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The Man with a Hat
Sarah R, Thompson passed away suddenly, friday, at the age of 32. She woke Saturday morning reporting chest pains, and fell unconscious in her home. She was rushed to Grace Primary Care Hospital. She was pronounced dead at 8:45 in the morning The cause of death is still to be determined.
Sarah is survived only by her husband, Samuel Thompson. She has no other siblings and both of her parents had passed away at the young age of 42. Her aunt, who had taken care of her, passed just 4 years ago. The wake service is scheduled for Wednesday night at Timmons Funeral home and the funeral service is planned the following day at St. Peter's Church in Sailtown….
40 years later.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! “Jimmy, wake up you’re going to be late for your first day of school.” Yells my mother from downstairs in the kitchen. I groggily kick off my covers and check my phone, 8:20. Uh-oh! The bus comes in 5 minutes. I jump out of bed, get dressed as quickly as I can, and run downstairs. There she is, my mother waiting with that little mom look that screams I told you so but she doesn’t say anything. My father sits at the table enjoying his morning cup of coffee. We had just moved to Sailtown, Pennsylvania about a month from a little town in Maine called Blue Hill. I had already moved twice in my life due to my father being moved from station to station as a military electronic radar specialist. This time was at least different because today marked my first day of high school. I was very excited but also filled with fear of the fact I didn’t know anyone. My brother, Sam, was starting his first day of 5th grade. He seemed excited also.
My bus rolled up to the corner of our street just as I was saying my goodbyes to my parents. I sprinted a quarter of a block and hopped onto the bus with 80 eyeballs staring at me. Well, this should be interesting. Luckily, I find a seat towards the back of the bus. I sit silently looking out the window.
As the bus rolls on, I keep starting out the window until I see a very old man walking down the street. He wears a dark leather jacket, with a old, musty hat on that seems to have seen better days. His pants a darker brown, stained by what seems to be years and years of use. His shoes stained with mud, and worn to the sole. He wears this clothing amidst a hot, summer day beginning to unfold. What in the world is this guy thinking?
My evaluation of the man is cut short by someone on the bus screaming, “There he is!” Pointing to the man I had just seen.
All of a sudden, all the kids on the bus leap from their seats on the opposite side to even catch a glimpse of him. Even the bus driver takes a glance and shakes her head.
In my confusion, I ask a kid next to me,
“Who is that?”
He responds quickly, “We don’t know! Everyday someone sees him but no one knows his name! I don’t even know if he has a house to live in! He wears the same clothes and the same hat, but never has once asked for one penny from anyone in town. Heck, he’s never said a word to anyone in town. Rain, Snow, or shine, he walks. No one even knows where he’s going too! All we know is that he is the town creep, but everyone likes to get a peak when they can.”
When I heard this, I was fascinated. I wanted to know who this guy was. I wanted to know what he is doing. I had so many questions, But, I played it off cool and said,
“Oh, thats weird”
As my first official day of high school kicked off, I couldn't focus on it very well. I was consumed in the thought of who this guy was. I was invested in finding out who he was, what his story was, and why he does this.
When I was younger, my mom came into my room every night and read me a story. To this day I still love stories. True stories, fiction stories, any stories. I think a story is just beautiful. Every story is unique in their own way. Every person reads, interprets, and hears a story a different. That is what makes them so beautiful.
In the coming weeks, as our bus rolled on, I saw that man, in the same clothes, walk by everyday. Everyday, I heard rumors about this man. Some said he was the town drunk. Some said he was a bad man who was a criminal. Others even said he was a ghost. It got to the point where I had to figure this out.
It was a Tuesday morning and I told my mom I wasn’t feeling good. She bought it and let me stay home. As soon as both my parents left, I ran to the garage and jumped on my bike. I raced down the road my bus takes and finally saw the man. I turn around and slowly following him, making sure he doesn’t see me, until he reaches his final destination. He goes into the Pinecove graveyard. My mind is befuddled. What is he doing here? Is he stealing from the graves? Is he visiting someone?
All of a sudden, he stops, takes his hat off and bursts into tears. He pulls a flower out of his coat pocket, and lays it with the many that already lie there. In my overwhelming curiosity, I slowly start to walk over there. I get about 3 feet away from him, when he turns around. A watery pair of eyes that are very bright blue, stare back at me. His face wrinkled, cheeks rosy from the cool September morning. His hair freshly cut, beard stubble, and eyebrows brushy. He does not look poor. Under his leather jacket, a fresh white shirt, wrinkle-free hugs his chest. He opens his mouth to speak,
“Hello,” He says in a very bleak tone
“Ha.. Hi,” I answer back terrified.
“Are you here to visit her?” He points at a grave reading… Sarah R. Thompson.
“Uh, who’s that?” I ask him
“Oh, you never heard of her,” He says, “Well, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was the keys to my happiness. She was the most wonderful woman in the world. She was my wife.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” I answer solemnly
He sits next to the grave, “What did I lose?”
“Well, isn’t your wife dead?” I ask again
“Yes, she died, but I haven’t lost anything. Son, let me tell you something. When you lose someone close to you, at first, you go into a state in which you are angry. Angry at everything. Angry at God, at people who tried to console me, I hated everything and everyone. See, I knew that all those people who were there for her funeral didn’t really care for her. They cared for themselves. They wanted all the ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and all the sympathy. You should have seen her sister at that funeral. She acted like she cared, but hated her. It’s unbelievable. But, I slowly realized that even though someone dies, it doesn’t mean that they are gone. I visit my wife’s grave every day. I bring a rose for her. Roses were her favorite flower; she loved red. I come, I talk to her like she is still here.”
Wow, I think to myself, I can’t believe it. I look at him and ask, “Well, why do you wear the same clothes everyday.”
“Well,” he says, “I wear the hat because she loved when i would wear hats. She said I was the most handsome man in the world. The leather jacket because this was the gift she bought me the night before she died.”
He pauses before he says,
“You’ll be the first soul I’ll ever tell this too, and probably the last but, as much as I loved my wife, she sure knew how to be stubborn. It was her special quality. But that night, the night before, she knew something was wrong. She knew she was sick. She was just too stubborn to do anything about it. She must’ve thought I was asleep, but she said very quietly, ‘Thank you for being my person. I love you with everything I’ll ever have, and everything I ever was. You are my person”
All of a sudden, this man, who was thought of being some sort of criminal by the kids at school, broke down into tears. I tried to console him, but in my heart I knew there was nothing I could do.
He looked up and said, “For 30 years, all I’ve ever wanted was someone to talk too. I never spoke first to anyone, I’ve waited for someone to approach me. For 30 years, no one in this town has ever had the nerve to even greet me. Son, I would like to say thank you for your time.”
I got back on my bike and started to leave when, it occurred to me we never exchanged names. When I went back he was already gone, and so I went home.
The next morning when I get on the bus, and wait to see the man walking his usual route, I am discouraged not to see him. Not until later that day in school when I am called down to the office am I filled in by a police officer. The old man's name was Samuel, and he had passed away the night before. He had somehow gotten my name, and had left me a gift. The gift was his hat, and written a note,
By the time you’re reading this. I will be reunited with my lady. I had no children, and all my family members have passed. I don’t have much, but I want you to have my hat. Please keep it safe for my wife. Thank you son once again for your act of kindness”
I found myself beginning to tear up, and then it hit me. All this man wanted was someone to keep the memory alive, to keep his story alive. The story of Samuel and Sarah Thompson, one of the greatest stories I have ever known.