He’s One of Ours!

“You wanna fight me?  Eh?”

This unexpected but earnest question was asked of my husband a few years ago as he waited at the bus stop in a nearby village.  Recognizing the man as a resident of a local care home, Sem calmly considered the offer for a moment and then checked his watch.

“I canna fight you just now,” he said amicably.  “I’m catching the bus soon.  Maybe another time?”

The man thought about it and then relaxed.  “Aye, awright,” he agreed.  “Another time, then!”  He went on his way cheerfully and that was the end of that.

I have come to realize that villages around here “take care of their own,” and that includes folks like Sem’s challenger.  Here (as everywhere) there are those who are developmentally disabled, some who have severe learning difficulties, others who have mental illnesses of various kinds, and a handful who are simply eccentric (remember “Wellies”?).  This article is about some of them – people who are often outcasts – and how they “fit in” to their Highland villages.

“Wellies” aka Brian.  I miss seeing him around the village.

“Wellies” aka Brian.  I miss seeing him around the village.

Not far from here there’s a community for those who are able to live mostly on their own, but with some supervision.  They are well-known by most folks.  In bigger towns and cities I suspect they would get lost in a sea of faces (and the bilge of bureaucracy) and while I’m sure it can happen here, too, for the most part Highland villagers accept them as a part of things rather than shunning them.

My village has its fair share of this branch of the population, as well.  Some have become legendary, like The Earl (not a real earl), who died before I came here – my loss!  He was one of the more colorful characters in the village, usually to be found in the pub with his “boxie”, a small accordion which he played with more enthusiasm than skill.  The Earl was playing with gusto in the local pub one evening when an incomer – a man very few people had time for – snatched the instrument out of his hands, making a rude comment about his playing.  My husband’s friend, who was a rather imposing fellow, took issue with this affront to The Earl.  Looking straight ahead and addressing the pub at large he said mildly, but darkly, “If somebody doesnae give The Earl his boxie back, they’ll be gettin’ a slap.”

The boxie was hastily returned to The Earl, with apologies.

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Then there’s Jimmy, gone from us now as well, whose disability came about from a head injury.  By the time I met him he was living by the harbor, well into retirement.  No visitor could go past his house without being greeted by Jimmy, the self-appointed representative of the village.  Along with his tourist-ambassador-duties, he decided that he was responsible for keeping things shipshape too.  The Harbormaster had to chastise him more than once for repainting all the bollards along the harbor!

Jimmy, contemplating the sea after we had a friendly chat.

Jimmy, contemplating the sea after we had a friendly chat.

Jimmy seemed to have a thing for white paint, and not just for the bollards, either.  One day he climbed nearly to the top of one of the high hills which dominate the village, found some very big rocks and painted them white, too.  It must be pretty good paint; it’s more than a decade since he climbed up there but those rocks are white to this day despite much weather-battering.  Why did he do it?  No one knows, but he certainly left a nearly-indelible mark on the landscape.  He could be cheeky and sly but he generally meant no harm.  He liked to sing an old song or two with shop staff, most of whom knew him well.  They would indulge him with cheery kindness but when he got to be too much of a handful one of them would invariably roar at him while pointing to the door.  “Jimmy!  OUT!”  He would laugh, hold a handful of money out towards them, and sing one more verse while they picked out the correct amount for his purchases before sending him on his way.  It was always done with good humor and a certain exasperated fondness, and rather than feeling uncomfortable, if you were a spectator to a sing-along you’d leave with a smile on your face about as wide as Jimmy’s mischievous grin.  Despite a series of strokes and a fall or two, he doggedly walked to the shops nearly every day until he died.

Colorful Highland dancers on Games Day.  Look higher, way up on the hill... see those two bright white rocks?  Jimmy's handiwork!

Colorful Highland dancers on Games Day.  Look higher, way up on the hill… see those two bright white rocks?  Jimmy’s handiwork!

There are a few others of note in my wee village but I’ll leave you with one last impression, this time of Glen.

