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The Old Man

Nature abhors the old, and old age seems the only disease; all others run into this one. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I never found out his name.  He sat on the corner of South Fisher and Bridge in Blackfoot.  That was how I got to know him.  He was unquestionably old - probably in his 80s - a bit on the heavy side, and walked with a restless, painful limp.  I do know that he walked down Bridge St., west towards downtown.  But why he stopped at that particular corner by my house nobody knew. 

His stroll was like clockwork: six days a week, except for Sundays.  He always arrived at 10:00 a.m., limped across the street, stopped at the corner, looked around, stared for a while, then sat down.  It was almost as if he were meditating, contemplating something that troubled him.  My father would say, "There he is again; he never fails."  And "who" and "why" were words we pondered with respect to the strange octogenarian.

Nevertheless, a little bit was known about him.  But we didn’t know how much was hearsay, rumors, and old wives’ tales.  Supposedly, he had lost his wife to the influenza epidemic of 1918, which killed more than 20 million people worldwide, more than the fatalities from the entire First World War.  When the old-timer lost his beautiful wife, he could bear living no longer.  She was his reason for living, his "everything."  But now her life was his death; her precious young life had been abbreviated too soon.  And he had tried suicide but had failed and had resigned himself to living alone forever.  He would not look at another woman, for there was no one who compared to his virtuous wife’s beauty.  He was loyal to her even after her departure.  Theirs was a love I will never understand!, for although I have read Solomon’s words, "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it,"  I have been unable to feel those words.  Nevertheless, I still believe that such devotion was truly admirable.

And the old man continued his walks, Monday through Saturday, from youth into old age.  Whence he came and where he went I did not know.  But he was always there at the corner for a few minutes, till he caught his breath and continued his peregrination. 

And I grew up with him, although he never knew it.  I grew from child to teenager to adult.  And he was always there.  The only exception he ever made was during the bitter Idaho winters when not even the brave and strong dared to walk outside too long for fear of getting frostbite from the semi-arctic cold.

But the old man always started in the early spring, dressed warmly, and sat there at his favorite corner just staring into space and thinking.  Birds would flutter about him; bees would buzz in the nearby flowers; but he was oblivious to everything around him.  And spring turned to summer, and summer turned to autumn, and he was always there, dressed appropriately, but always there.

And it finally came to pass that I saw him no longer.  The winter had been unusually dreadful, and we all wondered when spring would come.  And spring finally exhaled a warm breath of delightful passion on the land.  And I waited anxiously every morning, looking out the window to see if he would appear, but 10:00 a.m. came and went and he was nowhere to be seen.  It finally dawned on me that he would be around no more. 

Finally, one morning, as I absent-mindedly and habitually looked out the window, I saw a lugubrious funeral procession going west down Bridge St.  I could have sworn that I saw it pause momentarily at the corner, then continue its journey...its journey to the cemetery.  And I finally realized where the solitary old man had gone almost every day of his life.  He was seeing his beloved wife; but now he would be with her forever and they would both rest in peace...together.

Amando Álvarez    December 25, 2001



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