For as far as I knew, only a handful of adults would bother to greet him and made efforts to talk to him. At which point, Old Man Red would reply abruptly and gruffly, before turning away as if he didn’t welcome the attention or courtesy.
I did wonder though, how he came to be called ‘Red’ since nothing about the old man came remotely close to being anything of bright color, or any color for that matter.
Everything about him was dark and somber. A ‘gothic relic’, one of my friends once called him when she was visiting with me.
“What do you know about being a gothic? You’re ten! Come to think of it, what do you know of relics?!” my older brother sassed with the smug look of a know-it-all.
Yes, I have a brother. Lots of male cousins too, for that matter. They were nuisances, and still are. I say that fondly. My sisters were alright. Anyway, I digress as I am wont to do.
“More than you!” my friend sassed back. “It means he’s very old, like you! And, he’s strange and creepy like you too!”
My brother would have said something back, probably totally inappropriate, but my mom overheard us and interjected. She told us not to call anyone ‘creepy’, then she chased us out of the house to go be underfoot elsewhere.
My friend was right about one thing though, Old Man Red was strange.
If anything, my curiosity burnt within me to know the story of this man. I found myself asking questions, such as, What is his real name? How old is he? Is he as alone in this world as he seemed to be? Is there no wife? Does he have children or relatives somewhere?
And for as long as he had practically been a familiar albeit unfriendly hermit to the people in my hometown, I wondered, Who took care of his needs, and how did he survive?
Ten years old, and I already possessed a very curious mind. It would be to my advantage when I am older and wanted to write about drama and life, but back then it just gave me headaches and wild imaginations.
The questions of Old Man Red’s survival and continued existence was of paramount concern to me, admittedly not because I cared about him all that much since I didn’t know him, but more because I was naturally curious and mysteries had always attracted me.
Alone, but is he lonely? Did he know what people were saying about him behind his back? Did he know of the persistent whispers around him when he made his rare visits to town and when people he encountered quite obviously made a wide detour around him, but stayed near enough to stare and gawk, not to mention gossip? How did he feel, knowing children were quite certainly afraid of him, and most adults stayed out of his way?
I admit that as a child, I had this fear, when all I heard told of this man was the same tale other children heard from adults around them, that Old Man Red was so called and looked the way he did, because he was actually a monster in disguise.