Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Living by the Wayside

Paul Wells was the son of a slave, and he lived in Markham, Virginia. Paul was 80 when I first met him; and 5 years later he and I were neighbors. I lived in a shack down the hill, and he lived in a bigger one a football field up the steep hill. Paul was born in 1894, and his father made the development plans for nearby Delaplane and Paris, home to iconic weatherman Willard Scott. 

Paul’s home was bequeathed to his family during Reconstruction, and he loved to tell anyone who listened he was part Apache, and had they known THAT, “I’d have never gotten the darn place”. That’s the toughest word I ever heard him cussing. 

On the bare walls of his unpainted drafty clapboard house hung a framed certificate of appreciation from the owner of Marshall Hardware, noting his regular on-time payments for half a century. Paul’s 19th century clapboard house still stands today, the oak boards now split and popping out nails, naked of paint, and falling in on itself. Paul is buried a few miles away, not far from the Episcopal church in Hume.

“He sure is a handsome young man. Looks like he’s pretty rich too. I’ll bet he has a house out here. We have a lot of city people from up north out here now.” I had just marched up a recent copy of the New York Times and hauled it up the snowbound hill to his house. There it was: a picture of a young Donald Trump.

“Paul, he might be rich, he might be happy, but he’s still a damn developer. I hate developers,” I said. “That’s why I’m here. I got away from that crap.”

“You shouldn't hate anybody, George. Especially because you two are the same.”

“Why the heck do you say that?

“You both sell things.” 

He had me there. I had a short but highly successful run in the real estate hustle before abandoning the work in suburban Washington. My sales manager, delighted with the mountain of money rolling in from my work, gave me the highest compliment he could muster for an inexperienced 25 year old agent. “George, you could sell the president a pubic hair.” The compliment had a reverse effect; it convinced me to quit that work, and leave that world. I bid a permanent adios to The World of The Donald, and moved to Markham.

Probably taking a cue from his uncanny ability to read a face, Paul interrupted my Trump anxiety.

“George, take me to Front Royal for some Kentucky Fried Chicken,” disposing of both Trump and my anxiety at the same second. “And can we pick up a pint of Kessler’s on the way back?"

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