“Oh my gosh, Mom! He’s drowning!” I exclaimed as my unshaved, fourteen-year-old legs propelled me toward the churning and bubbling sea. I had spied a lumpy, gray, human-shaped mass battling the water nearly fifty yards off shore.
I called out to him, in fear of having his frail body gobbled up in the briny waves. He must have heard me because once he found his footing and caught his breath, he emerged from the frigid water.
In a thick German accent, he laughed, “So old people aren’t allowed to have fun, eh?” I was abashed by this sudden comment coming from such a seemingly fragile man.
Hamul turned out to be quite a spitfire. This ninety-seven year old man joked about having escaped to Vero Beach from Germany to ‘take a vacation from his wife.’ During my stay at the Reef Ocean Resort, I observed the manners of this ancient man, which were not typical of most elderly folk.
At precisely twelve-fifteen each day, Hamul would meander through the hotel’s courtyard, down the wooden boardwalk, and out towards the choppy sea, donning only a floral bathing cap and a pair of swimming shorts that exposed a little too much leg. We soon became buddies. Consequently, I would follow him onto the beach to chaperone his daily swim. When he drifted too far out into the abyss, I would call to him, telling him to come closer to shore. He would laugh at me for being such a worrywart, but he obeyed, knowing that it made me nervous to see him battling waves that most teenagers wouldn’t dare to challenge. Of course, this would tire him out, as it would any senior of his age, so he would take a short afternoon nap so that he would be rested up for the great Vero Beach nightlife.
Nighttime would fall and the humid Florida air would beckon everyone out of their hotel rooms to enjoy a few more hours of warm weather. From my balcony, I could see Hamul dressed in his ‘Sunday Best,’ ready for a night of Polka dancing at the Knights of Columbus. When he arrived back at the condo only an hour later, I questioned him as to why he hadn’t stayed longer. His response: “Those ladies were all WAY too old for me!”
Afternoons consisted of walking the beach and playing tennis in the extreme heat of the South. Although he was so old and had lived through so much, he still had the incentive to stay physically fit and healthy. People staying at the Reef ranged in age from infants all the way to the almost century-old Hamul, and by far, he was relatively the most active resident of all.
On the shores of Vero Beach, I met a complete stranger that totally altered my attitude toward life. It was he who showed me that in order to live a fulfilling life and satisfy my thirst for adventure, one must take risks. Hamul showed me that life is a very special gift and every moment should be cherished. Taking chances and making mistakes are large parts of attaining goals. Although I only had a short time to learn from him, Hamul taught me to appreciate the simple nature of life. Though contact was not kept between my unlikely friend and me, I am confident in knowing that his fiery spirit lives on.
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