My wife and I were taking our walk and saw him walking his dog. He had his hands behind his back as he looked down at the sidewalk, pacing slowly, in sandals. With a dog that old, there was no need for a leash. The two of them were in no hurry.
My wife was carrying our big umbrella like a cane, in case it rained. She squinted as she looked up to the sky to check the clouds. I had my walking stick that I was spinning in my hand like a baton.
I nudged her. “Hey. He’s the guy at the corner house. The one with the book box. And I think he’s the one who made the food drop-off pantry. Yeah...One of the best novels I ever read came out of that book box,” I told her.
A slender man, with sand-colored skin and a thin, black moustache, he reminded me of a young Dabney Coleman from the Carol Burnett Show. Shaved head. Kept to himself. “Hello!” I greeted him as he passed by.
He smiled and nodded.
“How did you fare during the blackout? Did you lose any power?” I asked. He stopped, gathered his thoughts and furrowed his brow. “No, fortunately we did not lose any power,” he said. “How about you?”
“No, thank God, we were spared.”
“My parents, though,” he said, “ran out of propane that very day, and were without power for six.”
“Yeah, I was worried about my grandparents, too, up in the South Plains. They were out of power every day for short spells, but thankfully, they have an old house that runs with a direct-vent wall furnace, so they stayed warm. But we had to call the police for two welfare checks...You know... people seem to act like it never happened,” I said.
“Yeah,” he smiled, “I think everyone wants to forget.”
We all laughed.
“I’m kind of used to stuff like that,” he added. “We’re from Canada. I’m from Edmonton, and my wife, Halifax. In fact, I just called my friend today and he said it was snowing.” We all laughed again.
“Hey, you did the food-box, right?” I asked. He nodded. “I wanted to commend you. You did a really good thing.”
Like a drooping flower rising at the first ray of light, he straightened up to talk. “You know, there has been so much food coming in. I bet $60-$70,000 in food has gone through that little pantry. Milk, cheese, vegetables. I’ve had to take so much food to shelters just to keep up.” “It’s a big deal, man,” I said. He looked down, shunning the praise, and started talking again, but I interrupted.
“No, I’m serious, man. We need more men like you. I used to think that most people didn’t care. They were lazy. I was cynical. But I’ve realized that’s not true. They just need someone to light the fires. A Firestarter. When men like you start something, THEN the people come out. THEN they join. They’re happy to give. I was wrong. But, they need someone to light the fires first.”
“Thank you,” he said, looking down. “I actually built it without asking by-law. I was going to do it until told otherwise. They’ve actually driven by, rolled down the window, and given me a thumbs up,” he said, smiling.
“That’s because you did it so well,” I said.
We bid him goodbye and made our way down the road, holding hands, watching rain clouds loom ahead, and drift over the city.