Little Theresa leaves food for the Leatherman

I tried to follow the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat out of the cemetery, but, as he passed through the gate, Little Theresa was just coming in. She greeted him warmly, as she addressed everyone, but his only response was to pull his hat down to cover his face. Perhaps that would work for him to conceal his identity in a land where everyone wore cowboy hats, but in Kenilworth, Connecticut it only made his behavior all the more conspicuous. Little Theresa was not one to question anyone or conclude they were up to no good, so she merrily went her way and called out that she’d see him at the cafe tomorrow.

Seeing this, I fought several simultaneous impulses. On one hand, I wanted to continue to follow the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, as I had been doing all night, to see what he would do next. Now that I knew he had a secret, I had even more reason to shadow him, for I hoped to see that secret revealed. On the other hand, I didn’t want Little Theresa to greet me and let him know I had been tailing him. I had the cover of a well placed tombstone to duck behind. She could pass me and never suspect I was there, but he was traveling at such a rate of speed that I would lose him if I elected concealment.

I also wanted to know what Little Theresa was doing, entering a cemetery late at night. Her behavior was just as mystifying as his. She had a picnic basket hooked in her arm as if it was noontime in a park and positively skipped through the wrought iron gate of the ancient burial ground with no fear of ghosts. She looked more like she was going to see a boyfriend than the cold sandstone and marble memorials of people long since forgotten.

In the end, I elected to hide and follow the young woman, if only because I could satisfy two impulses rather than one. I hoped to find out later the secret the Weather Beaten Man kept. I’ll let you know as soon as I do. For now, come with me and investigate this new development.

Little Theresa skipped by my hiding place, never suspecting I was there. She breezed through the older portion of the cemetery, populated by the town’s Puritan ancestors. None of them rose up out of their graves to warn her of a secret sin or to urge her to mend her ways. Perhaps they knew that she was the closest thing Kenilworth had to a resident saint. Maybe a memo had been passed around to all the dead, identifying her as possessing all the goodness and grace they had only dreamed of when they were alive. I suppose the dead Puritans could have risen up, welcomed her, and embraced her as being saintly, but they were probably ashamed of their own shortcomings. They knew they seldom quite practiced what they preached and to see someone who truly embodied the generosity one might expect from someone assured of salvation was too much. Her bright sunshine cast them in a deep shadow, even in the middle of the night.

Little Theresa went directly to the newer part of the cemetery, where the larger, more ostentatious monuments were, the dead of a more prosperous time, who had less concern of ethics and morality. One mausoleum stood, looming over the rest, its occupants a family of respectable means, but evidently fallen into hard times of late, for the living descendants didn’t seem to keep up appearances. The tomb had been broken into, probably by some partiers, halloween tricksters, or grave robbers. The door hung by a single hinge, affording access to the inside of the crypt.

Little Theresa went right up to the door, stood, and called inside.

“It’s me,” she said. “I’ve come to bring you some food.”

No one from within answered her, but I could sense that someone stirred enough to lift his head, move an arm, or shift a leg.

She kneeled and emptied the contents of the basket on to the marble stoop of the tomb, chattering a little about the weather, how she always knew where to find him, and to enquire about his health. No one responded, but, when she had finished laying out his meal, and, satisfied that no news from him might mean good news, she concluded by saying, “Well, then, I’ll see you next time you pass by. See you then. Bye-bye.”

Little Theresa left as breezily as she had arrived, still carrying her picnic basket, lightened of its food and by the knowledge of having done yet one more good deed.

The thing I most wanted to know now was who was within that tomb. I didn’t think it would be a ghost. It was unlikely she was venerating some ancestor’s tomb, for, if that were the case, she would fix the door, not leave a fat sandwich, wrapped in wax paper, a container of potato salad, a carton of milk, and some bread. No, it had to be a homeless person sleeping in the tomb. Someone with a regular routine, with basic needs, and shy of human contact.

I didn’t have to wait long before someone emerged from the crypt. It only took as long as it takes to know the benefactor was gone. I saw then a grubby, disheveled man with long hair and a long beard, clad entirely in leather. He was serious about leather. He had leather pants, a leather coat, leather hat, leather boots, and leather mittens. If he had any underwear and socks at all, they would’ve been leather, too. His leather coat was not of the type worn by motorcyclists, The Fonz, or James Dean. It was far from fashionable. It most closely resembled a patchwork quilt, for he had sewn on scraps of raw leather at odd angles. What skin I could see resembled leather, as well. Even his hair and beard hung thick and clotted, like leather straps.

This was someone I knew. Not someone I had ever met, but someone legendary in these parts. This was the Leatherman, who, for decades now, had silently traced a consistent route through New York State and Connecticut, sleeping in caves and, apparently, tombs; living off the offerings of anyone who would give him food.

It was said that he was French Canadian and never spoke because he knew little English. It was said, but I didn’t know how anyone would ever know, that he was searching for his lost love, a girl he had seen in a shoe repair shop when he was a child. She had smooth round legs, a bright skirt, and a smile that lit up the mysteries of life. She made everything make sense, but he let her slip out of his grasp. He’d been looking for her ever since.

The Leatherman saw me. When you live like an animal out in the open for as long as he, you never miss anything. He watched me as he devoured his sandwich, paying no heed to the wax paper, content to pick it later out of his mouth.

If I thought I could, I would’ve stayed a while and got his story, but he could see I wasn’t his girl, so he had no use for me. He had life pared down to its essentials and had a single purpose. I studied him as he ate. As I looked into his eyes, the only part of him not leather, I could see that, despite his rough appearance and greedy mastication, he was as gentle a soul as could be imagined. While he would be driven out of any respectable modern town, just like Little Theresa, he could pass through the Puritan graveyard and be free of censure and condemnation.

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S. Harry Zade

Writing a blog keeps me alive.

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