Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent

P.O. Box 366, Lightfoot, VA 23090
Office: 757-561-3255
"Assisting people in re-gaining hope and a better way of life."

Monday, April 14, 2003

"Do you still remember?"

Aqualung--Jethro Tull

Sitting on a park bench --
eyeing little girls with bad intent.
Snot running down his nose --
greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.
Drying in the cold sun --
Watching as the frilly panties run.
Feeling like a dead duck --
spitting out pieces of his broken luck.

Sun streaking cold --
an old man wandering lonely.
Taking time
the only way he knows.
Leg hurting bad,
as he bends to pick a dog-end --
he goes down to the bog
and warms his feet.

Feeling alone --
the army's up the rode
salvation à la mode and
a cup of tea.
Aqualung my friend --
don't start away uneasy
you poor old sod, you see, it's only me.
Do you still remember
December's foggy freeze --
when the ice that
clings on to your beard is
screaming agony.
And you snatch your rattling last breaths
with deep-sea-diver sounds,
and the flowers bloom like
madness in the spring.

For many people in the late 70's and 80's this was a popular song that blared from cars cruising around town on boring summer afternoons. For me, this song reminded me about a real person in the town I grew up, Charleston, WV. He was a homeless guy that roamed our streets of downtown, pushing a large, overfilled grocery cart. People always wondered what was truly in the cart, because there were so many stories circulating about Bill Dunn, aka Aqualung. Why was he nicked named that? Because he looked identical to the guy on Jethro Tull's album cover. He was as famous and important to our town as many of the well known Governors. Many times you could ask people of the town, mostly the teens, who was Governor and they couldn't answer, but to ask "Who is Aqualung?" and you would get an essay on him and their stories of time they spent with him.

I remember the first time I saw him. It was my first trip downtown, the summer of '78. My Mother and I were shopping and out of the corner of my eye, I saw this man pushing a cart around. Immediately I wanted to go talk to him. I kept pulling away from my Mom but she then saw where I was wanting to go. For some reason, I always had been compelled to be with people of the streets. She held onto me harder each time I pulled away. A couple of weeks later, I went with my best friend, Courtney Clay and her maid to see "Grease" in an old theater downtown. Again, I saw Aqualung. This time my Mother wasn't with me to keep me from talking to him. My friend Courtney told me a little about him and her maid shared her stories. As far as many could ever remember, he never asked or took money, even when it was offered. I walked over and said hi to him. He smiled, patted me on my head and sheepishly said hello back. I scurried off to get back into line for tickets. That night when I came home, I didn't want to listen to my soundtrack from Grease, but I got my brother's copy of "Aqualung" by Jethro Tull and played the song over and over.

Throughout the years, as I was able to go downtown on my own, I would always stop and say hi to Aqualung. In my 11th grade year, I went to school at Charleston Catholic, which was located downtown. Since we didn't really have a decent cafeteria in school, we were allowed to go off campus for lunch. Most of my time was spent at McDonald's and I would run into Aqualung walking around or even having lunch in McDonald's. One day I was short on money for the meal I had just ordered (back then McDonald's didn't take credit cards) and Aqualung was behind me waiting to order as well. He tapped me on the shoulder, smiled and handed me the amount I was lacking. We sat together and ate our meals.

That summer, the eve of my 17th birthday, in the middle of the night, my Mother woke me up to tell me her and my step Father had to fly down to Florida. My brother, Greg was in a very bad motorcycle accident and the doctors didn't think he would survive. I had always been a sound sleeper, so my parents feared I wouldn't remember when I woke, so they sent my sister Pam over to the house in the morn. Well, they were right. I didn't remember. I woke up excited for my birthday, singing "Happy Birthday to me..." and then I saw Pam crying. She shocked me back into reality with the words my Mother had told me in my sleep. I got in my car (the family car my parents let me drive) shortly after and escaped. I was suppose to go to work, but didn't. I didn't want to be with my friends at that time because they all knew my brother and I didn't feel like talking about it. The guy I had just started dating a few weeks earlier was out and I didn't feel like being with him either. I went downtown to walk the streets. Scared and alone, I just wanted to walk around with no destination in mind. I needed a friend, just somebody to listen and let me cry. Yes, I had many friends back then, but I didn't think they would understand. Our lives then were filled with Country Clubs, expensive shopping sprees and credit cards where the bill went to "Daddy" (so yes, Mr. Jeff Martin, I do know what it is like to live in your circles.) Outside the alley of the library, I bumped into Aqualung. He patted me on my head and when I looked up, he saw the tears that filled my eyes. He motioned for me to sit down. I tried to speak about my brother's accident, but before many of the words could come out, I started sobbing uncontrollably. With Fatherly instinct, Aqualung held me as I drenched his coat with my tears. It was the friend I needed at the moment. Not somebody who cared who my Father was, our circle of friends, if what I was wearing was in style or how much it cost. Somebody who cared for no other reason than unconditional friendship. A shoulder to cry on, heart of compassion, and no questions. An hour must have passed and when I had finished crying for the moment, we went to McDonald's for a birthday lunch. After that, I felt safe enough to be with my friends or sisters, to await more news. Everyone had always wondered where I was those few hours after I left my house. My sisters had called around and nobody knew. I had always told them I was with a friend. I just needed to be with a friend. “Who?” I never told anyone. Many wouldn't understand the unconditional friendship and security and compassion that a homeless guy offered to me at a desperate time of need. And until now, nobody ever knew. Until now.

So, even though prior to that moment, I had always had a heart for those who lived on the streets; now you know why my heart is even more deeply filled with compassion, care, concern and friendship for those we call homeless. The friend God lead me to when I didn’t think anybody would care. The friend God had filled my heart with Spiritual love for since I was a little child; those people who I knew would never judge me. The friend who in just a few short hours of pain and tears, one man who had no home, showed me home is in your heart. Before that lesson, I always had a house, but I never had a home.

For more stories on our Aqualung, you can go to Charleston Newspaper


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