Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Old Man in the Yellow Hat

At this moment, 8:10 at night, 25 degrees outside, an old man in a yellow hat is lost near my house.  I fear he will die.
I came upstairs to my bedroom at 6:00 tonight to read.  When I returned downstairs at 8:00, I saw the headlights of a vehicle drive up the golf cart path beside my house and turn down the path on the fifth green.  First I thought, “Kids!”  Then I thought, “Oooh.  Old people having a secret assignation!” 
Then the vehicle started shining a spotlight around in the trees.  Surely no one would be poaching in the middle of the village, I thought.  Then, Maybe it’s the police. Maybe someone has seen a peeping tom. When I was tiny, we had a peeping tom in our neighborhood.  My mom said a group of our neighborhood men “ran him out of town on a rail.” 
I imagined my dad and a dozen other men running east down Gidding Street all the way across town, and then north up First, and then east again on Prince Street out into the country with torches.  Some of them were carrying a railroad rail, and the peeping tom was riding it like a horse in the moonlight.  I imagined the neighborhood men shouting, “Get out and stay out!” 
I had heard of tarring and feathering, and I imagined some of the men running with buckets of black tar and carrying white geese under their arms.  These they would pluck after they had thrown the tar on the man on the rail.  (I had no idea that the tar would be hot and burn.  It would have just been like my Elmer’s School Glue.) Then they would throw goose feathers at the man, and some of them would stick to the tar.  I thought this would be a helluva strange thing to do.  But I thought that grown-ups were strange, so there was no telling what they might do. 

But back to tonight…
“Don,” I said, “A vehicle is driving down the golf path shining a searchlight!”
“Well,” he said, “While you were upstairs, three men came to the front door and asked if I had seen a man wearing a yellow hat.”
“Had you?”
“Oh, my,” I said.  “Someone who has dementia is lost.  His people are looking for him.  If they don’t find him tonight, he’ll die of exposure.”
Now it’s 8:50.  The vehicle has not returned.
I wonder if the men found The Old Man in the Yellow Hat.  I wonder if he was already dead from exposure when they came to our house.  If he is still alive, I wonder if he’s frightened.  I know he is cold.  I wonder if he was a war veteran and thinks he is a young soldier in enemy territory, if he’s seen the searchlight, but he’s hiding from it.
I wonder if he’s dying as I write this. 

God, have mercy.

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