HERE he comes again, right on time, with that little Scottish hat over those big ears reddened by the wind. I think of him as the tam-o'-shanter man. He was the first regular I recognized when I changed the hours of my walk to early afternoon. By then, the kamikaze skaters are back in their offices after lunch, the pace is a little slower, and the crowd on Boston's Charles River bike path a little older. When the tam-o'-shanter man is out, a lot older.
I'd guess he's in his mid-80s. Sometimes he brings his daughter, or she brings him, and she hangs onto his arm and makes him walk slower. On those days, his face doesn't glow. But when he's out alone, I can see the joy he feels, just from getting out and bracing the wind.
And so can everyone else. He has a way of breaking through that little shell that solitary walkers maintain to dampen random intrusions. He grins, and he waves, and he tips his hat to the ladies. I enjoy walking behind him, because he leaves a wake of lightened faces coming the other way along the path.
I don't know anything about this man. That leaves me free to speculate as he churns along in old crepe-soled lace-ups and a lumberjack's plaid coat under that tam.
DOES he illuminate everyone in his life the way he does the walkers and joggers he greets, or does the walking itself elevate his mood? Is he less alive inside his home?
This week I learned his name. Not really, but I've heard some of the other regulars greet him.
``Heyjack Hawaya,'' they call.
I can imagine Heyjack Hawaya as a vigorous young man, perhaps a running companion of the legendary Boston marathoner Johnny Kelly. And I conjure up a long easy transition from young runner to old walker, a shift in pace, but not in purpose, across all those decades.
He doesn't come out when the weather is really raw. And if he's been missing for a couple of days, I start to worry about him. And then the sun comes out and so does he, spry as ever. Each appearance seems to be a reaffirmation of the vigor he still commands, each wave a personal celebration of life, of tenacity, of durability.
Here he comes, and today I will use the ritual phrase I've learned.
He grins. And so do I. That's what he does to people. Come back tomorrow, Heyjack, and do it again. I'll need another civility fix.