I met G.H.W. this morning while tending our garden. He stopped, per his daily habit, to rest on our retaining wall where it’s shaded by the juniper, cedar, and lilac. He’s eighty-four years old, walks several miles each morning, and collects cans for the ten-cent deposit. He doesn’t need the money. But the walk does him good, and he likes to talk to people along the way. Some think he’s homeless, which is far from the case. He and his wife live nearby in a house that’s paid for, and they have all the money they need to live a plain, quiet life. He used to be a truck driver, and has driven all over the country. He grew up in Tennessee, in Mississippi River country, where he and his parents and siblings lived a backwoods, hard-scrabble life, surviving on such delicacies as wild pecans and opossums, squirrels, and rabbits, which, he confesses, he probably wouldn’t enjoy today. He’s almost completely illiterate, having left school to work while still in the sixth grade. He came to Oregon when he was “eighteen or nineteen,” worked one day in a sawmill, hated it, then moved to Salem for a time because one of his brothers was here. Then he went to Portland, which was his home-base during his truck-driving years. Up until this year, he cut all his own firewood. But this summer his wife said, “You’re too old to go out and cut wood.” So he bought two cords, had it dumped in the driveway, then split it to fit their stove and stacked it all by himself. I told him today about a family of six or seven raccoons I saw recently not far from his house early one morning. The adults had wandered on ahead, and when the youngsters realized they were alone, they started sniffing and scrambling all over the sidewalk and street, calling for them, their high voices magnified in the cool, moist air. He said he sees raccoons quite often in his backyard. “They don’t mind me, and I don’t mind them.” His wife, a high school graduate, takes care of money matters. When he’s not busy outside, he sleeps in his chair or watches television. “We got to where we kind of like [the current president].”
Recent book purchases: The Life of Langston Hughes, in two volumes, by Arnold Rampersad; Harlem Renaissance Novels, in two volumes, published by The Library of America. Writers included: Jean Toomer; Claude McKay; Nella Larsen; Jessie Redmon Fauset; Wallace Thurman; Langston Hughes; George Schuyler; Rudolph Fisher; Arna Bontemps. The 1920s and the 1930s. And the rest is history.
August 31, 2020
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Tags: Arna Bontemps, Arnold Rampersad, Claude McKay, Diaries, George Schuyler, Jean Toomer, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Journals, Langston Hughes, Library of America, Nella Larsen, Opossums, Raccoons, Rudolph Fisher, Squirrels, Tennessee, The Can Guy, The Harlem Renaissance, The Mississippi River, Wallace Thurman