Flowers For Charlie
by Jean M. Hendrickson
Condensed from Daily Press
as printed in Readers Digest September 1994
We were a disparate crowd who took the
bus each day that summer 33 years ago in El Paso, Texas. Half-awake for the
early morning commute, we hunkered down inside our collars, a somber,
Among us was a little gray slip of a
man who rode every day to the senior center. Stooped and sad, he climbed
the bus steps with difficulty and sat alone behind the driver. No one took
much notice of him.
Then one morning in July, he greeted
the driver and smiled near-sightedly toward the back of the bus before taking
his seat. The driver responded with a noncommittal nod. The rest of us stayed
The next day the old man entered the
bus with a bounce in his step. He smiled and called out, "And a beautiful
morning to all of you!" Startled, a few of us looked and grumbled, "Good
The following weeks found us more alert.
Our friend took to wearing a vintage suit and a wide, out-dated tie. His
sparse hair was carefully combed. He greeted us cheerfully each day, and
we started nodding and speaking to one another as well.
One morning he carried a bunch of
wildflowers, already wilting from the hot sun. The driver smiled and said,
"Got yourself a girlfriend, Charlie?" Whether "Charlie" was his name or not
we never knew, but he nodded shyly and said yes.
The other riders, mostly crusty construction
types, whistled and clapped. Charlie bowed, dipping his bouquet with a little
flourish, and took his seat.
Each morning thereafter, Charlie carried
a flower, some of the regulars began bringing blossoms to add to his bouquet,
shoving them at him with an affectionate, yet embarrassed, "Here." Everyone
smiled. The men started talking and joking, sharing sections of the
Summer wore on toward fall. Then one
morning Charlie was not at his usual stop. When he was not there a second
and a third day, we speculated that he was sick or, more hopefully, that
he was on a vacation.
That Friday, as we approached the senior
center, one of the regulars told the driver to wait. We all held our breath
as he went to the door.
Yes, they said, they knew the man that
he was talking about. Mr. Day, for that was his name, was fine, but had not
come to the center that week. A special friend of his had died over the weekend.
He was expected to return on Monday. How quiet we were during that ride to
Monday, our Charlie was waiting at his
stop, a little more stooped, a little grayer and without his tie. He seemed
to have shrunk back into himself. The bus was as silent as a cathedral. Though
no one had discussed it, each of us tough construction workers whose lives
he had touched that summer sat teary-eyed, holding a bouquet of wildflowers.