Glen is a solid lad, well over six feet tall.  He’s in his 30s I would guess, and his job in the village is to pick up litter and clean the public toilets.  He goes around the streets either on foot or on his bike, wearing a bright orange boiler suit, sometimes with a sack and a long-handled trash-spearer (I’m sure there’s a technical name for it).  Occasionally he even picks up some trash.  Mostly, though, he keeps tabs on village life.  If there’s construction going on, Glen is there for a chat with the boys.  If there’s anything happening at all, he’s there.  He is renowned for knowing all the news, not just about our village, but surrounding areas, too.  It’s uncanny.  If the road is closed for some reason, Glen knows about it before anyone else does.  He spends his money on expensive model trucks and a quiet dram at the pub with his father and uncle.  He has private nicknames for people; I don’t even want to know what mine is, as I hear they are not always flattering!

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Glen limps a bit, he’s deliberate in his movements, and he doesn’t often meet people’s eyes, but the locals know there’s a lot going on behind the distant gaze.  He misses nothing, and the thing about Glen is that his outward appearance can be misleading.  Years ago while he was at work (before he got his current village gig), one of the men from a neighboring county kept mocking him.  The guy was coarse and cruel, thinking himself clever for taunting the big, slow lad.  The other men kept quiet and Glen went about his business, taciturn as ever, seemingly unaffected by the stream of insults.  That is, until he reached his limit and suddenly swung hard, leveling his tormentor with one swift punch before turning wordlessly back to his work as though nothing had happened.

In the days afterwards if anyone asked the other guy what happened to his face, he found himself without anything to say.  “I picked on Glen until he punched me,” did not seem to be a wise explanation.  Not so mysteriously, none of the other lads had seen a thing, either.  The local men knew Glen could handle himself, and the others from up north on the crew were probably just glad they hadn’t joined in with their pal’s nonsense!

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I’ve alluded to Glen’s somewhat relaxed approach to his current job.  A few years ago there was someone from Highland Council (Glen’s employer) who couldn’t stand him and tried hard to get him removed from the position.  The village rallied round and fought his corner, and Glen remained employed.  While our public bathroom is no cleaner, and our litter mostly gets picked up by the big street-sweeper that is driven around on Tuesdays, people are just satisfied that Glen still has his “wee job.”

“Glen might not be up to much,” folks say, “but he’s ours!”

That seems to be how it is, in these small villages.  While no place is perfect, seeing how the more vulnerable among us are treated says a lot about a community.  I like it here.

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Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands. Equally surprising to her is that she now has a small business restoring and selling old fountain pens. These two facts have convinced Deb that life is either beautifully random, or filled with destiny created by someone with a sense of humor. She hopes the fine north state residents will accept her as an honorary member, since she has some cousins in California who she visited once, but even more importantly because the north state folks she actually knows are fabulous people, who are also the reason for her presence here on anewscafe.com. An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Deb is grateful that she lives in a place that's about as point-and-shoot as it gets. Her tortoiseshell cat, Smartie, rates her as an average minion, too slow with the door-opening but not too bad on the food-dish-refilling, and her husband hasn't had her deported back to the States yet, so things must be going all right there, as well.
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46 Responses

  1. Beverly Stafford says:

    Always a joy to wake up to one of your columns.  Thank you.

  2. cheyenne says:

    This reminds me of “Walking Jim” in Anderson a few years back.  He never said a word and walked everywhere.  At any event in Anderson River Park he would show up in the food line and was treated as a regular.  I wonder if he is still there?

    • trek says:

      I’m guessing it’s been at least 10 years since Jim walked up the staiway to heaven.

    • Deb says:

      I like hearing stories like that.  For me, growing up, it was “The White Walker”, so named because he always dressed in white, year-round.  White t-shirt, white painter’s pants.  He seemed old forever (I suppose every adult is old when one is in elementary school!), and while I’m not sure I trust my memory, I think he even had white hair.  Brown as a nut from walking all year round, he was our local enigma, never saying anything to anyone, just like your “Walking Jim”.  We never knew where he went but we saw him all the time.

      Grown-up me would probably stop and talk to him.  Child-me was merely intrigued, enthralled, and ready to believe he had some kind of mystical powers.  I wonder if he knew he was a local legend?

  3. What a sweet piece of writing about the family of colorful people in your village. Thank you, Deb, for featuring these rich characters, and reminding us that every community is made up of all kinds of people who march to the beat of their own drummers.

    (Readers, can you think of people in our north state -past or present – who would make Deb’s list?)

