli too. Thanks for appreciating my old gentleman. I was thoroughly charmed by him and his wife.

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