by Peter J. Barbour
I remember the first time I met Henry Smith. It was outside an old factory in the summer of 1965. I was entering my senior year of high school. Hap Phillips, the coach of our summer baseball team, told me there was a job helping a client of his move into a new location. I think Coach Phillips was taking pity on me. He probably noted I was not playing with much enthusiasm even when I made a good play. The future was on my mind and my prospects seemed limited. It was my sister, mother, and I. We didn’t have much money, and I was headed for a transition, senior year of High School. It seemed like the end of the road at the time. I needed the money for college applications and such, and I didn’t mind the prospect of lifting and toting things. Anyway, I could be productive, and that was better than sitting at home or hanging out somewhere.
I’ve never liked public transportation, and I had to take the P&W trolley, a three block walk from my home in Penfield. The trolley took me to the 69th street terminal, and then I had to switch to the Media line to get to where I was going to work. It took about 40 minutes as long as the connections were good. The building Mr. Smith was moving into was a short walk from the trolley stop. Mr. Smith was at the front door when I arrived.
“You the boy Hap sent me?” Mr. Smith said.
“Yes, sir. My name is Joe,” I replied.
“I can pay you, $1.50 an hour. I need help setting up the shop. A van will be here soon. Can you unload it?”
“You don’t have to call me sir. This isn’t the military. Just call me Henry,” he said and smiled.
That‘s how we started. He was a tall man, probably 6 feet, I’d guess taller when he was younger. He stood hunched over as he leaned on his cane. He wore a fedora and a long coat even though it was summer. His stomach stretched his white shirt to the limits of its buttons, and his tie extended well short of his belt which was pulled up well above his waist. He looked tired. The deeply creased lines on his cheeks extended to his jaw and framed his jowls. It wasn’t clear where his chin ended, and his neck began. He had kind bright eyes, bushy white brows, and thin white hair that stuck out from under his hat.
“Come inside,” he said. “Let me show you around before the van gets here. I think you’ll find this place interesting.”
He gave me the key and asked me to unlock the door. I did as he said and held the door as he pulled himself up the steps with the rail as he steadied himself with his cane.
“Dam neuropathy,” he muttered.
Once inside, he asked me to find the light switch and turn it on, even though it was quite bright inside. The room was large, two stories high. Light streamed into the building through large windows that lined three sides. There was a loft for storage over the entrance, a raised platform opposite the loft, balconies that spanned the length of the room on both sides connected to the loft, and stairs at either end of the platform that led to the balconies.
“This was an old cigar factory. The foreman sat there.” Henry pointed to the raised area, that looked like a dais, at the end of the room. “That way the boss man could see all the workers and make sure they were doing what they were supposed to be doing.”
‘Is he going to be sitting up there watching me,’ I thought.
“Don’t worry. I won’t sit up there and watch you. We better get back out side and wait for that van. When it comes, it’ll be full of barrels. You’re going to have to unload them and set them up in here. Now, help me to the door and down the steps.”
That’s when I realized, he really couldn’t see.
“Dam diabetes is taking my sight,” he murmured.
We sat on the steps in front of the building waiting for the moving truck.
“So,” Henry began. “Do you know what you want to do after this year? It’s your last year of High School? Isn’t it?
“Yes, I’ll be a senior in September. I’m not sure where I’m going. I’d like to go to college, but I have to get in somewhere. If not, then, I guess I’ll go to Viet Nam.” I answered uncomfortable about a line of questions that had a way of giving me anxiety and depression.
Copyright © 2018. Henry Smith’s Seasonings by Peter J. Barbour