Reprinted from Ink Spots
Doon Press
By Harold Aardema

When the roster of Doon's grand old characters is put down there will be Ralph. He is gone, gone these many years, but the memory of him lingers.

Ralph is special in my memory. He was our own Westside character. I can only remember him as an old man, old Ralph. I can see him now in mind's eye, walking by on a summer day. He did not dress like the beautiful people. He wore a red handkerchief under his cap to safeguard his neck against the mosquitoes. He was forever puffing on his pipe, the lid on a penny box of matches slipped over the fire bowl as a chimney. The pipe seemed to propel him, like a little locomotive. Slightly bowed, he plowed into the chore of getting home for he was then in his late years.

Home to Ralph was his jungle two blocks north of the lumberyard. He loved nature, like in trees and shrubs, and he let her have her wild way. Over the years his domain became a tangle of brush and forest. In late spring lilacs, honeysuckle and peonies blossomed and there were beds of iris. A narrow beaten path ended at his shack. It was a scene like out of a dream.

Few were welcomed into his dwelling. Ralph was a private person. He was friend of the family so I received that special accord which included an occasional visit inside the shack. The shack was a single room maybe 12 x 12 feet, with an earthen floor, constructed of scrap lumber and allowing the light of day through one small window to the east. A lean-to was built to the west for things saved and stored. The shack was furnished with a small table, a single chair, a small potbelly stove for heating and cooking. He slept on a bedroll on the floor. There was a cupboard of sorts and that was all. All, except for the stacks of newspapers for Ralph loved to read and save newspapers. He had no electricity, no running water.

When the sun was high in the sky in summer he lived mostly out of doors. He cooked on a crude fireplace. He slept on a bedspring on a bedroll six feet off the ground, suspended between trees. It was his firm belief that four hours of sleep in the open equaled the regenerative power of eight in bed in the stale indoors. There high among the trees in his bedspring hammock he slept for as many months as he could, except when it stormed. There in his "island jungle on the Westside of Doon town.

Ralph kept a big garden. It included such delights as asparagus and strawberries and the Aardema table was enriched with both. I rarely dig into a mess of asparagus without thinking kindly of this old man who provided us this prize among the greens.

Ralph was not rich. He had no "slips of paper from the bank;" but then his needs were few and simple.

He was both a simple and a complicated man. I knew him in my childhood and teens and then lost him in later years. I suspect he was a deeper man than most thought. He was once married and sired and reared children, I was told, but that part of his life I did not know. I sense there was an untold story in Old Ralph. He was an enigma, like one of his worn sayings hinted, "Never mind."

I would like to put flesh on his bones and life back into him and to have that special visit we might have but never had.


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