The Watchers

Grady Arnold

Dad was raised on a 50 acre farm in Upshur County, Texas. My mother was raised in an unincorporated community called Jamestown up the mountain from Portage, Pennsylvania. They met during Dad's tech school days in Detroit. My Mother was assembling aircraft engines, and Dad was taking a class on engine maintenance.

Several times during WWII while Dad was away, Mother and I stayed with her mother, Emma Jane Carnes.  Decades later, after Dad died, Emma came and lived with us for her last twenty-three years.  I was Emma's first and favorite grandchild.  As such, she often sat with her tatting after supper and shared stories with me about old Jamestown.   Mom had grown up with these stories and showed little interest in their retelling.  I, on the other hand, was an attentive listener.

One night, Emma started telling a tale about an incident "over home," as she called it, about a retired man who came into the community and bought a little empty house.  Emma tatted and continued by saying the new man would stand around in the street in the afternoon waiting for the kids walking home from school.  He would greet them with a smile and a pocketful of candy.  Folks up and down the street closely watched this activity.  After a while, he picked out this one little girl as his favorite, and he would meet her every day after school.   The folks continued to watch.

This went on for a long while.  Then one day the little girl was reported as missing.  So the Pennsylvania state police were called in off the main highway.  The man was arrested and held in jail while the investigators continued to search for the little girl.  The old Amish people asked, "What were the results of the investigation?" The state authorities reported that the man could not be held any longer without finding the little child.  The people of the village gathered and talked about the incident at the Stager Grocery Store and in the churches.

The little girl was never found. The man was released from jail.  Everyone went about their normal daily activities again.  The state investigators left and everything went into an uneasy routine.

Then the man started waiting for the school children again with his pocketful of candy. The old retired coal miners and Amish farmers watched.  Then the man singled out another little girl for special favors and attention.

The oldest of the old men up and down Plank Road gathered one evening in front of the unwelcome stranger’s house and walked up to the outsider’s residence. They had a short, stern, but polite conversation with the man. He was verbally "encouraged" to find other activities to occupy his afternoons, or they would "handle the situation the state had left incomplete."

The man cordially said his good night to the old Amish men. But he continued to meet the little girl in the afternoon after school.

A few days later, the little girl reported to her mother that the nice old man had stopped meeting her.  The neighbors finally went into his little house to investigate. The Portage police were called, and the state police came in off the main highway to investigate.

After a while, the state came back with a report that the man could not be found.

Emma may have had her suspicions about who the Boo Radley was, but she never shared her secret with me.  I suspect he was quietly dropped down a well of an abandoned house and covered with rocks.

The file remains open down at the Portage police station, but no one seems concerned about the unsolved case.

Apparently, old men sometimes do more than merely watch.


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