It wasn’t long ago I watched him walk down the street with a sad, strange limp. In spite of it being a warm, sunny day, he wore a tattered jacket, brown and threadbare in spots, and buttoned up to his neck.
His face wrinkled and worn, only showed me that age had not been a friend to him. He scuffled and shuffled and limped with slow, unsteady, measured steps. He walked with curious and careful gait. Each step a challenge, and each block of the neighborhood a monument to his perseverance and dedication to his daily walks.
When I say “daily”, I mean he walked every day as long as the weather cooperated. There were days in the dead of winter, when he would not dare to venture out. He was not alone – no one else would either.
I saw him walk in the rain, without an umbrella, limping along the sidewalks, his eyes focused on the path ahead. He appeared oblivious to me; he never looked in my direction, although he must have known I was watching. He had to know – I watched him every time he walked.
“What’s your name?”, I often wanted to say. I wondered where he lived. I wondered if anyone loved him. Did anyone care for him? Did he have any pets? Did he have children? Grandchildren.
In their silent march of time, the days passed. He trudged on, dragging himself along the sidewalk. He limped along undeterred in his resolve. Or was it his habit? He never acknowledged my existence. And though I saw him pass by most every day, I never acknowledged his either.
His eyes never moved from the sidewalk. Focused upon the concrete path ahead, his eyes never once looked up at me or anything else.
I named him Earl, but, of course, I don’t know what his name was. It may have been Frank, Bill, Ernie… to me he was Earl – the man with limp and the worn, round weathered face, fitted with eyes that I never saw. Eyes that never strayed from the path immediately ahead.
It was a chilly and cheerless October day. Most of the leaves had fallen, creating a crunchy sidewalk carpet for walkers.
Raking leaves is anathema to me, hence my sidewalks had wall-to-wall crispy-leave carpeting. They were perfect for walking upon. Shuffling away the leaves, while walking, is one of my favorite autumnal things to do. I have a feeling, I’m not the only one.
With my yard and sidewalk splendid in crispy carpet, I sat on my front porch, enjoying the late fall weather. On cold autumn days, I wore a light fall jacket and my ubiquitous navy blue knit hat, pulled down over the tips of my ears. I love to sit on my porch on these kinds of day… sit and watch the world go by.
It is like watching a movie. A movie of a cold and cloudy autumn day. A day that drifts sure and silent – taking us, unsuspecting – into a cruel and dark winter — and its days of death.
Days passed. Actually many days had passed before I realized that I had not seen Earl walking. It had been days since I had seen him shuffling along the sidewalk in front of my house.
On rainy or snowy days, Earl would not very often venture out But it wasn’t snowy and it was not raining, it was cold late-October weather… this particular year, the temperatures averaged a bit below normal.
I hardly took notice until October tumbled into November. As the winds carried the leaves away to wherever leaves go, I could see the cold cement of the sidewalk again.
November, known as a month of gales along the shores of the Lake Erie. But this November started off disguised as late September. The days were balmy and calm and the nights cool and pleasant.
For those of us who walk for exercise, November presented us with a welcome gift. Despite the long shadows of November, the quiescent days were sunny and warm – perfect for walking… perfect for anything out-of-doors.
I was sitting on my porch sans jacket and hat, enjoying the last of this stretch of warm sunny days.
My thoughts drifted to Earl
Over the years, he had become an acquaintance, although we had never met. I had observed him hundreds of times hobbling and limping along the sidewalk in front of my house. Not once did he ever look at me, nor did he ever acknowledge me in any way – not even with a quick glance.
The shaggy man, the one I called Earl, has disappeared from my life. And I never knew from where he had come. I never learned where he was going. But I had not seen his round weather-beaten face or his downcast eyes, for a long time. I had not seen the brown too-long, too-baggy trousers. I had not see that ratty jacket. I had not see the straggly strands of wispy gray hair falling from beneath his tan, soiled, ivy league hat.
I have not seen him limping along the sidewalk resolute and determined. Not for a very long time.
I have to admit, I miss Earl. But how can you miss someone you don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that, but I know you can. Or should I say, I can?
When I look back at life, I realize that I now miss a lot of things I never knew very well.
I miss Monarch butterflies. When they were plentiful I seldom noticed them. The day I saw on flitting around my the flowers in the front yard. The butterfly danced from flower to flower and I watched his every move.
And then it flew away. I would enjoy watching Monarch butterflies darting around my yard. I never realized how much I missed them. When I was a kid, they were all over.
I miss something else I realize I didn’t know very well – I miss my youth. And I’ve heard people my age say they don’t miss their youth. I’ve heard them say they’d never go back to their youth if they could. I’ve heard them say they’re comfortable with their age.
Well, that’s them, it’s not me. I never knew my youth very well. In fact, I realize now that I knew Earl and Monarch butterflies better than I knew my youth.
I squandered my youth. I squandered and wasted it on things that didn’t matter. I built a house on shifting sands and when the tide rolled in, it washed that house away.
I can remember sitting in a high school classroom at 2:47 PM on a Friday afternoon. Class was over at 3:12 PM. I can remember watching the minute hand of that clock tick away so slowly that a minute seemed like an hour.
Now the hands on the clock move so fast. It seems that every minute, the clock on the wall behind me chimes the quarter hour. Sometimes I’m tempted to turn off the chimes. Every time the chimes sound, I realize another chunk of my life is gone. Every fifteen minutes, the chimes remind me that time is passing and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
It seems like only a few minutes ago, I woke up. It’s almost 4 PM now. And what have I accomplished? What have I done today?
I miss Monarch butterflies and I miss my youth. And it took me all these years to realize that I never knew either one of them very well.
I can miss Earl, because I know I can miss things I didn’t know very well at all. And it is quite possible that I miss the things I hardly knew as much as the things I knew very well.
Earl never did pass by my house again. I do miss him although I never knew him. And he never knew me at all… or did he?
Do you think that’s why he never looked at me?