“He scares me.” Julian said.
“Oh, don’t be such a ninny; he can’t do anything to you.” Walter was determined to see where the old man was headed.
“I don’t care.” Julian retorted, “Every time he knocks on a door, someone dies or disappears. Why do you wait for him?”
Ignoring his younger brother, Walter watched Old Man Elijah shuffle through the town to deliver yet another colored envelope.
How many today?
The old man removed his hat at the front door and stood as straight as he could under the severe curve of his spine.
He handed the envelope to the one who answered the door and waited for the recipient to finish reading the telegram. At times a door was shut upon his face; at others, people fell upon his feet. But always, at the precise moment he handed an inscribed, leather-bound Bible to the family. "To receive God’s comfort,” he said. Today, the man of the house simply nodded and closed the door.
Then, supporting himself with the three-pronged cane, the old man took his leave. The rise and fall of his gait pronounced the hump on his back which hovered over him like a misplaced shadow. With wild hair blowing, this disfigured man and his walking cane were as much a landmark in Sloan’s Valley as the cave systems. The rhythm and cadence of his determined stride marched a template of assent across the face of the town:
Cane-plunk, step-plunk, drag-leg-stop.
Cane-plunk, step-plunk, drag-leg-stop.
In his fourteen years, Walter had experienced little else than sleepy summers exploring the creeks and caves of his home town. But in the summer of 1944, much had changed. The pervasive sadness in the town over the casualties of war had seeped into the last corners of his boyhood years. No longer content with childhood adventure, he wanted to help make a difference in his town.
He followed the old man back to the Post Office. “Mr. Elijah, I would like to help you deliver envelopes if you’ll have me, sir. I hear they’re hirin’ young boys my age to run the messages in other cities.”
“It’s not just about deliverin’, my boy.”
“I know, sir. I see people havin’ hope in their terrible times. I want to help you deliver some hope…and maybe you can rest awhile.”
Like a crowded city map, the tangled lines upon the old man’s face communicated a life filled with twists of existence, yet fulfilled within its own boundaries.
Elijah Payne, had been the victim of a train collision while on board a passenger train stopped at Elihu station. A freight train struck the reared car of the stilled train, crushing his left leg and causing severe lacerations upon his arms and face.
Employed as the Sloan’s Valley Train Station manager, he was also the teletype operator while on duty. On that fateful night, the next shift on duty was busy with the dispatching of delayed trains. The conductor on a freight train failed to keep abreast of the telegraph tape and plowed into the rear of Mr. Payne’s passenger train.
The young Mr. Payne had both legs crushed.
In the confusion of the fiery inferno, Mr. Payne crawled out, but was presumed dead. His beloved mother received a telegram the next morning of his mistaken fate. In her darkened sorrow, the telegraph operator was as a stone statue and had no comfort to offer.
Following that incident and upon his recovery, he breathed a promise to personally deliver every telegram and to always communicate the hope that lay within his heart. And making true that promise he extended the comfort of Christ through taking God’s Word upon life’s darkened doorsteps.
This day, the three-step maestro would see his music continue unto the next generation.
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