Kenneth is a rural citizen of Hamilton, Ala., and has begun to observe life and certain things and people helping him to write about them.
Introduction . . .
In 1966, I Was Thirteen
and fell into that awkward, near-complete state of stupidity, and knew it. I tried to fight it off, but it was bigger than I. At my age now, I get discounts at most famous burger chains and restaurants. Those of who I speak of, do not. I feel for each of them. And feel their inability to fit into their round hole. But be of good cheer. This will pass. If it doesn't, call me up and call me a liar.
Thirteen is an age for learning. Not as much being taught by my teachers in school. Oh, I did my best to respect them,, but (pardon the honesty), when you do not like a teacher, you can fool yourself just for so long. Then you look back and kick youself for being such a self-built fool.
Now That The Whispering Ceased
I'm still 13. Still living with my parents in northwest (rural) Alabama. On a lot of those hot summer Sunday mornings, my mom who was a devout Christian, loved to go to church. My dad didn't. Not that he was a cold-hearted heathern, it was his thinking I suppose, that God belonged everywhere in and out of a church buiilding, but out of respect for my mom, he did attend church. And I was forced to attend church. Remember that awkward, near-stupid age I told you about?
Here I was in the same 12 Sunday mornings that I had sat before, and I was only thinking that maybe our preacher would be preoccupied about wanting to leave early for a meeting with his old college chum in the next town, and before I could acknowledge "that" Sunday snooze that always rolls on the tracks of my mind and has never been late, came the following moments as if a fire had been started. I had to wonder, was I in the same church?
As I slowly yawned and looked to the right into the center aisle of our chuch building, I saw a slow-moving shadow with two legs carrying his felt hat in his had and simply dragging his feet as if he were a relative of the snail. Instantly, I became fully-awake. This was new, I thought to myself. Before the next breath, a overheard several curious whispers and other vocal sounds that were obviously fueled by this stranger's presence and I just looked at the old man.
I Was Overwhelmed With
fear. I wondered if maybe a coven of witches had cast a spell on my small-but-important facility. It was possible. I had been told by my dad that long ago there had been a few witches seen in the old forest woods seen outside of town, but they never came back to where humanity dwelled.
The old man did not move one muscle. He just laid down his hat without doing anything to bring attention to himself. Although he had not arrived early enough to listen to the Sunday School program, he was very prompt for the 11 a.m. singing and the 11:30 a.m. preaching. During these two segments of the worship service, he did not move one muscle. It was as if he just walked to where he sat and died. Oh, my God! What a scandal to keep under cover if this were true. I had been told that many scandals came from a lesser sight.
But . . .no harm or action was seen. The singers sang and the preacher preached. Just another planned Sunday morning worship service. I saw the old man slowly get up from his place on the pew and gave others right-of-way instead of barging in front of them. This would have caused a very embarrasing scene. But . . .no such action was seen. Not even the church members bothered to speak to this old man. And continued to walk outside.
Another Week Vanished And
there I was again. The weekend. I was happy. It was Friday evening, school was out, and I had a free Saturday because I had already mowed our lawn, so I planned to just laze around, watch some football on TV, and grab a nap. That is unless the girl that I had been chasing called, "Gloria" and would take my valuable nap-time. I liked "Gloria" and thought she was quite pretty. Her mind was as strongt as a bear trap. This, besides her fantastic looks, caught my interest.
I did see "Gloria" on a few Saturdays, and even when I was with her, the image of that old man who came into my church before preaching time, had occupied my thoughts. But I thought, like other humans, that I had enough time so if I got an opportunity, I would ask him all of the things that I had previously wondered.
Sure enough, on the ensuing Sunday morning, there he came, walking slowly like a snail, and sitting on the pew where had sat before. I waited and waited at him to show his face, but I lost my patience. He was a disciplined old guy. I had to give him credit for that. Still, I wondered where he came from, his name, other vital information that would help me in knowing all about him in order to call him my friend.
