Sketch by N. Wilcox at deviantart
The lines on this face drawn by an artist’s hand, forged by a subject’s soul
Tell the stories of a man once young grown old
Homeless, not knowing from where he came nor where he is going to land
Living his life according to no one’s plans
There was an old man in my childhood whom I will never forget. My mother helped me to remember. She wrote a story about him that got published in the LaGrange Daily News. He became rather famous whether he wanted to be or not.
This old man lived in The Heart of LaGrange Hotel that sat in the middle of the “Y” intersection where Hines Street met Hill Street just up the road from where we lived. He was not totally homeless, but he might as well have been. I was no more than about five or six years old. My older sister and I would see him coming up the sidewalk pulling his little red wagon.
When we saw him, we knew it was time to run in the house and gather all of the glass soda bottles. Back then they were worth 10 cents apiece. A few dollars could easily be made off of generous children. The store on the other end of the street collected them for recycling with more soda. We could have exchanged them or sold them ourselves, but Mama had a purpose.
She died when I was eight years old and there are so many things about her character, like the character in the man’s face in the sketch above, that I will always remember. His lines came from years of sorrow and joy. Her altruistic compassions came from a giving heart. She intuitively knew that we had nothing to fear from this old man.
He would come by in the morning to collect the bottles that we readily shared, and come back in the evening with a handful of pecans that he had collected along his way to share with us. He told us outlandish stories as we sat on the roots of the ancient oak by the street. We listened with eager ears.
I asked him one day what his name was and he told me, “People call me Uncle Charlie Trashcan.”
“What is your real name?” I wanted to know.
“I don’t know. My father wrote it down on a corn shuck and the cow ate it before I learned to read,” came his reply.
One day some preteens and teenagers jumped him and beat him up. They left him in the bushes for dead. His lunch box was smashed. His wagon was stolen. My mother found him on a walk. She brought him in the house and cleaned him up. He had a bath while she washed his tattered clothes and she bandaged his wounds. He told us stories while his clothes dried. She fed him dinner at the table with us. She packed him a lunch for the next day in a shiny new metal lunchbox with a coffee thermos. He seemed so very proud when he waved his good-byes that evening.
Mama’s article in the paper produced a new wagon and he got some much needed social services and quite a bit of fame. That did not stop him from pulling his red wagon up the sidewalk to gather soda bottles, or from bringing us handfuls of pecans in the evening. It did not stop the storytelling or the smiles that made more lines on his face.