Friday, September 22, 2006

For the Presence of a Child

They called him Seawall. He came from the south. He got up north on a train. He was a real hobo. Most of this life didn’t stay in one place too long. They called that wanderlust. Seawall found work where he could, doing what he had to do, and made his way from place to place by jumping trains. Somehow, some way, the last stop left him outside my dad’s saloon and that’s where he stayed.

Seawall did things for my dad. He scrubbed floors and carried in big bags of flour. He sorted bottles and cleaned up at night. He lived in the shack next to the tracks,− a lean-to really − slept on cot, just a chair and desk beside it. I went to see him there once with my dad. I think of slave quarters when I picture it, and then I think that today people might say he was homeless or that he needed mental help.

Seawall had no age, just a craggy face, an unassuming manner, and baggy pants that of that uniform unwrinkled teal-blue-gray color. He rode an old two-wheel bicycle. People around town knew him by it. People in the saloon did too.

At dinner time it was a memory to be part of the ritual of how Seewall put his bike away. He'd ride in the back door of my dad's saloon, take one ride around the entire tavern, and end his trip behind the bar. He'd lift the trap door, wave to the patrons, and carry his transportation down the old, wooden stairs to the musty dirt floor cellar to stow it for the night. He'd leave the cellar through the side door. Then he’d walk into the saloon through the front door as a patron, sit at the bar to eat his dinner and spend time with his adopted family before retiring for the night.

Even as a little girl, when I would see him sitting at bar, he looked like sad painting − a man living out his life. My mom often sat me by him. When she did I couldn't help but notice how his craggy face would fill with light − not for me, I don’t think − for the presence of a child. At least, that's how it felt. It was life recognizing life.

And what a gift he would give me − his smiling, clear blues in that craggy, sailor-like, weathered face. All of his past would fall away and I would be all that there was. He would play that awful game − tic tac toe − with me for hours just to see me smile back. Seewall was my friend. He looked forward to seeing me. I looked forward to seeing him. We were safe with each other. We didn't need to talk. We smiled.

I was too young to know that people had stories. Even now I only know bits of his. I wish I’d learn the rest of his one day. My brother said his real name was Sewell Southward Sebastian Fleming the Third. I wonder if anyone remembers what his real name was? He lost his name in the Great American Depression after he lost his job, after he boarded that first boxcar.

I remember that he could talk like Donald Duck and make me laugh.
−me strauss Letting me be

6 comments:

Dawn said...

Liz, you paint a beautiful portrait of Seawall and the Little Girl. It has harsh lines and pastel colors, and light that comes from within.

You are an artist who mixes word and color masterfully. Thank you for this place where you share your craft with us.

ME Strauss said...

Hello Dawn,
He was an amazing man. I have no idea how old he was. People looked older then. I guess it was the hard life they led. But he could talk like Donald Duck. I'll never forget that. ever.

ashraf said...

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ME Strauss said...

Thank you ashraf.

sarah flanigan said...

Very touching memoir and I enjoyed it immensely. I was right there, sitting on the stool, watching you and Seawall.
sf

ME Strauss said...

Thank you, Sarah,
I remember it so clearly. He was a special one that Seawall.