He had lived alone in the small shotgun house at the end of the dead-end road for as long as any of us could remember. He was a mystery. As far as we knew, he had no family, no friends, and had never even had a word to say to a neighbor. He was never seen without the frayed olive-green Garrison cap on his head and wearing brown khaki trousers tucked inside a pair of old lace-up black boots that reached almost to his knees.
Like clockwork, at ten on Monday mornings, he would leave his house, hobble around the corner to the grocery store, stay about twenty minutes and then return to his house carrying a small brown bag of groceries. On Tuesday mornings, during the summer, he could be seen sweeping his small dirt yard with a poorly made straw broom. But, after that, he would disappear into his house, away from public view, to do whatever shy people like him choose to do.
For awhile, with imaginations running wild, we kids made him the mission of a lifetime. We would skip down the unpaved road at twilight pretending to chase fireflies, or one another, and hide in the large front-yard mimosa next door to his house. We knew he had to have a ham radio and was relaying secret information to our enemies. Among green leaves spotted with pink-powder-puff blooms we planned strategies that would have rivaled the genius of Napoleon on how best to prove this and contact military police at a nearby army base.
Even at the time, we kids knew that our bravado would never be put to the test and that we did not have to trouble ourselves with any possible plans-gone-awry consequences. Great imaginary feats of heroism without personal involvement belong only to the world of children. Did the silent old man know we spent playtime in the tree outside his window? We never knew.
Before supper one evening Dad retrieved the newspaper from the foot of the front porch steps, read the headlines, and announced to no one in particular before showing us the front page, "What do you know. The old man down at the end of the road died yesterday." At the top left side of the first page a young American paratrooper with a confident grin and wearing a smart olive-green Garrison cap stared out at us. "WWII HERO DIES!" the caption shouted. Beneath it, were the old man's story and other pictures of his being presented with several different medals for heroism.
Even angels can be judged wrongly (1 Corinthians 6:3-4), especially by children.