    • Matt Grigsby says:

      I remember back in the 80s there was a man who always wore a clear plastic raincoat, no matter how hot it got.  We called him “Plastic Man” and the rumor was that he wore the raincoat to protect himself from potential nuclear fallout.  I heard his name was Nathan (I think, it’s been a few years), and I read in the paper he had been hit and killed by a car.  I’ve thought of that peaceful, wandering man many times over the years.

      • Diane says:

        Yes, my kids and I always looked for “Plastic Man” (our name for him also) downtown.  He lived at the Lady Lorenz and I heard that many times his money was forcefully taken from him by other residents.  He was a presence in our community and I still miss him.

      • A. Jacoby says:

        Oh Matt . . . thank you. I had totally forgotten about the “plastic man1” I remember him well .. . . at least now I do. And Deb, thank you again and again for your fascinating tales and your wonderful gift for writing them. . . . and your evocative pictures.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Doni!  I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      I’m enjoying seeing other stories here as well about the memories people have of folks they’ve noted!  I’ve just commented above about my childhood mystery-guy, “The White Walker”.  It makes me realize anew that everyone has a story… how I would love to know more about my own childhood “legend”, and to know more about those who have been mentioned here in comments, too!

  4. sue k says:

    What a wonderful read, Deb.

    Thank you!

  5. Matt Grigsby says:

    Another heartwarming and lovely tale of your beautiful corner of the world.  I deeply love every one of these windows and I love how lucky we are to get to peek through and see the beauty.

    Thank you Deb, always.

    • Deb says:

      I loved your “Plastic Man” story above, Matt!  And I’m glad you enjoyed my story today, too.  Thank you for telling me!

  6. Peggy Elwood says:

    Love your stories and beautiful photos, Deb!

  7. Rod says:

    Beautiful piece Deb,  keep ’em coming please.

    Is it acceptable for a village to exist within a village?  You know, a larger geographical area surrounding an enclosed smaller micro-village? Sure it is, ok?  Think Greenwich Village aka New York.

    My Shasta County Village must be the cannabis culture.  A small piece lives within every village in Shasta County.  They’re warm friendly folks who also like to avoid outsiders and their lack of knowledge.  Multiple decades of persecution from moralists have driven the culture to stay out of the sun, out of sight, in jail or get out of town.  We’ve each one been knuckled or roughed-up by enforcers and their advisors.  We do indeed get picked-on.

     

    Doni, my nominee for my village figure head. Is His Honor James Benno.  He’s one of ours.

    Try to catch your breath before the delete button.  Let’s compare a functioning society which Deb has heaped volumes of love and respect for, to my little culture here in Shasta County.  What is the problem????  Does my tiny village continue to exist solely because the larger village allows it?  No.  We survive because we love life. There’s unlimited potential remaining untapped in my village,  we might save the larger village from harm.  Ever notice that micro-villages survive even after the larger falls?

    Attitude governs micro-villages because right/wrong has been confused with moral judgements.  The best I hope for is more of the same.  Attitude is higher than a kite in my village, the end of prohibition is near.  Attitude rules.

    So, who’s gonna put James Benno in prison?  Why?  Is there a point?  What was wrong?

     

     

     

     

    • Deb says:

      Hi Rod! Glad you enjoyed the article.  I don’t know who James Benno is but it sounds like the locals will.  Seems like things are complicated in your village-within-a-village, and to be fair, I know that sometimes there are difficulties in the community which houses the residents who need extra care, near here. It’s not always perfect, and it requires tolerance on all sides.  We are fortunate that there are care-workers who help out a lot (I realize that the situation is different, as it doesn’t sound like your community needs care-workers in the way I mean), but there are still occasionally clashes.  Things have a way of sorting themselves out, here, though, and we are fortuante in that!

    • Rod says:

      Maybe a retired NFL quarterback would discuss James Benno openly with me.

      It’s a shame that prohibitionists are so weak and deceptive.  Basic cowards.

       

      http://thelab.bleacherreport.com/jake-plummer-s-pot-crusade/

      • Breakfast Guy says:

        Rod, though this article is rather long, I do hope many endure through such an excellent, eye-opening, informative piece. Jake Plummer is indeed on to something here that could forever change the way anti-inflamatory treatment is administered. Instead of simply masking pain with sedatives, there are apparently better ways now to effective healing with less sickening and dangerous side affects caused by old school traditional meds.

