Paul Greenberg

He slept at the sawmill,
in a pile of shavings,
my father said.
He'd had a hard life.
and some of his relatives
were, perhaps, a bit ashamed.

Early one morning,
my father got a call.
When he returned, he said that
C.P. had died during the night,
in his pile of shavings.

I remember my father
making a point about
how clean C.P. was
-his body; his underwear."
So clean," he said, and,
"He was a good man,
who had some troubles."

Now, more than fifty years later,
I think of this, and add:
As are we all.As do we all;
which is exactly
what my father had in mind.

- Mary Waters,
"C.P. Remembered"

Maybe everybody has his own solitary figure he can't forget this time ofyear. No matter how many years have passed. Mine was named Joe - Joe Telles,as in Tell Us. He arrived 40 years ago. Forty years ago today. It's hard tobelieve it's been that long. What happened to him has stayed so vivid.

Not that anybody much noticed him when he came to town. His travelingaccommodations weren't exactly deluxe. He'd hopped a freight God knows whereand, for him, Pine Bluff, Ark., was the end of the line.

Maybe he'd been heading home - somewhere out West - but he couldn't make itany farther. They found him in a heap out by the railroad tracks thatfreezing morning, and didn't know what to do with him. He was too sick forthe Salvation Army to take responsibility for him, and the hospital said hewasn't sick enough to be admitted.

So he wound up being shuttled back and forth, till night came and there wasno room for him. Except at the county jail. Not that he belonged there, buthe didn't seem to belong anywhere else.

The date was December 21st, 1967, four days before Christmas. The festivelights glittered along Main Street. Folks were rushing to get their shoppingfinished. There was anticipation in the brisk air. Who had time for somebodylike Joe Telles? When they checked on him next morning, they found he'd diedduring the night.

Maybe he'd made it home after all.

His body was shipped out promptly, before anybody got around to askingquestions, or an autopsy could be conducted.

It was months before the newspaper was able to piece together the wholestory. It took the longest time just to find out his name. But the reporterdigging into the story was assured it had all been "taken care of."

Maybe it wouldn't have been a news story if it had happened someplace else,say in a big city where such things are common. Or if it hadn't happenedjust four days before Christendom rejoices in the birth of Him who said:

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these mybrethren, ye have done it unto me.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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