HEARERS OF THE WORD: Passing the old man on Byhalia Road

Mornings are hard for me, I don’t mind saying.
My wife thinks sunrises are beautiful. I think they’re terrifying. I tremble when I witness that narrow, gray,10-minute window, just before the orange globe of the sun appears on the horizon and melts away the soupy morning fog.
It’s violent. Awful. I will sedate myself to avoid it.
Three times a week I wake at 5:45 a.m. In the summer it’s better because the sun is already up and I’m not quite so scared. My wife makes me a ham, egg and onion sandwich on wheat toast, and a cup of coffee with so much sugar and milk it tastes like chocolate milk.
I take a hot bath, watch 10 minutes of SportsCenter, then hit the road.
I really miss Captain Kangaroo and wish I could find him on DVD.
My route to the Daily Journal takes me through Hernando and down Byhalia Road. I make the left at the Papa John’s Pizza and drive past the Hernando Co-Op. I always think of Garrison Star. She was this great, young singer who was at Ole Miss with me back in the late ‘90s. “Byhalia Road” is the name of one of her songs.
“Pitch black dark, echo chamber,” she sings. Great, gritty stuff. In the winter months it fits.
The sharp, dirty taste of onion. A taste that sticks to your tongue all day. The scorched taste of overcooked egg and white bread. Chocolate milk.
There’s a road named Laughter. I swear. I love it. Just before I pass that road each morning I pass the house of a man who wheels himself halfway down his driveway in a Rascal Scooter. He just sits and waves.
It took me a few weeks to catch on, but I eventually realized that he was in the same place each day, His driveway is paved. It’s nice, blacktop. Smooth. Each morning, as the working folk zoom off to work, he’s there, under the shade of a maple.
He’s wearing the standard old-man uniform, a ball cap, a thin, cotton, button-up shirt, simple, black shoes.
He just sits, and watches and waves.
I’m always in a hurry and I zoom past him at illegal speeds. Sometimes I toot the horn and he raises a bony hand. A friendly, eager, bony hand.
I’ve always meant to stop and talk to the old man, but I can never get up early enough. Something tells me that by the time I pass he’s been sitting there some time.
I like the old man. He’s unabashedly desperate for attention. I like people like that, people who don’t play games and just come right out and show their cards.
“I need someone to talk to me,” he seems to be screaming, silently, from his scooter.
When I pass the old man I think of the few times I’ve visited my own grandparents, in nursing homes. How I’ve been repulsed by the stench and the gloomy desperation of the place. How I’ve chosen a shopping trip, or a movie, or even an evening alone over the small effort it would have taken to stop and say “Hello.”
The old man in the scooter, halfway down his drive, shames me. I am ashamed of myself each morning and how our society treats the old. Never mind these ridiculous rumors about how bureaucrats will come into their homes and script their deaths. One of these days, instead of passing the old man, I’ll stop and say “Hello.”

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com

Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

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