The View From The Hill
by Al Albers
All he wanted was a chance to talk; a friend he could confide in. But no one would take the time to sit and listen. He was a derelict, one of many in the neighborhood, but he was also a human being. People tended to overlook that. I stayed and listened to his story.
"For 43 years I was the butcher in this neighborhood," the old man whispered. "I've seen families come and go, and youngsters grow up, marry and move away. They were good times."
I looked up and down the street, 100-feet in front of me. Suddenly the old man spoke; it was as if he had read my thoughts.
"The neighborhood's changed over the years. It used to be nothing but fancy brownstones and carriage houses. Now look at it - nothing but big apartment houses, with more people in one room than had previously lived in the whole house. I hate it," he said.
For a few moments, he said nothing. He sat still, staring straight ahead. His eyes seemed deep in thought. Then, just as suddenly as he had stopped, he continued.
"Business was good. My best customers were from the communal clubs in the surrounding areas. They came to my butcher shop because I gave them nothing but the best. And they never questioned my bills!"
"What's become of the butcher shop?" I asked.
"I sold it to a chain store," was his reply. "I'm retired, now."
Realizing that his tattered clothing seemed to belie his claim to being "retired," the old man explained it had taken lots of money to put his boys through college and marry off his daughter in "style."
"With the remaining money, I bought a place in the country," he added.
The old man seemed to see the skepticism in my eyes. Undaunted, he went on to brag that his place in the country was better kept than an old mansion, across from the park. He described in detail the pond, the white swans, clipped hedges and the full-time gardener.
"My place is on top of a hill where you can look over the whole blessed valley," he boasted.
"You must have trouble commuting day-to-day," I implied.
With a sheepish grin he explained that he lived in one of those "crummy boarding houses."
"What about your place in the country," I demanded.
"Oh that," he exclaimed.
Then suddenly a smile inched across his lips.
"My place in the country is the cemetery plot I bought."