Ernie was a window washer.
I didn’t know him personally, and I think I was the only one in town who didn’t.
Ernie got around. He was an old man who drove a tiny motor scooter, with two long scrubbing brushes on poles stuck in PVC pipe in the back like antennae. He drove it very slowly up and down Sunset Boulevard– that’s the pretentious name of the stretch of Route 43 which cuts right through Steubenville. And then he drove it very slowly up and down downtown. I used to see him when I walked from my first Steubenville apartment down Sunset Boulevard all the way to campus because the bus didn’t come. I saw him when I took Adrienne on the bus to her story time at the library or to buy groceries at Aldi. If the bus suddenly started driving much slower, I knew it was because Ernie was in front of us, puttering down Sunset on his scooter. He was always there.
I heard the grouchy bus driver complaining about him once, and then passengers chimed in with stories. They all knew him well. That’s how I found out his name was Ernie. Ernie drove up and down Sunset washing every business’s windows for them for thirty dollars a pane, cash only. That was what the two enormous brushes were for. The passengers joked that rumor had it, he had a chest in his house stuffed full of ten dollar bills. He was going to make a wife very comfortable, someday.
“Did he ever have a real job?” asked the bus driver.
I bit my lip to keep from blurting out that the people I knew who thought “widow washer” wasn’t a real job had opinions about bus drivers as well. I didn’t want to be kicked off the bus.
I didn’t think about him very much again. Eventually I got my own car, and drove up and down sunset myself. Every time a taller car in front of me started going slower and slower, I knew it was because Ernie was there, invisible.
He was just one of those people– an eccentric sort of man in an Appalachian small town, somebody everybody knows, a name you hear, a presence on the road.
I heard yesterday that his scooter was rear ended up by Sunset and Nelgley. All the news said was that there had been a collision between a car and a scooter. It was the town gossip moving quick as lightning that got the word out it was Ernie. A friend of a friend of a friend witnessed the whole thing and asked for prayers on Facebook. She said that she ran out into the street to tell him the ambulance was on its way, but I don’t know if he was conscious then.
The driver of the car got a ticket.
Ernie got life flighted to the big hospital in Pittsburgh for emergency surgery.
I think the whole town prayed. People even called the hospital to see how he was, but they weren’t even sure of his last name.
We all got the word late this afternoon that he’s dead.
His full name, it turns out, was Ernie Hollinger. Apparently he was over eighty years old.
Some friends of his are starting a project to have a mural painted in his memory.
I didn’t know him. He was just one of those people I saw every day, a figure moving slowly in the far right lane. We didn’t exchange two words.
Tell me, then, why I’m nearly crying now.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.