Our town needs more characters.
Having enough characters has always been one of the best things about living in a small town.
I recently heard a story about a guy named Eddie who lived next to a lady who did day care out of her home. He wasn’t shady or a creep, no one you’d worry about around small children, but he did have a taste for, well, having a taste every now and then.
Anyway, about this time of year when the weather finally allowed the little kids to play outside, he had a little routine he’d run through. Eddie would come out, be sure to say hello, and start stirring around in the garden. After a while, he’d open a pack of Cracker Jacks, sprinkle them here and there on the black soil, and explain that in order to get a good crop, Cracker Jacks had to be planted early in the spring. The kids would be a little dubious, but a few days later, when they were out playing again, Eddie would call them over and show them the half-buried boxes of Cracker Jacks that were sprouting all over the garden. It turned out that a good harvest meant one box for each child.
A guy like that is hard to replace.
When I was very young, one of our neighbors was an old man named Eric, who spoke with a thick accent. When he was in town playing cards with his buddies, he’d talk about his experiences in the First World War. After a while, someone got the bright idea that he should join the local American Legion. It turned out that despite his honorable service, he wasn’t eligible to join the American Legion - a small detail of being a member of the wrong army. In fact, he and one of his best friends from the card room had once been in the same battle, except on different sides.
There was another guy named Delbert, a salt-of-the-earth type who had a famously messy yard. What he was less famous for was what he did many years ago when a group of folks decided our town needed a clinic and a couple of doctors to work in it. It was an ambitious goal for a small town of around 600 people, but fund-raising commenced, with shares in the new clinic being sold, if I remember correctly, for $100 each. Delbert went to the man who was holding the money and told him he didn’t have $100 as well as no real prospect of ever having that much cash. But he wanted to do his part, so he arranged to have $5 deducted from each paycheck, to be held until he had his full share paid. Not exactly a widow’s mite, but just as valuable.
The problem with developing characters is that first you need to have character, and along with that, a certain willingness to ignore the way things are usually done. It takes many years to become a decent character, but a small town isn’t a hometown without them.
Copyright 2013 Brent Olson