He sits in a wheelchair in his pajama pants and fleece vest.
I've passed him numerous times on my walk as I make the loop up Orange Prairie Road and around the streets that border Liberty Village, a retirement community.
At first, I simply waved, not wanting to be slowed down or distracted from my iPod tunes. This day, he motions me over, and I cross the street to say hello.
"What's your name?" is the first thing out of his mouth.
"Amy," I reply.
"How far do you walk?"
"About three and a half miles or so."
He stares at the Velcro iPod wrap I have on my arm.
"Does that check your blood pressure?"
"No," I reply with a laugh. "That's my music."
We chat for a bit - mostly him, asking me various questions about my trek. I answer, keenly aware that my heart rate is dropping and I need to get back at it. After a few minutes, I leave him sitting there and continue on, but he doesn't leave my thoughts.
A few days later, he's there again. This time, I approach him. "Have you been sitting here all this time?" I joke. He answers, "Tell me more about yourself."
I give him the general,"stranger-danger, Cliff Notes version", but that's not good enough for him. He wants to know everything - am I married... do I have children... what do I do for a living. I tell him I'm divorced with two kids, and a writer, currently "unemployed". He says he's written a few things as well, and proceeds to tell me about a lodge he and his son built up near Princeville for friends and family so they have a place to stay when deer hunting. "I call it 'BuckSnort'," he says. "I wrote about it."
I say I'd like to read it sometime. He says it's in longhand and he needs someone to type it. I offer.
"I'll pay you," he says.
"No payment necessary," I say. "I'd love to read about it."
As we chat, he tells me he was a salesman. "My customers weren't just my customers. They were my friends. I wanted to know about them - their lives." Now in his 80's (I would guess), he's recently had a stroke, and is suffering from lung cancer. He's also had a bout with skin cancer, which is evident when he pulls out a small tube of SPF 55 and offers it to me. He continues to want to know more about me, and it is obvious he is lonely.
"Isn't it funny," he says as we talk. "You have such a life, and no money. I have money, but no life."
I stood there and talked to him for probably half an hour or so - my lowered heart rate and time schedule could not have been further from my mind. I got to thinking - this man has had quite a life, and the stories he must have to tell. He points up the street to where he lives, and I vow to stop by sometime to pick up his essay and type it up for him.
As I walk home, I wonder how many others who are late in life have a treasure trove of stories that beg to be told - to their children... their grandchildren... or anyone else who can appreciate what our elders have gone through in decades past. If your grandparents are still living, do you know their story? What about your parents? Wouldn't you like to know the lives they led, the challenges they faced, the triumphs they experienced?
My mother gave her children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren the greatest of gifts. Before my grandmother on my father's side passed away, my mom took months interviewing her and wrote "Roses in December: Reminiscences of Gladys Talcott". She had 50 copies published and bound in hard cover and had my grandmother sign them all. It's a fascinating, poignant, funny and sometimes gut-wrenching window into my grandmother's life that probably would have followed her to her grave had it not been for my mom's persistence and vision.
I hope to learn more about the life of the man in the wheelchair, and more like him. If you know of someone who is interested in sharing their story, please contact me. I'd love to be the one to tell it.