The elderly couple in front of us were physically fit and well dressed. It was their first time to the café, so they were confused about the ordering process. The employees patiently helped them and gave them their number to claim their sandwiches. Then it was our turn. We ordered and received our own number. Mike noticed it.
“We’re number 1!”
I wasn’t really listening, but it didn’t take us long before we were quietly chanting it,
“We’re number 1! We’re number 1!”
The couple smiled at us and the wife held up her number. “We’re number 4.”
I laughed and replied, “Well, someone has to be number 4.”
The elderly gentleman answered, “As long as we’re not number 10. In Korea, you don’t want to be number 10.”
For a second, I thought that there was some cultural significance to the number 10 in Korea. I thought that there was an Oriental story behind the number 10. “Why? Is it unlucky?”
The man shook his head, “In Korea, it was dangerous to be number 10.”
I suddenly realized that he hadn’t studied the Korean culture. He had served in the Korean War and he was talking about a sort of soldierly superstition that meant that they had lost more than one number 10. Maybe in a grisly death. An uncomfortable silence fell between us and the happy mood of the café sounded loud and obnoxious for a moment.
“My grandpa served in the Korean War.” I said, remembering my grandpa up in Billings, alone by choice.
He answered me, “He did?” He tried to keep his voice light.
“Yeah, he never talks about it.”
“Yeah… you never talk about it. I only mentioned it… it was a joke…”
I smiled and was suddenly grateful that he shared even that small bit with me. “My grandpa loves that show, MASH. He would watch it every day. Now, he likes JAG, too.”
“He does, eh? It was an ok show, but I wouldn’t watch it every day.”
“When I was little, I used know that grandpa would almost be home when the music for MASH came on. That’s how I told time when I was little, by the TV.”
“Well, when you see your grandpa again, you tell him you ran into a guy who was up on the 38th Parallel. It was right between the North and South Border.”
I repeated his directions and promised that I would talk to my grandpa about him. The man smiled and got his soup and sandwich from the friendly employees at the counter. We nodded goodbye at each other and didn’t say another word.