December 18, 2006
Sometimes It's Just A Matter Of Time
"Monticello - Bells tolled last week for Dec. 7, 1941 — the date that lives in infamy. This story starts the day after.
Young patriots rushed to the nation's defense. Don Karkos tagged along after school as his older brother, Eddie, went to enlist at the Navy recruiting station in Lewiston, Maine. The boy hunched in the back of the room as Eddie answered questions and filled out paperwork. A recruiter barked out at Don, "Hey, kid, whatsa matter, you don't like the Navy?"
"Sir, I'm not old enough," Don told him. "I don't turn 17 until Friday."
"Good enough," snapped the recruiter.
Seaman Don Karkos shipped out of Boston and sailed into the North Atlantic. His was the USS Rapaden, a tanker whose mission was to skirt the German U-boats off the English coast and refuel Allied battleships. On a warm morning in the summer of '42, Karkos was on the Rapaden deck when there was a loud explosion. Twisted metal flew everywhere. Something heavy hit the boy above his right eye, cutting his forehead open.
When Karkos woke up, he was in a military hospital in Iceland. Doctors told him he would never see out of his right eye again. They wanted to remove the right eye. Karkos said, no, might as well leave it in, just for looks.
Karkos returned home to Lisbon Falls, Maine, a small mill town with a woolery. He worked in the mill's weave room for three years, not leaving until he paid off the mortgage on his father's house.
Karkos never regained sight in his right eye. It severely limited his peripheral vision. He'd bump into walls, never knowing what was coming 'round the corner. He had to be extra careful, because if anything happened to his good eye, he'd be completely blind.
But Don Karkos lived in a time when you farmed the acre you were handed and plowed forward. He married and raised a family. He started his own roofing and sheet-metal business. Karkos loved the pastoral majesty of horses and in 1978 bought his own 22-acre horse farm in Harris.
Just three years ago, doctors told him that even with all the modern medical advances, he would never see in his right eye. That scared this aging man. He already had cataracts removed from his left eye.
Karkos turned 82 yesterday. He's been at Monticello Raceway for 16 years. He's a paddock security guard, checking in the horses before races. He helps out in the barn.
Recently, he was preparing a horse named My Buddy Chimo for an early morning workout in paddock H. Karkos was adjusting the buxton around the horse's chest when My Buddy Chimo lowered his head quickly, came up and butted Karkos. Hit him flush in the head, straight above his right eye, his blind eye.
The old man was thrown against the wall and tried to gather himself. "I've been in a lot of fights,'' he thought, "but I've never been hit that hard." Last time he was hit with such might was on that Navy ship 64 years ago.
Karkos got home that night, still a little woozy. He walked down the hallway of his Monticello home, rubbing his good eye. Wait. What was happening?
"Holy ——!" said Karkos.
This story is for all the people who believe in possibility. People who have been through sickness and hurt and war. Tough things happen in life, and you're forced to see things in a certain way.
People like Don Karkos just go on with it. And occasionally, something else happens years later, when you least expect it. Some people call it a freak coincidence, some call it fate, others call it God. And life becomes so much wider you look at it differently.
Ask Don Karkos, who stood there in his hallway with his hand over his good eye. He could still see.
What the explosions of war had taken away, My Buddy Chimo had given back. Karkos can now see with both eyes.
He can see the wide horizon, the halo of the sunset, what's coming 'round the corner.
Which on this morning happens to be My Buddy Chimo.
"I love that horse," said Don Karkos. "Hey, right now, I'm loving it all."