Saturday, September 8, 2012

A New Friend

Sometime in the recent past he has apparently had a stroke. Whatever physical losses he may have suffered have been regained. But his speech is still affected. He begins a sentence but after two or three words, he can’t complete his thought. It is frustrating for him, and so he walks.

He had been a farmer, making his meager living from a small, hilly piece of land. Now he is retired. Perhaps it was the stroke that forced him to give up tilling his land. He still keeps the huge lawn of his home place neatly mowed and trimmed. But the inactivity of retirement frustrates him, and so he walks up and down Bean Hollow Road at least twice every day.

His neighborliness didn’t disappear with the stroke so he smiles and waves to all passers-by as he walks. Sometimes when we are out walking we meet up with him along the road.

He’s eager to stop and chat, but the words won’t come. His fists clench, a frown takes over his face, and he shakes his head with frustration. But only for a moment. Then his eyes roll heaven-ward briefly. When they meet our gaze again, the tension is gone. He chuckles at himself and searches for a different way to say what he wants to say.

So, conversing with him takes awhile. But we’re retired and have nothing better to do than to encourage him to communicate. So we stop, listen, wait, and listen again for clues to what he’s trying to say. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t, but he seems thankful for our time and our attempts to understand.

We didn’t realize how deeply grateful he was until a few days ago when we were packing up our rig to move on. On one of his walks that day he must have noticed. It was just about lunch time when he walked toward the door of our rig.

Too bashful to knock, he called out his greeting: "Hey!" We greeted him by name and he quickly asked, "How much more...?"

"How much more time will we be here?" Bruce asked. He nodded vigorously. "We’ll be leaving here later this afternoon," was the answer.

After a moment’s thought, he asked again, "To ... south?"

"Yes," Bruce responded, "we’ll soon be on our way to Texas."

A look of concern spread over his face. "Lots of ... mas-ki-tows...." he said with a slight frown.

"Yes, we’ve been listening to news stories about mosquitoes in Texas making people sick with the West Nile Virus," Bruce acknowledged.

"Well, be careful," he cautioned. He waved goodby and turned to go back to his walk.

"See you next summer," we called after him.

"Next summer..." echoed back to us as his thin, farmer-clad figure went striding on down the road.