THE MAYOR OF INGLES PARKING LOT
“Hey, there, how y’all doin’ this mornin’?” That’s how everyone greets everyone else in the Ingles parking lot in this little town.
His tweed-colored coat, black, brown, gray, was a little thin, a little tattered. But his look was honest. He’d look you in the eye and you knew, here was an honest politician. He could brush against the rich and the poor alike and shake hands with young and old. There was no duplicity here, no hypocrisy. He was interested in everyone. And you just knew that he would never change, even if became mayor; he’d never be uppity. He was intrinsically humble. What you see is what you get, his aura whispered.
He didn’t seem to understand about personal space. He’d always get real close to you. You could tell he was interested in you, and his look told you that he’d remember you the next time he saw you. Now, there’s a feel-good response not many politicians enjoy.
He had doughnuts and coffee at Ingles with the construction crews in the morning. He stopped by Rosie’s Café for a burger at lunch. At supper he’d meander over to Jimmy Mac’s Grill and spread some more cheer and catch the latest news.
Winter was coming on, and some of his friends in the shopping center were getting curious about him. Where did he live? Did anyone know? How’d he get here each day? Had he walked far? So his friends at the realty and the dry cleaners began making some investigative inquiries and discovered that he was homeless. He was staying in an abandoned car across the highway from the parking lot.
That’s a terrifying word, isn’t it, homeless? But, the truth be told, every one of us is but one pay check, one crisis away from a food box at the community pantry. He needed help.
The realtors offered him their sofa to sleep at night. They brought a pillow and blanket, left the heat on at night, and he was off to breakfast at Ingles before their morning clients arrived.
When it was discovered that he walked to the Methodist Church for brunch on Sundays, one of the merchants provided him with a bright orange vest. He wore it over his thin coat for extra warmth, but it also provided him a degree of safety as he hiked up and down U.S. 64.
One particularly nasty day he had sleet in his hair and his feet were caked with mud. Nancy at the realty office couldn’t take any more. She invited him to go home with her. He was astonished at the generous invitation and wasn’t even sure he should get into her car with his muddy feet.
Nancy’s family was intrigued by the happy-go-lucky guest, and Nancy was a good cook and hostess. She understood his pride; everyone needs a job. She had some things he could do for her, and having him in the house offered a measure of protection for her, a single woman. Oscar was pleased to be earning his keep, and he happily stayed on as a member of the family. He’s still skinny, though he eats steak, mashed potatoes, stew, lasagna and everything else Nancy fixes for him. And he looks after things for her when she’s working. He has a job.
Some of us were sitting around the Village Green last week reminiscing about Oscar campaigning in the parking lot in his prime. Our little town has never held a mayoral election, but everyone knew that if we did, Oscar would have won hands down. Everyone in town goes to that parking lot, and Oscar knew everyone. He was grass roots all the way! And everyone knew that for Oscar, it was more than just garnering votes. He understood friendship, loyalty.
A lot of things have changed in Ingles parking lot since Oscar was there, but there’s one thing that, sadly, will never change. There will always be a homeless, hungry Oscar needing help. He was special, that ol’ politician. Honest and true, through and through, he made a lot of friends. I guess he was just about the luckiest German Shepherd Dog that ever crossed Ingles parking lot.