14 May 2015
The Peddling Man - Part 1
Greetings Dear Reader,
I love puns. To the constant pain of my children I am quite good at creating them. I remember my first one. There was a man who would come by our house when I lived in midtown Atlanta. I was very young and we had just moved into a house on one of the few remaining brick streets in Atlanta.
It was early spring and I had been out riding my new banana seat bike. It was a birthday gift and I had only recently mastered riding it. I loved the rattle of riding the brick street. I was sitting on the lawn under a magnolia tree waiting for my mom and sister to come home.
The rattle reached my ears before I could see him. He rode a bicycle that pulled a cart. The cart was taller than the man on the bike and wide. The bike was old. It was a time and use worn Radio Flyer. The cart was home made with wood and iron. It had large spoke wheels like those on a vintage pram. It even had a tented tin roof.
Under the roof of the cart hung pots and pans that clanked together as the man rode up the street. He saw me sitting on the lawn and stopped. I could see the lines of Georgia summers and many years in his face. His eyes were electric green and filled with mirth.
I still remember his greeting; “Good afternoon youngster. Do you have garden hose where a thirsty man could get a drink?”
Trained to both respect my elders and fear strangers I was in a quandary. It was his smile that went all the way to his eyes that tipped the balance. “Yes sir,” I said, “and it will reach all the way here.”
I ran to get the hose. Turned on the water and began to uncoil it from the hose wheel. I pulled it to the front yard and the man was looking at my bike. He accepted the hose and drank long from it. He then pulled a dented army canteen from his cart and filled it as well.
I politely asked the man his name. He smiled again. “People just call me ‘The Peddling Man’ because I peddle my wares all over town.”
It was my turn to smile and I chimed in, “and because you ride a bicycle.”
He chuckled. “I have never thought of it like that before. Let me pay you for the water and the laughter.”
I refused, knowing that my Grandfather would not approve of me accepting payment for a kindness. He insisted. His payment was to pull an old grease gun from his cart and grease the chain of my bicycle. He explained how important it was to keep the chain greased.
That entire summer I was out on the lawn on Tuesdays with the hose ready, in the shade of the magnolia tree for the Peddling Man. I would run the water when I heard his rattle so that it would be cool in the hose.
He would stop and inspect my bike. Sometimes he would tighten a nut or adjust the chain. He would drink the cool water and fill his canteen. He never told me his name. He did tell me stories of people who bought pots and pans and things he fixed.
We talked about the Atlanta Braves. Once or twice he mentioned being in the war in Africa. That was where his canteen got dented. He would talk about God with reverence and racism with disgust. We played a game where he taught me what puns were and how to think of them.
At the end of summer I explained that I would be going to a different school and would not be here in the afternoons. He smiled and reached into the cart. He gave me and old but well-oiled, well-kept Barlow knife. I kept it hidden from my mom knowing she would confiscate.
It would be years before the Bible verse about handing out cool water would reach my mind. I had not thought about The Peddling Man in years when he sprang to mind last week. I am searching my belongings for the knife. I am sure I still have it.
I still obsess over having my bicycle chain well oiled. I still like being kind to strangers. I still value it when someone offers me a cold glass of water. I have more to say about The Peddling Man but that can wait. What you need to know is that his company that summer kept me from loneliness and mischief. That alone is something I cherish.
Wishing you joy in the journey,
Mat 13:52 So Jesus said to them, "That is why every writer who has become a disciple of Christ’s rule of the universe is like a home owner. He liberally hands out new and old things from his great treasure store.”
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