It has been several weeks since the passing of ole Sammy D and the entrance to Bryer street had never been busier. At first, it was the bankers who came to look through the now empty home. They walked through its vacant rooms with an appraiser, a small weaselly sort of man who hid behind his spectacles and mountains of paperwork, placing tags on everything of value.
Friends and neighbors watched on as the entire life of three-time war veteran, and one time loving husband, was divided into categories and worth. Most watched in sadness as they remembered the life of one of the kindest men they had ever known. Some remembered him for his figurines, while those old enough remembered him as a man who had gone out of his way to help those in need.
Sammy Dryden had fought and killed a countless number of ‘the enemy’ for the country he loved, and when it came time to lay down his weapon, he continued to fight for his and his neighbor’s freedom in the only way he knew how.
Things weren’t as they were when he was a young man. Before he joined the service, children played outside. Crime was only an occasional report on the radio and when the reporters ran out of things to say, airtime was filled with live action skits or by music from the most current artists. Most people trusted the other and were willing to say ‘Hello!’ in the very least and there was very little fear about living the life you chose to live.
Times had certainly changed. He knew, because he had watched the metamorphosis with his own eyes!
As freedoms were extended to women, he couldn’t have been more overjoyed. And when, after a few years had passed, his wife suggested taking on a part-time job to help pay the bills, he had stood proudly behind her.
When tensions increased between the whites and the blacks, and when this tension reached even his small community, he chose to stand behind the few Negroes who lived near him. There were many nights when he had worried for his and his wife’s safety, but neither were willing to stand down from the injustice being inflicted upon their friends.
Time seemed to pass very slowly during this period of fear and hatred, but he and a few of his army buddies managed to spread a message of their own. When they came hidden beneath their white sheets, wielding their baseball bats and their misguided beliefs, they were met by a small platoon of men of mixed color, each wearing their own uniforms bearing the American flag, armed with a standard issue rifle.
There had been no words spoken during this encounter. Each stared at the other with defiance in their eyes, but ultimately is was the Hidden Haters who turned and left, never to return. The Dryden and the Robinson family had ever remained friends, and the latter would continue to live on Bryer Street even after the passing of their friend.
Soon, children began to vanish from the streets. Oh, they played outside from time to time, but never with the vigor of the generations before them. The Age of Electronics was coming in full and most prefered to stay inside with their eyes glued to their TV screens. Those who did come out were the ones who couldn’t afford their own video game devices. They ran together and most times, though not all, they were only doing so for nefarious reasons.
When his wife died, he began taking long walks that began through his neighborhood. It got so that this was a daily routine and he would often stop and talk with whomever would listen. As days stretched into weeks and weeks into years, talk turned into something more. He used his general knowledge of mechanics and carpentry to help his neighbors fix their cars or work on their projects. Once, while he was still healthy enough, he helped install a below-ground pool.
When his body began to fail him, he spent more and more of his days sitting on the front porch, peddling to his secret passion. His friendship with his neighbors remained strong as each made it a point to visit him daily. Soon, the daily visits, much like the wood he worked with, whittled down to maybe once per week, but this didn’t bother him in the slightest. He often carved things for his friends and neighbors that personally applied to the something he knew of them. For Davie Robinson, he had carved the likeness of a Klansman which appeared to be running in fear, only he was tripping because his pants had fallen around his ankles. For the Hammonds, who enjoyed their sports team way more than most, he’d created the likeness of the coach who had once led their team to the Super Bowl; Hank Stram.
Sergeant Sam Dryden was the last man standing of his platoon. He had survived his wife and children, three wars and countless presidents. He was respected and loved by those who knew him, treated as if he were an extended member of each of their families, and so it was hard on each and every one of them when he passed. Even the children had a special place in their hearts for the wrinkled old man who made their pretty wooden dolls.
The watched from the sidewalk as the bankers and their appraiser came and went. They attended the auctions that were held, and by no small miracle, every one of his possessions went back into his beloved community or to his own extended family.
When the hustle had finally died down, and the contractors had come and gone, the night of the storm was but a distant, if painful, memory to those who had known him. He would never be forgotten. Not by the Robinsons, who once been protected by he and his platoon. Not by the Hammonds, who would proudly display their wooden coach for decades to come and certainly not by the small girl standing at the base of the steps leading up to the house he had once lived in.
Vanessa Rowen stood with her head down and her feet slightly apart. She had a small object cupped in her tiny little hands, an object that was slowly growing damp from the tears that leaked from her eyes. Her dirty blonde hair hung about her face and shoulders, obscuring this from any who might happen to see, but the hitching of her back as she sobbed could easily have given them the message.
She stood, as she had many times since he had gone to be with his family, staring down at the unfinished ballerina he had intended to give her on her seventh birthday.