The Final Word (A Recollection)

Every once in a while I’ll think about an incident that happened long ago when we firstDSCN2992 moved into Rivertop country. By choice, our new home was a place of relative isolation with a willful exclusion of major media sources. Television had no welcoming corner in our house. The use of radio was limited, at least for a while. In those early days of our new settlement, before my wife and I were married, our primary goals were to find new jobs and to make the old farmhouse livable.

Our knowledge of current world events came primarily through social contacts such as the one I made in town the morning I picked up photographs of our new place. After hearing someone declare that Egypt’s President Sadat had been assassinated, I drove to the “Rivertop Restaurant” for coffee and to study the newly developed photographs.

DSCN3002As in any small community the world over, this local town had an individual who, in less enlightened eras, might have been labeled the “village idiot.” It’s a stereotype in which we might see a sociable and mentally handicapped person idling about the shops and alleys possibly searching for odd jobs such as mowing lawns or shoveling snow. Often given respect for being “special,” this person may at other times be the butt of someone’s ill-considered wisecracks… “Did you hear about So-and-So and his living room lamp? He was walking down the street, carrying a lamp, so I asked him where he was going. Said he was headed to the hardware store– to buy a new light bulb… Haw!”DSCN3017

I had just been seated in the restaurant when Stoney entered and took a chair at my table. I’d never met this middle-aged fellow before, but I sometimes saw him as I passed through town. I wasn’t sure about his name. I’d heard several people call him Stoney. Was that a nickname derived from a family name of “Stone”? Did it come from a pejorative description of his mental state, as if he was literally a man of stone?

His facial characteristics suggested Down syndrome. His brown and white shoes did DSCN3014nothing to help him fit in with the passing crowd. I learned that he was deaf and that he spoke with mostly indecipherable utterances. Sensing that he couldn’t communicate well with me, despite his sharp gesticulations, Stoney pulled a small notebook and a pencil from his pocket and began to write.

The words he shared were surprisingly legible. “Sadat is dead.” I acknowledged his report. He then wrote, “World War III.”

DSCN3006A wave of apprehension washed over me. Stoney continued, “On the TV. 1700 silos.” Holy crap, I thought. Had I missed some vital news report? Stoney glanced from side to side, then paused to write the word, “Missiles.”

What was he, a lunatic, a prophet, or a mentally deficient Pentagon official? If Stoney was correct and factually reporting the news, then, my god, I thought, what a hell of a place to hear of Armageddon– in a small town greasy spoon!

I tried to change the subject and communicate my interest in being alone. I glanced at DSCN3057the photos lying on the table. Our place. Our “stay against confusion,” as Frost would have it. Our refuge from the madness of the world. Then I wondered about Stoney’s place. Did he have a place with family or friends? Was he molded perfectly with his place this very moment, every moment, hence his eccentricity? Were the questions moot in light of mental retardation?

DSCN3059Stoney wrote new words with painful deliberation. “The world is in bad shape.” I felt like saying, “Man, you’ve got that right.” His kind of message, often tossed about casually by special interest groups to gain a share of converts, was inscribed with something like sincerity and wisdom. There was no way to dispel his presence.  I took his paper and pencil and wrote, “You bet!”

In the last minute of this only exchange I had with him, Stoney wrote a single word. In context, it was the most affirmative and disconcerting of all that he had written. The final word he wrote for me was, “Life.”DSCN3045

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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4 Responses to The Final Word (A Recollection)

  1. Puget Keith says:

    This is a story about how our stereotypes can get in the way of enlightenment. I wonder how many folks I sit next to on the ferry or bus that have something to share, something that could change my life, but my own interests and personality prevent me from indulging in a morsel of truth.

    Also I studied your bookshelf carefully and am glad to see my favorites like Canterbury Tales, Steinbeck, and Winesburg, Ohio. All good ones to see.

    PS I am getting tired of Harpers.

  2. Thank you, Keith, for recognizing what I too consider the gist of this account. Stereotypes and self-imposed agendas prevent us from recognizing a lot of what is good or potentially interesting in our lives. That goes for the social realm as well as for the natural world where, alas, a trout stream or an oak tree may have a tale to tell. Also happy that you took a peek at one of my many book shelves and saw a few worthy titles there. Books and music hold an important position in our household. Lots of stuff to poke through when “Harpers & Co.” runs thin.

  3. Alan says:

    I must say that you and your wife have very similar lifestyles as us. I still get caught on much of my local news when I get a hair cut.

  4. It’s a lifestyle that suits the nature-minded soul, the simple life that never really seems so simple. The barber shop has been a traditional hot-bed for the local news although, admittedly, I’d have a hard time recognizing what goes on beyond the old barber pole. The tavern/saloon/hotel restaurant was easy for me to relate to when it came to “catchin’ up.” Thanks Alan.

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