Monday, November 17, 2008

Mister Smith

Mr. Smith sagged. His eyelids drooped, lazily hanging over the pools that collected near his pale eyes. His jowls laureled his chest as if marking the victory of having outlived. He was an old veteran whose new uniform was a single pair of overalls and a faded flannel shirt.

Mr. Smith’s house paid homage to the man himself by slumping along with him. A tiny folding stool sat on a tiny rotting porch—and I passed the scene everyday on my walk from the white house on Maupin to Pike and the college campus. First, the ochre stucco, then the smell of woodstove, and finally, the slouching man with a few-toothed smile and a trucker’s cap greeted me with a slow wave.

We would chat, Mr. Smith and I. I was fishing for stories and starving for wisdom. Mr. Smith was merely using the porch, his solitary venue for meeting new friends, to its maximum potential.

He spoke of the back surgery that would make it possible for him to be married again. I wondered if this young woman (who had a new name each time we talked) would show up as I stood on the edge of the grass so Mr. Smith could introduce me. He warned me about “dirty truckers” as he listened to their conversations on his radio during the times he wasn’t parked on the porch. He talked to me about his supply of canned ham. Finally, he talked to me about his time in the military and his mom. He scratched out her recipe for “Coffee Can Bread”, which he still ate with canned ham salad for nearly every meal, and gave it to me as a gift one day.

I still have that recipe tucked away somewhere and I think of Mr. Smith and our meandering conversations when I read it. I think of all the other misters and misses who sit on their porches in silence, waiting for someone to walk by and see them. I wonder how many of us will set up our own small stools on worn and weathered porches someday and peek down the street, hoping for a slow stroller who might have a minute to gab.

I should have asked his name.

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