A Gentleman Walking

Late last summer I was out walking at the end of a beautiful day.  I had my walkman so my head was filled not just with nature’s sounds but humanity’s music as well.  Yeah, I was jammin’ to the beat as the sun’s last golden rays lit my way.

My life’s been rather quiet the last, oh, I don’t know, decade and a half or so.  It’s been difficult to get out much.  My friends have married and or had kids which makes it hard to go out to dinner (or museums or the like).  Now that I’ve left my religion we meet even less.  Getting laid off three times in the last seven years takes it’s toll on the ability to drive into the city and join in any community activities.

Things were looking up last summer though.  Finances coming together.  Getting out more often, meeting new people. 

I hadn’t realized how quiet I had been until I passed him.

He was walking toward me on his three legs, his rubber tipped cane making no discernable sound on the pavement.  Dressed a bit on the old fashioned side; tan pants, dark blue suit jacket and tie, pink shirt and a beige hat with short white hair peaking out that matched his short well kept beard.  It was the hat that really caught my eye.  How many people, male or female, wear hats now?  I obviously don’t mean a backward facing cap but a nice dress hat. 

I must have been staring a bit because as we came upon one another he lifted his hand to the brim of his hat.  I think I looked him the eye quickly but looked away, embarrassed that I had been caught staring at this living bit of the past. 

But had I been caught?  Was he just “old school”; you always tip your hat when a lady passes (even if she’s dressed in t-shirt and jeans)?  Perhaps he was just alone, widowed, or suffering what would be the curse of immortality (outliving all one’s family and friends) and wanted to make a human connection, no matter how brief.  Or maybe it was just an automatic gesture and he was barely aware I was passing through his lovely summer’s day.                                                        

Why did I look away so quickly?  What was there to fear in the two second glance and smile that recognizes the life in each of us?  Had I really been living that closed for so long?

I remember peaking over my shoulder at him.  His little Randi-sized self becoming even tinier as my fifty or so years younger body put more sidewalk quickly between us. 

Three weeks ago I was driving to the library on a Saturday morning.  The weather was lovely.  Summer was coming.  As I turned toward a long row of houses nearing the center of town I saw a familiar figure. The tan pants, the blue suit jacket, noiseless cane, and that hat.  He had a plastic bag around his wrist that hit lightly against the cane and as I passed him he wiped his face; I could see the white hair of his beard through his fingers. 
As I drove by, I wondered if I should make a gesture this time.  Should I stop and ask him if I might give him a ride the rest of the way home?  Going by his slow gait home couldn’t be far.  Is that acceptable now a days?  I’m a little old to be taken for some kind of gang member, out to fleece an old man.  I don’t think I could be mistaken for a freaky chick who likes older men.  (Actually, I think I’d stand a better chance of being mistaken for a gang member than a freaky chick, and that’s not really saying much.)  Would I end up with his cane in my windshield?  Old doesn’t necessarily mean weak and I don’t feel like dealing with my insurance company (or the police for that matter) on any day. 

I decided to be brave and at the next corner turned, went around the block, came back to the rows of houses, and he was gone.  Not only Randi-sized but Randi fast as well it seemed.  One of those apartment houses must have been his.  He made it home just fine. 

Hopefully so will I.

August 1, 2010

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