Ken Robinson redux--1975
Lincoln Sartwell walks the streets of Burien to burn up nervous energy. He is 78. Eighteen years ago, when he was our neighbor in Salmon Creek, he seemed an old, old man to me. I was 12. When I saw him last week in front of the newspaper office, strolling briskly, he didn’t seem so old.
I ran from the office to catch him and to say hello. I had seen him on a number of occasions and had wanted to re-introduce myself. I caught up with him in from to Seattle Trust and tapped his shoulder. He turned and broke loose a big, familiar smile, clasping my hand.
We stood in the shade of the building and talked about his raspberry patch and the old neighborhood and hunting, his favorite pastime. The racks of horns nailed to the porch roof of his house had seemed outsized from my boyhood vantage point. I knew he was a hunter and I and my four brothers had always thought of him with awe and admiration for his fearlessness in tracking down and bagging a huge elk.
His house was always in perfect condition. He had built it himself and could usually be seen each day in his yard performing some necessary maintenance task.
Mrs. Sartwell’s special province was the raspberry patch.
There were five or six rows and they were planted diagonal to our yard so that when they were heavy with succulent fruit, some of the limbs extended into our yard.
As boys, we told ourselves that if the bushes crossed our fence, the berries must be ours. We picked the bushes clean and if Mrs. Sartwell was around the side of the house out of sight, we sometimes even hopped the fence to extend the logic of our determination.
What comes to mind about these neighbors is their their gentleness, their optimism.
Now, standing just of of the sun’s reach where a wind presses our shirts against our skin, I am taller than my old neighbor, but somehow not bigger.
He is telling me about his last hunting trip, two years ago, and how thrilling it was to fly in a Piper Cub though the ragged and bunched mountains somewhere in Alaska and of the many animals his party too there. His body moves with the slow rhythm of his speech, like a dancer, his hips slide out and his hands pul my eyes back and his head, under a baseball cap, rolls gently, slightly.
I ask him a question. He is watching my lips, reading the words. I wonder if the hearing aid he wears is working of if he no longer relies on it.
Lincoln Sartwell has been deaf since March, 1917. His deafness is hereditary. He wears a hearing aid in his right ear. When we were neighbors, the hearing aid was in his left ear. But he will soon have an operation to restore partial hearing in his left ear. Assuming the operation is successful, Lincoln will be able to hear sounds which people with normal hearing take for granted.
There is the din of traffic on 152nd Street as we talk. He points to his hearing aid. “I can hear that,” he tells me, gesturing with his eyes toward the street. “I can hear you now too,” he says, indicating the hearing aid.
But he has to go, he says. Mrs. Sartwell is waiting. He grabs my hand and presses it strongly, then lets go. His head cocks and he regards me as if he is connecting his image of me at 12 and the figure he seems now. He gestures simultaneously with his head and hand, a tug of the head and wag of the finger as if to say “it’s a wonderful life.”
He turns to go, then turn back quickly. I have not moved. “I’m sorry, “ he says, “that I didn’t see you in your office when I walked by.” His face warms to a smile.
“I was dreaming.”