Flames rose every time he spayed liquid on the grill. He jumped back as if surprised when it burst several feet into the air. He did this again and again. Behind him, a chained up black wolf dog barked incessantly, hissing his teeth.
Eventually he saw me taking pictures so I waved. He closed the grill cover, bounding over to say hello. He wore ragged jeans and a blue baseball cap backwards, studded with colorful planets and shooting stars.
“I like your hat,” I said as way of introduction.
He put both hands on his head as if trying to remember what he was wearing and smiled. Most of his teeth were missing, the front one chipped like a blade.
“They call me Flip,” he said, bouncing from foot to foot, energy zipping through him. An aura of alcohol and smoke wafted from his breath. “And I’m a Vietnam vet,” he added.
“Wow. You must of seen a lot in your lifetime,” I paused, gazing into him.
“That ain’t nothing compared to how I grew up.” He pointed to the end of the drive, a few hundred feet away. “They was shooting at me from ‘bout that distance there to the road.”
“Jeez. You must have been frightened.”
“Ah. Nah. I grew up an orphan since I was six. By the time I was ten, I started a barn on fire. Vietnam was just part of what I had all my whole life. I ain’t scared of nothing.” He drew in a breath. “I’m a survivor you see. You see my eyes? Look into my eyes,” he said, weaving right up in my face, just a hand spread between us.
I backed away instinctively. He reeked. But he lunged in closer. “Look at my eyes and tell me what you see,” he demanded.
I held my breath and stared into this spirited human being. Our war veteran seemed a little drunk. I didn’t say anything in what must have been a few long seconds, then gave him a slight nod of recognition.
“Them’s Cherokee eyes,” he said, backing up, seemingly satisfied. “They’re golden, with a ring around ‘em. Cherokees have them golden eyes and they’s survivors. I’m part Cherokee you know and that’s why I’m not afraid of nothing. Not one damn thing.”
I nodded, “I’m part Cherokee too you know.”
Flip whispered, “You know what I’m thankful fir? It being Thanksgiving and all? I’m thankful fir one more day. Just one more day when I wake up and it’s a beautiful day and I’m still here and I’m happy. That’s all I want.”
He turned away smiling, walked toward the grill, his words burning a fire in my heart.