Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Wolf Of Winter

A long time ago, I told my son, I think he was in the first grade then, that Kenneth Patchen's The Wolf Of Winter was about the winter cold killing poor people. I doubt we got into nice distinctions between body and spirit or into the idea that there is a pessimism born of winter that afflicts boys who grow up in the South. A winter depression that settles into your bones and makes it hard to move.

Economic hard times are bound to hit people in the North, in the big frozen cities, harder than they hit people in the South. Finding a way to stay warm, a place to sleep, has to be tough. In Seattle, they open up the public buildings at night and the homeless sleep in the halls. For the poor, winter is hard. During a depression, it's going to be deadly.

The first panhandler of the winter turned up on our street yesterday. It was recycling day, and, in retrospect, I imagine she was working the snow-covered sidewalk for bottles and saw me dragging my little green tub of bottles and cans to the curb.

Her story was one I'd heard before. Just moved into the neighborhood. Family in trouble somewhere. Gas money to get to them. Pay me back in a couple of days. God bless me. Can she give me a hug? We settle for shaking hands.

I've never turned a panhandler down. It's a deep superstition of some kind. The way I buy off the bad luck that stalks me, just out of sight. Like a wolf.


gasket said...

For so many reasons, this story haunts me, Billy.

quinn the eskimo said...

I wonder sometimes, if the Northern states would've had Universal Health Care sooner, if they'd been on their own - just for this reason, not Civil War or more political ones. There's something about cold, dark days - that you can't control - and the knowledge that you just can't go wandering the countryside or streets and live without depending on others - that forces you to see your dependency on luck, and on others. Maybe like people who live along flooding rivers understand the need for levees and such.