        • Rod says:

          Yeah it’s long, sorry, it’s a long story though.  I was thinking that NFL QBs seem to be willing to shake the tree.  As you say, it’s worth the read.

          As a side note, I’m 30 years older than Jake, several bone breaking moto crashes.  Those prescription meds nearly killed me.  A concussion was something I was able to accept, until now.  I’m alive today thankfully,  because of cannabis research into alt-medicine.

          Can we imagine for just a moment,  marijuana and it’s prohibition never happened in America?

           

           

           

          • Breakfast Guy says:

            That’s okay, Rod. No apologies needed. It’s still an interesting and important story worthy of wide circulation. My hope is that medical professionals from all around this country are taking notice at last, to such findings.

  8. Erika Kilborn says:

    What a lovely piece!  I wish more communities had such a gentle way of treating their most vulnerable residents.  Here in the US, people mostly turn a blind eye to things.  And if you try to help, you are often met with anger.  It’s a sad state of affairs.

    Here in my corner of Long Island, we have the Walking Woman.  No idea where she actually lives.  She seems to be well cared for, her clothes are always clean, and she looks like she eats on a regular basis, although she is quite thin.  She is always conducting unseen music.  Sometimes she has ear bud headphones strung on her neck, most times not.  But she is always gesturing at an invisible orchestra.  I’ve seen her walking the main drag near my house and I worry about her, since the traffic is abysmal and people zoom around like everything they do is of the utmost importance.  Walking Woman pays them no mind, but she does stop at the street corners before she crosses.

    • Deb says:

      It’s surprising how many of us have these mysterious figures on the fringes of our lives (see my above comment  about “The White Walker” of my growing-up-years).  I hope that Walking Woman will stay safe.  I wonder what music she hears when she doesn’t have her ear buds in? 🙂

  9. Diane says:

    Does anyone remember “Lone Eagle” (his name for himself) from the 90’s in Redding?  He stood on the corner downtown and waved to people.  He had shoulder-length hair, wore a black trench coat, black gloves, and a black hat.  He was homeless and chose to live “under the bridge”.  One time I remember seeing him get a running start and run up the ridge from the South City Park to the sidewalk on Cypress St. with his trench coat fluttering out behind him.  When he was given a motel room, he left it to go back under the bridge.

    • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

      I do remember him, mainly because I nearly hit him as he ran down a side street toward South Market and into traffic.

      A long time ago (early 60s before the downtown mall) there was a guy we called The Spinner because he would take three or four steps and then spin around a few times.  In the 1970s there was the guy who directed traffic all over town by waving his arms around (I heard he was an Agent Orange victim). Also in the 1970s, there was a very elderly woman I saw in the downtown mall who dressed to the nines: hat, gloves, all her jewelry (rings over the gloves), full makeup, stockings and heels, even on the hottest days. Only saw her a few times.

  10. Beverly Stafford says:

    Some 60+ years ago in the small town where I grew up, we had Walkin’ Andy.  As his name suggests, he walked a lot in our neighborhood, always with his hands clasped behind him.  Rumor was, among us kids, that he didn’t mind being called Walkin’ Andy, but never, ever call him Indian Charlie.  Looking back, I’m guessing he had cerebral palsy, and of course, since he was “different,” he was scary to us kids.  Our parents assured us that he was harmless, but even at that, we never dared to talk to him.  Puts me in mind of Boo Radly in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I never knew where Walkin’ Andy lived or how he got on – or when we lost him.

  11. Connie Koch says:

    I always look forward to reading your stories – you have such a wonderful way with words, that it draws me into feeling like I know the characters, I can picture them in my mind as if they are some lost and forgotten friend.  Thank you for sharing your life and tales with all of us back in the US.

  12. Barbara Cross says:

    Deb,

    Thank yoiu so much for your thoughtful delightful writing.   After reading your words we readers  are enlightened  more about your part of the world.  This was a touching story about how your community  cares for one another..,. wish all villages had that sense of caring.   I look forward to you next  story.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Barbara!  I’m glad you enjoy my writing.  I’m fortunate to live in a place that is special in many ways, and it’s nice to share part of it with all of you.

