Note: Bob Stewart has been writing The Shepherd's Heart for nearly 20 years. From time to time, we publish some of the older "classics" from throughout the years.
It was one of those hot Saturday afternoons in the August of 1970. I had been tagging along with Grandpa while he made a trip from Mountain View to Harrison and back. On the return trip, as he slowed the old pickup to make the drive through the town of St. Joe, I noticed something you didn't see everyday -- at least back then.
An old black gentleman sat, legs crossed, on the ledge of the big window of the aging sandstone post office in that dusty little town. His broken and stained straw hat covered what was left of his white hair, and in his lap he held an ancient and beat up Silvertone flat top guitar -- the smaller size with the painted-on pick guard and dark brown sunburst stain.
We were moving slow enough down that sleep Main Street that I could hear him singing what I believe was an old Hank Williams tune, but after all these years I might be mistaken. Beside him sat a coffee can, which I imagined was meant either as a depository for coins from the pockets of passersby, or as a spittoon for the tobacco chewing minstrel to use whenever the need arose -- which seemed to be fairly frequently.
When I asked if we could stop and listen, grandpa said we didn't really have time.
"Have to get before supper or your grandmother will have our hides," he said as he shifted the Chevy back into third gear and headed past The Squirrel Trading Post and on southward toward the Buffalo River Bridge.
That experience has floated through my mind quite often over the past three decades. I wonder what became of that old fellow. I wonder if he was, like me, just passing through. Was he a resident of St. Joe, or would he even have been welcome as a resident there back in the summer of 1970? Was grandpa really in a hurry to get back to the farm, or was he just not interested in hearing the old gentleman strum and sing? If I had been driving would I have stopped; would I have thrown a quarter or two into that old red Folgers can?
Of course, there are no answers for these questions.
More than 20 years later, I visited the famous Pike Street Market in Seattle, I quickly noticed the many street performers which are a mainstay of what has become a "must see" for tourists to the lovely city on Puget Sound. I found that the city even issues licenses -- I'm sure at a nominal fee -- to these street performers. During this particular visit I saw violinists, guitar players, singers, and even a harmonica virtuoso. Predominantly displayed at each one's corner was the round "Seattle Performer" license.
I also noticed that there wasn't an old coffee can anywhere to be seen. And the money tossed into open guitar cases and violin cases consisted primarily of green bills instead of the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters which probably made up the day's take years ago for that old gentleman back in St. Joe.
My how things have changed.
"If you loved me half as much as I love you ...
You wouldn't worry me half as much as you do.
I know that I would never be so blue ...
If you only loved me half as much as I love you."