Then, After 12 Consecutive Sunday's
(I did count them), the old man showed-up right on time give or take a minute or so, and there he would sit ever so quietly and still, not even one church member ever gave him the time of day, not even nodding a head or two at least to show that he did exist. I began to wonder if my church folk had grown that cold-heated and insulted against those who looked different they they did. I wondered more things, but my first thought covered it ell. Still, I was growing resentful. What made it worse was the gesture the old man made of giving to the offering plate when it was given by the ushers, was more than proud that he did have money.
Time, like the thief it is, stole most-every minute of the time I would be ready for his entering at each Sunday at hs time and watch his ritualistic sitting down and not showing any hint of life due to his not moving one muscle.
And time, the thief, grew larger and older and before long, although the old guy continued to come to church, sit in his usual place, and not move had become part of the fabric of life and I, along with others, just accepted him and joined the rest of the church in not speaking to him whatsoever. I had not forgotten how he looked and walked.
In The Months and Years Later
I went with my parents back to visit the friends we had and the church where we worshipped and to see who had changed and how life had treated the members. The very first thing I did when the 11 a.m. service rolled around, all of us quietly sat down and waited for the preacher (who had not changed, but a bit older) to take the pulpit.
At 11:15 on the nose, I began gluing my eyes to the center aisle of the church and did not see the old man walking slow as a snail. 11:20 a.m., no old man. 11:45 a.m., no old man and the assembly was about ready to dismiss. I began to be sad. Then my sadness went to worrying. Both perfectly-tame if I felt like this for friends and family, but a stranger? And the old man was a stranger because as I have said, no one talked to him or found out anything about him. The only thing that was for sure was he had not missed a single Sunday for many months and years. Some kind of a record? I guess. But no one ever brought his not missing to anyone.
As we filed out from the worship service, something took hold of me, curiosity I think, took me to asking one of the members a bit about the old man. It wasn't long before the man I asked all I could about the old man.
The man I talked to explained that no one really knew how to approach the old man although he never gave made a move to cause harm to them or anyone. But the man who was talking to me did say that the old man's name was "Hubert Stidham," from who knows where. And that "Stidham" had saw action in World War II and did receive the Medal for Valor for saving seven of the guys who was in his platoon.
Then I broke down. Sure, there were grown men who saw me probably wondered what I was trying to say, but the pain was too deep making the words freeze. Before we got into our car to head home, not many things were said about "Stidham." But to sum it up, all would agree that although no one spoke to him, he didn't speak to anyone himself. This was because that he had received more than his Medal for Valor, he received the loss of his hearing when a mortar round sent by the Germans exploded near where he was laying behind a big tree that had fallen due to the German artillery.
For a few hours, I became rigid. I never ate my evening meal. Nor could I get so sleep and had to have my mom call my school to let the office personnel know that I would be absent because I was sick. This was the truth. But what really tormented my mind and spirit was deeper than any head cold or flu.
Although I did remember "Mr. Hubert," as I called him, I did not take the time to talk to him. i just followed the crowd in just letting him alone. In this case, knowing just a few things had not soothed my depression.
I was grieved at not knowing his name and where he ended up. I did know that someone at the church shared about "Hubert's" death and how sad it was to not see him in his place at church.
And I did learn that this lack of attention (for "Mr Hubert") taught me as the years went by to take the time, no matter what I was doing, to say hello and offer whatever I could do for them if they needed something from me. By doing this, I felt maybe "Mr. Stidham" might be watching over me.
March 29, 2021_____________________________________________________
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© 2021 Kenneth Avery
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 31, 2021:
It is sad that no person took the time to speak to the old man. He must have felt some solace in attending those church services. It is never too late to learn and amend our ways.
RGNestle from Seattle on March 31, 2021:
It's good to remember that our meeting together isn't just to worship, learn, and donate. Hebrews 10:24 and 25 says (in modern English): "And let us consider one another so as to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking our meeting together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you see the day drawing near."
A lesson of mutual support I see you discovered for yourself at a young age. Thanks for sharing!