Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Wanderer

There is this old man in my neighborhood named Richard. I heard he turned ninety-three on his last birthday. Everybody in these parts has, at the very least, seen him because he’s perpetually in motion and has been for as long as I can remember. Richard is also an outdoorsman—always on his way somewhere and seemingly never tiring of shopping and unearthing gems from other people’s garbage cans. The man likes to talk, too—to everyone and anyone who will listen. I’ve had several conversations with him through the years. Really, I shouldn’t call them conversations because they were more like monologues. Richard did most of the talking and—boy—did he have tales to tell me.

Richard was in the Air Force during World War II and witnessed fellow pilots and buddies shot down on either side of him. When I spoke with him, he was pretty long in the tooth and—it’s probably fair to say—not quite sharp as he had once been. Richard was among the Greatest Generation and his exploits explained why. By my arithmetic, he was around nineteen or twenty when he was flying bombers over Germany. When I think of myself at that age—cosseted and in college—I couldn’t conceive of receiving a draft notice in the mail, let alone being shipped to the fighting frontlines somewhere. I was petrified enough at twenty with the notion of driving a car, which explains why I didn’t get my license until I was nearly thirty.

Sadly, I just learned that Richard—who clearly has been suffering from dementia for several years now—is in the hospital. It seems he set off one morning last week on another journey of his. The man’s been wandering more than ever of late, often walking in the heavily trafficked streets for some reason and not on the sidewalks. And it never mattered to him whether it was twenty degrees or ninety degrees outside. Richard was like the postman—nothing could stop him from his appointed rounds. That is, until what happened on this hot and humid day where he walked over a mile and a half before both collapsing from heat exhaustion and breaking his arm.

There’s a good chance I’ll not see Richard ever again. He’ll more than likely be placed in a nursing home to live out whatever time he has left. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have tried to avoid Richard on the street. I had kind of tired of lending him my ear and hearing the same stories—glorious as they were. A life lesson and life in a nutshell, too. Wander on, Richard….

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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