For some reason, Wally has been on my mind recently. I flagged a poem in Robert Hayden’s Collected Poems with the name.
Wally lived in the projects at the other end of the block from us, but he would shamble down 40th Street a couple times a day, probably on the way to the grocery, drug store, or liquor store on Florist. He was ancient to those of us under ten years old. He had white hair and no teeth, and he moved slowly. I was never sure if he was infirm or intoxicated, but he would always happily comply when a group of children would surround him and request his rendition of “Tiny Bubbles”.
I was talking to my brother a couple weeks ago, and he mentioned that Wally served in World War I. Doing the math, I guess that would work out–he was about eighty. My grandfather served in World War II and was only a little older than I am now in 1970-something.
What stories Wally (and my grandfather) could have shared with me. Probably not about the wars, as men of those conflicts didn’t talk much about it, but just the things they had seen in the early part of the 20th century.
It’s probably why I like self-published personal memoirs like The Apple Man and Growing Up In The Bend. I get to hear those stories of ordinary men in their own words, without having to actually talk to them (or risk them with various infections).
Another good reminder to live in the present with those around you instead of tinkling on a blog or banging your head against a promise chain for hours a day.