The day Earl rolled over for a visit

Earl spots me from his porch and comes to mine with photobooks to peruse. | july2023 | photography

Text & Photos by Douglas John Imbrogno | july22.2023 |

NOTE: I published this front porch dispatch on Facebook last week and it got quite the response. Part of the reason, I think, is it portrays old-school neighborliness when every time we pop onto our social media timelines we’re confronted with video of shockingly hostile people, Trump-unleashed angry bozos living their worst lives, and Karens on the warpath (with apologies to the several dear Karens/Karins I admire)

So, I’m on my front porch yesterday, taking a Nicaraguan cigar break, as one does. I look up and there’s my 92-year-old neighbor Earl, trundling my way with his black wheeled walker, three small photo books stacked on the seat. He lives maybe a hundred yards opposite my house in a little one-story home shaded by a great old tree which I admire greatly and he dearly loves. I retire my cigar as Earl steps gingerly onto the porch. He can still walk, but has to be careful. “I ever shown you these pictures?” he says, taking the porch chair opposite me. He begins flipping through the books, which memorialize his retirement party 27 years ago from the BASF chemical plant in Huntington, where he worked 35 years mixing paints and pigments.

Earl worked the midnight shift at the BASF plant in Huntington WV. At his retirement party in 1997, colleagues honored him with a shiny jacket and rap-star worthy hat | july2023 | photography

Earl was a member of Local 3180, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. Judging by the numbers of smiling folk who showed up for his send-off at the nearby Gino’s restaurant, he was a well-liked fellow. “May your retirement years be the best years of your life ~ Love, your Brothers & Sisters of Local 3180,” says one farewell in a photobook of solo shots of all his co-workers. An Elvis impersonator showed for the farewell, plus they gifted him with a snazzy, shiny white bombadier jacket emblazoned with his name and the midnight shift he worked, which he tells me he liked because he made more money. “You still wear that jacket, Earl?” He smiles his curly grin. “I sure do, sometimes.”

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Even Elvis showed for Earl’s retirement part in 1997, at the local Gino’s restaurant down from the BASF plant in Huntington WV. | july2023 | photography

Now, a thing to know about Earl. Years ago, when I didn’t know him and passed his house I judged him a surly old coot for whatever snap judgment reasons I made, jetting by his place and him too quickly. Then, I got to know him. And then I learned he was one of those West Virginia boys who got drafted to serve in the Korean War and found himself dodging bullets to save his life on Christmas Hill.

So, I did this video about him in 2021, “When Earl Went to War.” You can see it below (or at this story link when I first posed the 16-minute video.) It’s a good little video that may teach you something about a conflict known as “The Forgotten War,” since you don’t hear too much about that deadly little quagmire which killed a significant portion of the Korean population. But it will also introduce you better to Earl. He’s a laconic fellow, who will repeat his questions and points to you: “You ever seen anything like that? What do you think about those pictures?”

Earl’s a real sweetheart. “I saw you sitting here and thought I’d come over and show you these books. Did I ever show you them? I hope I’m not annoying you.” I wave him off. “You’re not annoying me,” I say as he hands me the next photobook.

Earl’s union co-workers at the Huntington plant let him just how they felt about him as retired in 1997. | july2023 | photography

I walk him back to his house, carrying the photobooks to make his walker stroll a little easier. I eye a coming storm overhead, hoping to get him home before it hits. The great old tree shades his porch so well that it’s maybe 5 degrees cooler there. “Hey,” I say as he plops down onto his porch swing, a favorite landing spot. “That tree really cools down your porch!” He grins. “I know it!”

Here is a shot of Earl I made when we released the 16-minute documentary “When Earl Went to War,” about his Korean War service. You can watch it below. Besides learning more about that war, you’ll get to hear Earl explain his service years and share his photos before his camera ran out of film right before he hit the front. PS: This short documentary was a Runner-Up in “Best Documentary/News Story 14 to 30 minutes” and Runner Up in “Best News Story/Public Information” at the 2021 NewsFest: True Stories International Film and Writers Festival.


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