He was a simple man, a man raised in the old, old-time ways. For years he lived with his mother and brother far up a hollow where the only access was two feet or four feet-your own two feet, or a horse's four. No electricity, no running water. A simple life lived in the simple, old way. He seldom if ever went to town in those days although he did walk out to a local store about 4 miles away to buy and carry in feed for his animals. School? One day, I remember someone telling me. That did not mean he wasn't intelligent--of the things in his world, he knew everything there was to know. Livestock, weather, building fence, making do with what was on hand--in these he was a native expert.
His mother passed away and he lived with his brother for a time, and then moved out to live in a new home with another resident of our road, helping with chores, livestock, gardening, hay, fencing and whatever else needed to be done. Robert worked and worked hard. His love was his goats, and he had many of them. He often worked all day to care for them, mending fences, building shelters or whatever work was called for. We saw him often as we passed along the road; he might be carrying bales of hay on his back to feed his animals, unloading hay, cutting wood or brush, but always he was busy.
In his new home he learned a lot of new things--television, telephone, electrical gadgets. In time he even became comfortable with them. His ready laugh would light up his craggy face, a face I longed to photograph but never did because I was afraid he might think I was being nosy or intrusive. But his face was a face out of time, rough and raw with the brightest blue eyes. I have one photo of him, posted above, taken on the fly when we once saw him along the road, and it is one of my favorites, a picture of a simple man and a simple life.
It took me some time to understand him when he talked. Some of his words and speech patterns seemed to be from another time, and his manner of speaking was one developed in the isolation of his life with his mother and brother for the first 40 years or so of his life. My ears, accustomed to nothern Virginia speech when I moved here, struggled with the cadences of Robert's voice, and those of his brother's voice too. About a year ago we gave Robert a little hen that set all the time; no matter how we tried we could not break up her setting. Robert took her home and she hatched one little chick. The pleasure he took in that chicken gave me such pleasure too. He would laugh and smile talking about her. When some wild animal got her, he was as sad as could be but raised the little chick himself to a full-grown chicken.
Robert passed away this week from cardiac arrest, leaving this world in as simple a way as he lived here. He was alive and talking--and then he was gone. Shocking and sad as that is for those left behind, it seems fitting for this unassuming man. Who amongst us would not wish for an exit like his? He will be missed by more people than he might ever have imagined, those who liked seeing him among his goats or engaged in his daily work, those he helped in the hay or whose animals he cared for when they were away from home. Visitation is tomorrow afternoon; I will not be surprised by how many people come to honor his memory.
Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.