News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

October 4, 2009

THE OFF SEASON: In praise of old men

I remember the days of driving into town with my grandfather many years ago, sometimes on a Saturday morning to the lumber yard or over to his church to mow grass; he would often comment on the people he waved to from the rolled-down window of his pick-up.

He would tell stories associated with the folks I saw from the front seat of that old truck, and often they’d wave back and yell some unintelligible remark from the street corner they stood on or the front porch they swept or the bench from which they spit. Most were, as I saw them, anyway, ancient.

Nearly always, my granddad would point to a particular old fellow in overalls and straw hat and say, “He’s a rough old bird; worked in the mines for years,” or to some other equally aged resident: “I’ve known him for 50 years…” I couldn’t imagine knowing anyone a half-century; it was unfathomable to me then.

Now, when I think of the people who have had strong influences on my life, I reach backward toward the old men who crossed paths with me in my journeys. By the time we met, most had reached a point in life where they felt it unnecessary to make big jumps, particularly when a small hop or two would do. They were comfortable in their skins in spite of their liver-spotted hands and rheumy eyes and thinned hair.

I am thankful for these old characters, men who were as real as the soil under my feet and the air that I breathed; they were men without pretension … genuine and honest.

The first of those old birds was, of course, my grandfather, himself, but I’ll not talk anymore of him today. I have already said much about him in the past and have placed the memory of him high on a shelf where others don’t seem to be able to touch him anymore. I’ve mentioned Salty Seamon, too; I grew up near his place out on the County Line Road, but I have already devoted stories to him and his paints, as well.

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