“Point to anything in this room and I can tell you a story,” he tells me.
We’re sitting at a table in a too-warm second story room with model airplanes dangling from fluorescent light fixtures, military uniforms hanging on walls, and ship models floating across side tables.
And in and around it all are the photos of young sailors or soldiers, some yellowed with age.
He starts uncertain, not sure what I do or don’t want to know. But it’s not long before he’s lost himself in the stories. This man signed up twice — two different branches — because he couldn’t find work. He was an orphan. This woman joined the marines because the green dress uniform matched her red hair. He was a POW. He’s been missing since the 1940s.
The stories go on, but he speaks of them as if they’re his friends. A man named Charles looks down at us from the oldest, yellowest of photos, peering over a curling mustache; he tells me how ‘Charlie’ fought in the Spanish-American War, slipping into the informal version of the name. Charlie fought here, then there, and I half-expect him to tell me they met to remember old stories just the other day.
Some of the photos and uniforms belong to people he has met, elderly people who tell their stories and donate their old medals at the end of life. Others were brought by family members, cleaning out attics. He shows me a knife his brother brought home from China.
Everything is connected to someone local. He knows where they’re from, down to the house and land they owned some times.
We spend an hour wandering around the two small rooms, talking stories. I try not to fan myself because I’m afraid he’ll get nervous again if I stop taking notes and I can feel my feet swell. I’ve got more than enough for my story now but he has more stories to tell.
“I like giving tours,” he tells me as we step back out into the upstairs hall. He doesn’t give enough of them, not enough school groups coming through.
And so he goes back to his stories, checking labels and moving artifacts.
He says there’s a story for everything there, point and he’ll tell you.
And he does.