I listened to him every morning. Almost a year before I saw him in person, I would catch glimpses of him amongst the scrub pines and palmetto. The early morning fog on a warm spring morning would soften the refrains of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as he started his day. Peering through the window or on the back porch, I would strain to catch a glimpse of this creature that stalked the old cemetery and woke the birds and me every morning.
Warned many times never to go around the canal that bordered the cemetery, I almost knew the coming warm summer and my curiosity about old Josh would have me bending rules even if in my mind I knew I was breaking the law according to grandma.
I was more nervous on my venture than I thought I'd be. Stopping short of my predesigned journey, I sat along the edge of the canal and tossed pebbles. Perhaps another day and a little more nerve and I would cross the forbidden bounds and meet this legendary figure I had built in my mind.
It happened quickly. One minute I was tossing pebbles at imaginary battleships with all the sound effects when he appeared. He was almost like an apparition. Walking softly as a cat, him in his tattered work boots and faded shirt, he smelled of sweat and wildflowers at the same time.
"Care to join me in a bologna sandwich?" He grinned as he sat beneath the shady oak.
A magnetism was in the air that's hard to explain, unless you encounter it yourself. Long boney hands, leather smooth skin, and words that flowed in rhythm with the breeze. A self-made philosopher that had come to understand himself and his place in the world, he could have taught a college course beneath one of those beautiful magnolias.
During the next few years of our treasured encounters, I was taught just as a student in a classroom. Perhaps in his mind he was passing on the wisdom of a world locked inside his soul. A world he escaped to from the hard life he had known since birth. I learned that it didn't just rain. Josh would describe it as tiny droplets dancing. Pretty ladies with their jewelry made jingle, jangle noises. Angels painted rainbows and clouds were cotton candy balls rolling through the sky. If you looked close, early in the morning, you might catch a glimpse of angels dancing softly on light strands of fog. The wind made music for the animals to sleep, every day composing a new tune rustling through the pines and palmettos.
One day he just wasn't there. I tossed pebbles and reminisced. I thought I saw him once amongst the palmetto and I could always close my eyes and hear him. I bet he helps them paint rainbows and I can just hear him laughing, pushing those cotton candy clouds through a blue summer sky.
And, every now and then, a word or two of his wisdom comes to mind and I jot it down.