Good Morning Captain!
That greeting was waiting for me every Sunday at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Knoxville. It was delivered with an elevating pitch, usually capped off with a salute and a hearty laugh. The homeless guys hanging around Ricky would laugh too, nervously of course. They were’t really sure about their buddy busting my chops. But after a while they accepted me in to the Sunday church parking lot crowd. I felt pretty cool about that.
Ricardo Bolden, or Ricky, worked at the church we both attended, Redeemer Presbyterian right in the heart of the University of Tennessee campus in downtown Knoxville. We had no idea who the other was. The difference was Ricky didn’t care who you were. I’m a nobody of course, but that didn’t matter to Ricky. He marched right up to me, hand out for a big shake, introduced himself and proceeded to interrogate me. Had I been in a foreign country I would have absolutely believed I was being “cased” or probed by enemy intel, his questions were that subtle but invasive.
He found out I was in the military that day. The next week and every Sunday after he would call out from the parking lot, “Morning Captain” or whatever rank he assigned to me that particular Sunday. I explained to him over and over that I was enlisted and a Master Sargent not an officer, but he didn’t care. It was more funny to call me everything but.
He reserved the rank of General for those days I was late to church and a lot of the fellas were hanging on the stoop of the church with him. They all got a good laugh out of that. Some of them would even stand up, mockingly of course. I dug that. It truly meant I was part of the gang. Getting your chops busted is the initiation into any group worth being a part of. But only Ricky would salute. That was real. I could tell that was out of respect. Not sure I ever lived up to the respect he always showed me.
As the year went on we would lament the football season. Ricky was a diehard Vols fan. When I was looking to avoid the traditional long form sermon (read excruciatingly long) I would sneak outside or to the bottom floor and find Ricky and we would fix the Vols football problems and wonder about basketball season. No matter how long that conversation went he always, and I mean always ended it with some form of the gospel. Sometimes it was a straight verse and sometimes it was his version of applying the bible to life in general. Man I never felt so overmatched.
I didn’t know Ricky outside of Sunday morning. He lived in the city and I live in the “burbs” of West Knoxville. Different lives to be sure. But because he was in the parking lot most Sunday mornings he was first to see our son on Frank’s first visit to church after his birth. Same thing with our daughter Anne Marie. To be honest I’m not even sure Ricky knew my name. I was always Captain or Major or Lieutenant. Once in a while he’d chuck out Sarge, and the afore mentioned General. He called me Colonel once. It was the first Sunday I saw him in March of 2010. I’ll never forget it.
I retired from the Air Force in September of 2009. My paperwork took forever to come through. Shocking I know. When it finally came in February of 2010, it was a huge box. Had no idea what it all was. Turns out to be a plaque signed by the President and a separate one signed by the Secretary of the Air Force, along with official forms regarding retirement pay and such.
Staring at the plaque from the President I realized it said, “Thank you for your dedication and service to this great country. A grateful nation thanks you COLONEL Linardo. Barak H. Obama President of the United States” All of the paper work and other plaques had the same rank, Colonel. Took over a year to unravel.
The first Sunday in March that I managed to get to church, there was Ricky greeting people in the lot. I thought, wait till he hears about all this paperwork mess. I barely get both feet out of the van and I hear “Good Morning Colonel!” The requisite homeless guys hanging with Ricky stood in acknowledgement of my lofty position before breaking into laughter.
I laughed at first cause it’s continuing confirmation that I’m still in the gang. But then it occurred to me, how the hell did he know the military messed up my paperwork and retired me at Colonel instead of Master Sargent? At that point no one at church knew that had happened. It was the only Sunday he ever promoted me to Colonel, no time before or after. When I tried to explain it to him he looked at me like I was insane. He wanted to talk about the upcoming Orange/White spring football game; the college version of pre-season scrimmage.
I always looked forward to getting my greeting and handshake on Sunday. The greeting from Ricky was always more fun than actually going to church. Sad but true. Some personal circumstances have kept us from church for a while now. I’ve not seen Ricky in almost a year. I still get church e-mails though. That’s how I found out I’ll never hear Good Morning Captain! again.
Ricardo Bolden of Knoxville Tennessee is roaming the halls of heaven, greeting his Jesus.
I wonder what rank Ricky gave Him?