No, Richard isn’t dead (I don’t suppose), I just haven’t seen him for many years. I first met him when he was a stock boy at the grocery store where my mom worked. He had a quiet wit and a quick smile. He was a few years older than me, and not long after he hit adulthood, he started working out of his folk’s one-stall garage doing auto repair. His mom was a housewife, who supposedly had some emotional issues, and his dad worked some kind of union trade—millwright, I think. The folks started having Richard do most of their work, as did I, once I got my first car at age 19.
We got to be friends of a sort and, since he liked to hunt, that was often the topic of conversation. The difference is that he did his hunting with a flintlock, while dressed as a 1700’s era longhunter. He was a member of a local re-enactment group called “Crockett’s Battalion,” if my memory serves me right, so his accouterments were as period correct as he knew how to make them. Only his wire-rimmed eyeglasses were out of sync with his longhunter’s outfit, as period correct “spectacles” weren’t available back in the 1970’s. He hunted on our farm some, but generally preferred our wooded property on Tick Ridge, so he could visit Woodman’s Cave, just off the main hollow. It was there he told of making a bad shot on a squirrel. After he pulled the trigger, the pan flash was delayed, probably from damp powder. Even before the smoke cleared, he heard a squirrel giving him a hot round of woodland cussing. Then, he noticed the poor creature’s tail slowly falling downward in a back-and-forth motion, similar to how a feather sometimes falls from a passing bird. He felt really bad about shooting the little animal’s tail off, for they use them partly to maintain their balance, but by the time he reloaded and put fresh powder in the pan, the squirrel had said his piece and retreated to a high fork to watch him where a shot was impossible.
Richard was also the guy I mentioned a while back when I told of giving a fellow some cornmeal I’d ground from purple ears. In the glow of the late-night florescent light, the cooked cornmeal looked grayish tan. However, when he took it out of the fridge to fry it the next morning, it looked lavender in the sunlight. He said there was just something that goes against a feller’s grain about eating anything lavender at sunrise.
Richard was one of those guys who was built narrow in the hip and wide at the shoulder, so I doubt if he would have been anyone to mess with. From tinkering a bit in the garage with him, and from him pitching in at the sawmill on a couple heavy lifts, when he stopped by, I knew those bulging muscles held some power. He surprised his own self once with his strength. As we were sitting in his folk’s kitchen having a cup of tea one day, he told of picking an engine block up from the floor of the garage and putting it on his work bench. He said it was a pretty heavy lift and he looked up the weight of the block later that day to discover that it was listed as just over 400 pounds. He laughed and said, “If I’d known that to begin with, I’d never have able to get it off the floor!”
I’d visited many a time over the years with him and his folks and thought of them as friends. Their little beagle usually sat between my knees at the kitchen table, to get his head scratched, as I sat there sipping tea, talking or sharing a meal with them. For the record, Richard sometimes ate with us at the farm when he stopped by, also. I quit socializing with them, though, the day the little beagle came out the door when I knocked and tried to bite me. I had no choice but to kick at the dog in self-defense. I didn’t connect, but it DID keep the little fellow at bay. I was sort of shocked at the dog’s reaction, but then Richard’s mom came charging out the door, angrily yelling that I never had liked the dog, grabbed it up and went back inside. Richard and I conducted whatever business I was there for that day and I left. After that, I only stopped if I drove down the alley and Richard was already in the garage. I eventually found another place to get my car worked on. I always figured that his mom was off her medication that day and the dog picked up something from her mood. I’ll never know, though, and it doesn’t matter after all these years, anyway.
Despite being nearly bald from having huge red patches on his head of some common skin disease, along with the same type of patches on his arms. He finally found a nice girl who loved him and treated him right. He eventually landed a great job as a welder, but in a town several hours away. He married the girl and they moved. I saw him about five years after that and he had a full head of hair and only the tiniest red spot on one arm. I’ve always heard that those skin diseases are often made worse by stress, and I had to wonder if moving away from his mom may have been what allowed his condition to go into remission. I haven’t seen him since, his folks both passed many years ago, so he has little reason to be back in town. Sometimes, I wonder how he is and what all has happened in his life, but I guess that’s just one more thing I’ll never know. © 2013-