I wish that everyone wandering around on the planet had an Alfred in their life.

Oh, that person doesn't have to be called Alfred. May they'd be called Ethel or Albert, Ed or Johanna, Willie or Wanda or any of a thousand names.

For me, it was Alfred. Let me tell you about Alfred.

Alfred was already a long way down the road into an old man's skin when I knew him. He wasn't a particularly large man I suppose, but when you're five or six years old, well...I remember him as wide across the shoulders, big across the chest, large thick feet, and a curved, mostly bald head. He wore suspenders a lot to keep those baggy britches up, and his shirt sleeves were always rolled up above the elbows. He didn't walk really, didn't stride...just kind of shuffled along like a lot of elderly people do. Some called him Al, some called him Uncle Alfred, but not one soul on Earth ever called him Dad.

Alfred wasn't particularly rich or poor I guess, at least not that I knew. He lived in a small town and what he did was dig wells. That's what Alfred did for a living, he dug wells. He had a well digging truck that, at least to one small boy, seemed as big as the Empire State Building. He'd drive that truck to here, to there, to everywhere all around that small town and beyond...and dig wells. Alfred did that for years and years and then some more years. I'd guess that maybe Alfred dug wells til he was eighty, or close to it. It's just what he did, it's just what he was.

Alfred chewed tobacco and he smoked cigars. Well, truth-be-known, he didn't so much smoke cigars...he just let them live pretty much unlit between his lips. And the tobacco juice? Well, that would end up somewhere on the gravel and disappear. When I was maybe nine or ten Alfred asked me if I wanted a chew. I looked up at my dad who nodded and said 'Go ahead'. So of course I did and took a wad into my mouth and started chewing and then I...swallowed.

Alfred laughed and laughed and laughed. I didn't. I pretty much turned a sickly shade of green and well, let's just say that wad of tobacco didn't stay comfortably in my stomach.

I, of course, grew up and Alfred grew even older. I moved away and was probably in my thirties when I last saw Alfred. He was in a nursing home by then. His false teeth didn't fit too well in his mouth anymore and he was kind of hard to understand. But he couldn't afford to get any others, so that was that. We didn't say too much to each other, at least not in words. We looked into each other's eyes, deep and warm. That was enough. I held his hand and he held mine, and then I left.

Alfred died not long after that. He didn't have any money left, nothing for the funeral, so friends and relatives collected up some money and gave what we had to the funeral director. It was plenty enough. You see, the funeral director knew Alfred, too.

So Alfred is resting now, all these many years later. I miss him and hope to see him again. And I hope that you have an Alfred in your life, no matter what his or her name is.

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