Lester became part of the small town scene, a regular in the real life play that was Amery Wisconsin. He performed jobs for money and praise, ate when diner owners brought him plates of food, and slept at locations known only to a few.
As a mute, he understood people talking to him but couldn’t respond in spoken words. He’d have a pocket full of index cards, and his communication came on a returned index card. In the Amery Depot Park, he’d sit, watch daily life of Amery, and hand index cards to people with beautiful poems he had memorized or found at the Amery Library.
Amery people hired Lester to do odd jobs like raking, hauling items and loading trailers, stacking firewood, or anything they needed. At the end of an hour or two he would get a five or ten dollar bill, and he’d carefully take out his tattered billfold and insert it with the others.
Lester goes to church
Sundays was church day for Lester, often attending one of the several churches in Amery. Three Lutheran churches, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the Congregational Church, and the Baptist Church on Broadway. Seldom did he get to the outlying churches because he had no way to get to them, but if there were an anniversary or other celebration, people offered to pick him up and bring him back at the end of the party. He’d always attend funerals, partly for the meal but also as part of the community, he felt a connection to anyone from the area.
Often at the beginning of a service, the pastor or priest would spot Lester and acknowledge him. “We want to welcome Lester to today’s service.” Not a big todo, and not embarrassing, but this was code to the members. They often took an envelope from the pew in front of them, stuff a few dollars or a ten dollar bill in it, write “Lester” on the front, and at the end of the service that treasurer would gather the money and hand it in an envelope to Lester. Shy and always first refusing it, when held to him with a reminder about Jesus’ love, he’d take it. Sometimes he’s show a tear but often simply nodding gratefully before leaving.
No one knew all the places where Lester slept overnight, but often he’d get into the shack at the foot of the Amery water tower and spend the night out of the wind and cold. The loud pump motor in that small space kept him awake for a time, but it also produced heat. Soon he’d sleep comfortably, like anyone in Amery sleeping that night.
Next time . . . .
Lester is harassed by out of town teens while busing tables at the Hotel Café.
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