Old Harold lived on the second floor
In a darkened room with an old locked door.
My cousins and I used to tease him there,
And he’d chase us out, give us a scare.
I didn’t know exactly who he was,
“He’s a mean old man,” said my favorite cos’.
“Grandma let him live here after Grandpa died.
She doesn’t even like him and we don’t know why.”
When he was out we would take a peek.
Around the ocher walls and his bed we’d sneak.
There was nothing but an iron bunk
And a glass-front chest filled with lots of junk.
One day Old Harold must have complained
About our pestering…we really were pains!
But no parent’s lecture could keep us away.
And Grandma’s yelling at him not to stay.
Old Uncle Harold disappeared for years.
We would make up stories for littler ears.
But one day my father had news of him.
He lived with “a harlot” and his checks she’d skim.
I was old enough to know what it meant
And asked Dad why uncle Harold seemed bent.
“He was gassed in the War in a field at Verdun.”
Dad told me in a tone that left me stunned;
“And was then sent around to pick up the dead.
With the gas and the horror, his mind just went.”
Now I recalled all the times we had teased
And agonized him when we should have pleased.
But now it was too late to apologize,
He was so lost, he wouldn’t recognize
His grown tormentors, when he hardly
Knew my father, the kindly mentor,
Who visited him every week,
Who paid for anything to make him last,
And reminded him of better times past;
Telling him of the time he caught a butterfly
And brought it to show the girls and guys.
How he wanted to let it fly away,
But when the boys had killed it anyway.
He cried and was called a coward then,
And as my father spoke and wept again.
Old Uncle Harold died alone
In a sterile, cold-floored nursing home.
None but Dad came to grieve
And I, only an hour away, shunned
the feeling and just felt numb,
Until Dad called and told me the story
Of Harold’s death and only then
Could I say, “I’m sorry!” to his ghost.
I should have said it long ago; the one who
Maddened him least repented the most.
If I could say “Sorry” for the times we made him shout.
I realised he’d just have yelled, “Get the hell out!”
This is about my great uncle, a casualty of WWI, who was the "bogeyman" of my youth and then the sad story of a forgotten veteran.