A MAN IN A BOX
When I was young and on my own, I moved into a studio apartment. It was a small box, a one room apartment. If you turned and blinked at the same time, you would have missed it. There was a man four doors down in an apartment just like mine, a box. His name was Kenneth J. France, at least that’s what he told me.
At first, I thought he was a very strange and mysterious man. He drove an old black Crown Vic. When venturing out, he always dressed in a black suit, white shirt and tie with a black fedora hat and dark sunglasses. He had a Rhett Butler mustache and looked about Rhett’s size. He was straight out of the 50s, CIA or Men in Black.
One day after work, we started to talk. He invited me into his studio and we sat drinking lemonade, to cool off the heat of the day. He started telling me stories about his time in the service and that he was retired military. He talked very softly so not to be over heard, in case his apartment was bugged. With the noise of the fan and his soft quiet voice, I heard most of what he was saying and I left thinking, “Boy this guy is wacked. What a bunch of wild stories that this old man could spin.” But it was also very interesting, so I went back the next few days to listen to some more.
A few months passed and I guess I had enough. I guess he could see it by my facial expressions that I thought he was nuts or I was disillusioned. He turned and pulled out his old military footlocker and opened it up. All the stories that he had bragged about were in this box. This man’s entire life, (A Man in a Box). There in the box, he had photos of himself as a very young man, working on the Panama Canal, where he said he had almost died from malaria. He remarked, “To keep from getting sunburned we would drink olive oil and also put it on our skin a few times a day. Over 22,000 men had died, either from malaria, heatstroke or heat exhaustion. If they weren’t military and just regular workers, they were rarely reported and just bulldozed into the dirt.”
Kenny had medals of Honor, Valor, commendations, a Purple Heart, a metal for marksmanship and plenty of others to go along with his accomplishments. One day, he was talking about his involvement with the Presidents of the United States. He showed me different pictures of him shaking hands with Truman, Ford, Kennedy, and Nixon. He pulled letters out of the box from the Presidents, asking for his advice. Then he would show me another letter from the president, thanking him for that advice. He also showed me pictures of World War I, where he was in a tank, in Germany. The far-fetched stories were now incredible to believe.
When I knew Kenny, he was eighty-four years old. He was just a man in a box who loved to play the ponies at the race track in Phoenix Arizona. He would follow the jockeys weights, the horses races and the birthday of the jockeys and of the horses. This gave him a very sharp edge on his bets. He usually won his single bets and a few times, the trifecta.
A year had come and gone and my lease was up. Rent was on the rise, so I moved out. I moved into a house and got married. One month later, I helped Kenny move to a small cottage on an abandoned horse property. It was a hired hand quarters of sorts, behind the main house. When the winds came, the fine dust would stir up and made you sneeze and when it rained, you could smell the horse manure, still, twenty years later, after the horses had left. When I helped him move, I told him that the apartment company wouldn’t give me back my security deposit. One week later, I got the check in the mail. I asked him, what did he do? He simply replied with a smile, “I walked into the office, tilted my hat and patted old Betsy and said, “The apartment is clean and empty, so I will expect my deposit back by the end of the week or Betsy and I will be back. Oh, and by the way, my neighbor Richard is waiting for his check too. Make sure you take care of it.” Betsy was his old military service revolver. He didn’t go anywhere without it.
The years had passed by. I was busy with children, work and marriage. Kenny had taken ill and moved to live with his only relative, his niece, from his sister. It was now thirty-five years later and how I wished I had listened better, recorded his stories and visited more often. Kenny was a very happy man, who always had a smile. It’s a shame that his life ended up in a box, then he also, was transferred to a box with all those stories along with him.
He was only one of the men that made this country great and kept it safe, A True American Patriot. I knew very little about this man but I was truly blessed to have known him at all.