Ed Lyman was 99 years old when I met him in a firehouse in Nokomis, Florida, at a meeting of the Sarasota Writers’ Club early in 2012
I never got to take a picture of him then or at our one subsequent private meeting. I am able to locate a fuzzy image of him stored in the album in my mind.
Ed was a small, tidy package of a man. My image has him at an even 5 feet tall. He sat upright, rewarded, I imagine, by a lifetime of good posture. I don’t have a memory that he was bald, nor did he have a big 100-watt batch of hair. So my Inner Portrait Artist has sketched in a thin layer of light brown hair, which went well with his suit of muted brown with the gentlest of tweeds.
His tie finished my snapshot of elegance understated.
Like writers’ clubs everywhere, the majority of the 20-or-so people in the room were women verging on middle age or into it. Each dressed according to her private vision of casual elegance. Some a little more painted and coiffed, some would have been comfortable gardening in their evening’s fashion.
Besides Ed, and one man younger by 20 years than any one else in the room, there were two or three men in their middle years. These men presented as forgettable in their dress, hair, and demeanor, thus guaranteeing my own invisibility.
The Sarasota Writer’s club uses an open mic format for writer’s presentations. When it was Ed’s turn to present his story, he rose from his seat in the back of the room and with deliberate steps made his way to the front, where he stepped up on the raised platform. I felt the room’s oxygen grow rich with respect and anticipation.
Ed’s story took place 75 years ago, set in England, shortly after the invasion of France. As an army sergeant on the staff of a several-star general, the story’s narrator was a go-to guy for when something needed to be done unencumbered by military channels.
From his offices well behind the battle lines, the general’s division had gained access to a land where there would be an ample supply of his favorite wines and whiskeys.
The story tells of the sergeant’s adventures crossing into France and sleuthing his way into secret caches of alcoholic treasure and the successful procurement of several cases for the general’s private pleasure.
Ed’s story was told with gentle humor. It was as good as could be hoped for whether read from a page by the author or as a reader. There were a few thank yous, but no comments. In my mind I heard a roomful of appreciative applause.
I was able to get my own lunch visit with Ed a few days later. The story of his last 70 years was one as a successful attorney and family man, who lately was parceling out some of his prosperity as donation to public causes. He recently purchased a mid-sized truck and gifted it to an organization that collected food and distributed it to the homeless of the area.
He showed me other stories he’d written. A prolific writer, he had a new story published in a local literary newspaper every week. His charming stories used a wide collection of characters, from children to long-haul truckers.
I asked if he’d written other mini-memoirs from his days in the army. I was surprised to learn the story of the whiskey scavenger hunt was pure fabrication.
I told Ed about my blog and how I liked to write about people who did unselfish things. He refused to let me write about him or take his picture. He insisted on shunning publicity and wanted awareness of his efforts to be limited to his chosen circle of friends.
A few months ago I received an email from someone in the writers’ group to let me know that Ed made it to his 100th birthday and had since passed away. This news freed me to tell you of this man who flashed through my life.
We barely brushed against one another, Ed and I, yet my memory of him and his stories are as clear to me as my image is fuzzy.