When my sister and I were little we spent several years living at our grandmother’s house. The above picture must be from Halloween, 1964 0r 65…My sister, Emily, is on the right in the blue. Behind us, and behind the porch swing and the trellis beyond that, is the house we then knew as the Copenhaver’s. The Copenhaver’s were an elderly couple that lived with their adult daughter Eleanor. The children of the neighborhood knew them as Mr., Mrs and Miss Copenhaver. The Mr. and Mrs. seemed ancient and a bit scary to our young eyes, Mr. Copenhaver was exceptionally frightening because he had lost part of his arm in his job for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railways, he was forced to retire from his job as an engineer (I thought engineers only ran trains until I was in my mid-twenties) and he would walk the neighborhood with his cane yelling at us children when we were too unruly. He would brandish his stump around and generally intimidate us.
One fine day we were all out playing, running through the yards and back and forth on the sidewalk out front. Mr. Copenhaver was on his porch, which unlike our grandmother’s red brick and tile, was painted grey, a shiny, glossy grey. We were so afraid of him we stayed far from the porch even though he seemed to be yelling at us. He wasn’t very loud, so we didn’t pay him any mind. As the afternoon wore on we began to get curious. Mr. Copenhaver wasn’t sitting on the porch as usual. He was lying on the porch and he hadn’t moved in a long while. Instead of shiny grey the steps and porch also seemed to be becoming a shiny red…”Was he painting the porch?” we wondered.
Gradually we became concerned and that concern overcame our fear. As we inched closer, we must have realized that something was wrong. My sister, though younger, was always braver and managed to walk around Mr. Copenhaver and the red paint on the porch to knock on the door. There was no answer, Miss Copenhaver was at work and Mrs. Copenhaver, hard of hearing, was in the kitchen in back. I no longer remember whether we went in the house ourselves to get her or if we went and got our grandmother first but the adults became involved and the rest of that day has faded from my memory.
Yet, I still remember the day. I remember an old man that had fallen and because of the fall and possibly because instead of two useful arms, one was only a useless stump, could not get himself up. I remember, running and laughing, heedless of this man who was dying mere yards away. This man, whose first name I am not sure I ever knew, needed help and I could not see it. I feel sad and I feel guilty, but mostly, I feel sorry for this man that pushed us all away so much that when he needed us to notice him most, we stayed away…