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Ol' Man Reed

When I was in high school I worked at a grocery store. It was actually closer to a general store. It carried dry goods too, like hats and shirts. Our town had about 500 people. Small town. Everyone knew everyone, eventually. I hadn't lived there long enough to know everyone yet. But I was learning.

Ol' man Reed shopped there once a month. He always bought the same things. Mr. Purvis, my boss, had his stuff boxed up ready for him on the first of the month. I hadn't seen what he put in the cardboard boxes.

He pushed a cart into town. It was big enough to hold his goods, along with the laundry he did at the same time. He would have two bags of things to wash. He would put his stuff in the laundromat and then come fetch his needed items from us.

We had one short main street extending off the highway passing right through town. You could see everything going on if you were watching. Most people did, if they weren't busy. After packing up his store bought items Ol' man Reed would go and wait for his laundry to finish.

When it was done he packed it into the cart and pushed it home. Only about a mile or so away and just outside the town limits. He had an old shack to live in. No one visited, I understood.

"How long has he been alone?"

I was talking to Mr. Purvis, after Ol' man Reed left one day. He was picking his teeth having just finished a sandwich that Saturday afternoon.

"Always, since he was a boy. Lives on a disability from the service. He's dirt poor."

"I guess he's doing alright. Has enough, I suppose, to live on. I mean, he's old."

"Maybe. He pinches pennies. Notice what he never buys?"

"No sir. I never looked in the boxes."

"Well, I'll tell you what. One of those bags of laundry is always pretty smelly. You'd notice if you happened to pass by as he came into town."

"Yes sir. I don't understand."

"Well, I'll be delicate. His house don't have indoor plumbing. Has an outhouse."

"Yes sir. Lots of folks still do."

"My point is, he never buys any kind of paper products, boy. Just brings in two bags of things to be washed every month."

"Yes sir."

"What do you suppose he has in that smelly bag?"

Small towns did have some pitifully interesting characters. That I was learning.

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