Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Man in The Green Reds Cap

I met myself on a country road a few weeks ago. It is a complicated story... well, that may be untrue.  I want to complicate the story, obfuscate it, paint it over with layers of narrative perhaps to cover up the truth of it.

He drives up and back once, turns around and goes on down to a place on the side of the road.  It is a pull-off that has always been there, a place where hunters and drinkers and couples park.  He turns the engine off and opens his door.  He knows he will not see another car, it is a lonely road - he knows that as well.

He is down where the railroad tracks come through, a bottom you'd call it.  Always full of swampy muck down here, he thinks.  The sycamore trees are happy and the live oaks grow large on the train embankment, out of the standing water.  The smell has been the same for decades he is sure, centuries more likely, the scent of decay, of sadness; not fetid, not morose, just familiar and close.

His boots hit the pavement, tar and gravel, an edge of only tar softens in the sun, he presses his foot into it to leave an impression until the next truck comes along and changes that.  It is all uphill from here.  The railroad crossing, the sycamore grove, and perhaps a third of the road is behind him. A long hill begins as he looks ahead.  He grabs his hat, pats the F-150 fondly, shuts the door and moves ahead and, somehow back.  He smiles at the sheer autumnal beauty of it.

The boy is struggling to get his shoes on, his Chucks are stiff with mud, but dry.  He hears a truck go by and wonders who it might have been, the road is usually quiet on a Saturday.  The laces let fly a little dust storm as he pulls the string to undo the knot.  He is glad they are dry, he wants to walk to the tracks and explore the woods near them.  He had noticed that the swamp was dried up and he'd not been back there for a while.  He wants to see if there is a good way through the brambles and into woods

He is sitting on the floor of a two-car garage.  The shoes had been leaned up against the old oil burning furnace which suddenly kicks on with a whoosh that startles him.  He stands up and brushes the dirt from his Levis and decides to stamp the dried mud off in the driveway.  He's wearing only a stained and tired white t-shirt and the fall wind hits him as it whips through the garage, a whirlwind of dust and leaves and time.  He runs back into the garage, through the basement, all the way to his room and grabs a soft and worn khaki overshirt and red ball cap.  He trails the dirt from his shoes through the house, he notices on the way back, but, he wants to get going.  Something beckons him.

He could take his bike but, if you take a bike you always have to come back to it, and sometimes that is not the route one returns on.  He runs out the door and into the fall morning and out to street and up the hill that runs in front of the long brick house.  The hill is the tallest on the street.  He crests it and looks on, into the day, into the future.

The man had forgotten the plain beauty of it.  Not the majesty of purple mountains or the wonder of roaring rivers or the splendor of the pounding surf, no, just the simple, quiet beauty of a rural Ohio fall day.  The road rolls a bit, it is not one steady climb, but a rise and then a small fall, a bigger rise and fall and then one final hill that always makes you mad when you're on your bike.  Each house he passes whispers a name to him, he knows each field and meadow.  A crumbling backstop here.  A fallen, overgrown fence there.  Purple blackberry brambles instead of a fence here.

His boots, his legs, his eyes, his soul - all know the way.  He passes a old apple grove, and sees it young and laden with small, sweet apples.  The tall weeds and saplings between the trees fade away and the orchard is neat and tended.  He looks back at the backstop again and it is new, creosote posts, chicken wire hanging fresh, still shiny.  The fence is new again.  He comes to the top of the final rise where the road is high and the land goes on forever, into the fall, into the past.  He realizes he is seeing it all as it was.

The boy pauses as he comes to the top of the hill and turns to see if perhaps his friend Joe was coming up behind him, he had sensed someone and hoped it was company.  He turns again and sees, a football field or so away, a man heading towards him.  He is too far away to recognize - it must be someone he knows - the way he walks seems familiar to him, though.  He looks over at the house to his right to remember where he is, thinking that might explain the figure.  The houses seem different to him, worn out more, strange.

The man knows at once who the boy is.  It doesn't seem strange to him, in fact it explains a lot.  He wonders what to say.  He wonders if he should just turn and head back down the hill.  He doesn't, he knows the boy would just catch up with him.  Towards the boy seems the best way to go.  The air seems fresher around him, newer.  The house on his left, the nicest on the street he knows, is new and clean, the lawn well-tended, the fences white and true.

As the gap closes between the boy and the man, who the boy can see is wearing Levis, a worn white shirt, and a tan work shirt to ward away the chill of the wind.  The man wears a green baseball cap with a "C" on it in the familiar script.  He is heavy, not fat, shaped like his dad, he thinks.  His beard is shaggy and gray, his eyes crinkly and worn out, grey behind heavy glasses.  The boy knows he knows who this is, maybe someones dad?

He is, of course, not afraid in any way.  In fact, he seems calm and curious.  In fact, he feels like he's been expecting the man.  The boy likes the man in the green Reds hat, he likes the way he looks.  He likes his walk.  He likes the half smile he gives the boy.  He likes that the man seems worn and soft.  He likes that he seems happy.

"Hey," he says to the man.

"Hello," the man says back.  They wind comes up and the two figures hunch down just a little, together, watching the other pull their hat down tighter.

"That's a green Reds cap, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is."

"That's funny," the boy smiles for the first time and man smiles back through the mirror of time.

"It is funny.  And, it'll always be funny," the man says.

They walk on past each other.

"See ya," the boy says quietly.

"Later," the man in the green Reds hat says to the wind, to the past.


Well, that's the truth of it.  The boy did "see" me and I met him "later." 

I take Mondays off, well, that's a lie.  I usually end up doing housework and the like, but, in my head and sometimes in my actions, I take the day for myself.  Several Mondays ago I went for a walk down the old road I grew up on.  I had originally intended to use images in this, but, I thought they'd get in the way.  I did take a few pictures on my walk and I'd thought I'd just throw them in down here.  I'll caption them with quotes from the story, for, uh... context, yes that's it.

..."a good way through the brambles..."

..."the sheer autumnal beauty of it..."

"...not the route one returns on..."

"Each house he passes whispers a name..."

"His boots hit the pavement, tar and gravel..."

"...a pull-off that has always been there..."

"... where hunters and drinkers and couples park."

"...explore the woods near them."

"The railroad crossing..."

" is a lonely road, he knows that as well."

"...a bottom you'd call it."

"Purple blackberry brambles instead of a fence here."

Well, that's all of them, well, most of them.  Thanks for taking a walk down my country mile with us.  Walk your own childhood road someday, you never know who you might meet.  My best to you.

(It is odd that the color green keeps coming up here.  First I wrote a piece called The Green Ball of Gratitude, I followed that with The Frayed Green Rope, which I recorded as an audio file as well.  I also wrote a bit of a requiem for my old green hat in a post called On Hats and the Dreams Therein.)


  1. They say it's not easy being green, but you seem to have a knack for it.

  2. Yes, you can go back. It is so different yet not so. Thanks for reminding me of those long ago days past.

  3. I love the way you utilized nature and your walk to create this. Very clever and well done. Great visuals.

  4. Bill,
    Not sure if my other comments got in - but great piece. Thanks for the stroll.

  5. I have similar fondness for my childhood neighborhood, which is now 3000 miles away. I don't often think about that distance, but now that I am, it makes me wistful, a little sad.

    Seems to me there's something very special about being able to return to the scene of so many important foundational memories, being able to lay a new memory on top and see the differences and similarities between the two. I envy you that, though I suppose there's also plenty of philosophical importance to ruminate on when you end up so far away from your origin, as well.