  13. David M. Kerr says:

    Judge a city on how it treats its disabled.  Prescott Arizona is a model.  I visited Yavapai Exceptional Industries with my handicapped 29 year old daughter.  YSI has three sheltered workshops.  Some call it the happiest place on Earth.  Many young people 20-40 are happier in a group home and sheltered workshop.  Beats watching TV all day.  Work gives the young people a sense of pride.  The happiest I ever saw my daughter was the day she called me and said,  Ïve got a job!”  Group  homes for handicapped people are an asset to a community.  Middle and upper class parents retire there to be close to their children.  Companies which send work to the workshop earn a great reputation.

    • Deb says:

      That sounds ideal, David! I’m glad your daughter was so happy there. It sounds like they’ve got a great set-up in every way.  It is so good to hear about places like Prescott – thank you for telling me.

  14. Doreen O. says:

    My family remembers the guy in Redding with the plastic raincoat.  It seems to me he carried extra plastic bags with him and didn’t use the hood of his raincoat as much as he used an extra plastic bag tied on top his head.  I always felt that he was a victim of chemical sensitivities since many people who are sensitive to various chemicals actually gravitate towards the chemicals (or are repulsed by them–one extreme or the other).  They experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not constantly exposed to whatever substance to which they are ‘allergic.’  In that way, seeing him made me a little sad, but he always seemed to me to be handling life OK.

  15. Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Thank you for this beautiful piece Deb.  I was moved that the village supported and protected Glen when it looked like he might lose his job.  It’s obvious that he’s an important member of the community.

    I’ve met some interesting characters in different communities.  I lived in Manila in Humboldt county and met the “Mayor of Manila”.  He  was a tall, older man who wore a black hat and trench coat, walked or hitched every where he went and played the fiddle badly.  He showed me a little bottle he sipped from that  he said was turpentine to keep away colds.  I was dumbfounded when I moved to Redding and found the Mayor hitchhiking in front of the Market Street apartment where my brother and I lived.  He had come all the way to Redding for a doctor appointment in what was then the town of Central Valley.  I gave him a ride.

    I met the “spinner”  Barbara Rice just mentioned when I worked at a restaurant near the Cascade Theater.

    For as long as I’ve lived in Redding I’ve seen a man in a long coat bicycling all over the place.  He bobs his head in a distinctive manner where ever he goes.   I finally learned that his name is Dwayne and he has lately  been featured in some Youtube interviews.

    Again, thank you for a great read!

     

     

     

     

    • Deb says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Joanne!  Thank you for sharing your stories with me, too.  I’ve really enjoyed reading about the local walkers (spinners, cyclists, etc.) in the comments as well, from all of you!

  16. elsie doerner says:

    Beautifully written, really enjoyed reading this!

  17. Ginny says:

    As usual, I loved your piece, Deb.  (smile)

    When we moved into our first home my parents were buying, I was about 9.  There was a neighborhood boy who was developmentally disabled named Sharky, who was about 12 years old.  He took a liking to me to where he wouldn’t let me into the school yard as thought he was playing a game with me.  Finally my mother paid my playmate and near my age a quarter, which in pre-WWII, was a lot of money for a kid.  Anyway, Tommy protected me.  One night my mother heard this noise on our front porch near her bedroom.  It was Sharky crying.  She called the police to take him home.   When the police was there, my mother spoke to Sharky.  She told him he had to sleep after dark in his own bed at home, and he wasn’t to harass me any longer.  He never did.

    Years later, I saw Sharky’s brother.  The poor young man died when he was about 16.   I always felt sad for Sharky, yet very happy his family kept him home living with them, for in those days there were State homes for the handicapped.  Our neighborhood took care of him.

    So, Deb, you brought back some memories both good and bad, but part of life of the living.   Thank you!  And, for your beautiful photos!

  18. Terry says:

    My thanks, too, Deb, for a beautiful reminder of how connected all the residents of a community can be if we accept people as they are.  I loved  your word pictures of each character – the characters were so alive.  It was almost as if I were reading your future book, “Tales from a Scottish Village”. (I made that up, but I could So see that happening!)

    🙂

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Terry, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!  I’d love to write a book, but whooo boy do I lack discipline 🙂  Maybe one day…

  19. Marie says:

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

    MAB

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