Angel in Makeup
I want to share a story of a man who made a difference in the lives of many children and adults alike. He touched my heart tremendously. We will call him Wally for lack of not knowing his real name, he would never share this with anyone including me. I don’t know to this day why he wouldn’t but I respected his privacy and we both agreed to call him Wally. The year was 1988 and my partner and I had just opened a sporting goods store in a less than desirable part of the city, but we had both done our homework and our feasibility studies and came to an agreement that the new and used sporting goods business would be best suited in an area where we could receive, by way of purchase for cash, trade in or left on consignment, sporting goods of all kinds. We had purchased this franchise and wanted to try it on for size in our city.
Our opening was a huge success, there was nothing of its kind at the time and people flocked to our new store. There were at times line ups of people with bags flung over their shoulders with what we would later call GOLD . Yes GOLD , because of the very nature of the demand for good quality, resalable used sporting goods. At the time we had no idea that this newest concept to our city would set off a wave of interest and bring us sales and profit unimaginable. But this story is not about our business nor the concept nor the profit nor how long we stayed in business and expanded with another place. It is about WALLY the clown . This story is about a man we called Wally, a man who through his kind and generous disposition brought a warmth to not only our hearts but to the hundreds if not thousands of children who were blessed to have met this road knight,among the homeless. It all began with his first appearance at our store, you see he wanted to stop in to introduce himself and check us out.
He arrived on his bicycle with the metal basket hanging on the front and a double Decker basket sitting suspended on his back carrier rack. Sticking his head out of the rear basket was a dog he called Homer, he was a little dog with a collar around his neck that hung loosely. Wally simply said stay and his little friend sat quietly in the basket sniffing the air while his master opened and walked through our front door and into our hearts. He reminded me of Charlie Chaplin with his funny walk, shifting his frame from side to side as he walked towards me with a huge smile on his face. Good morning gentlemen, my name is Wally welcome to the area. You will like it here and get to meet many different folk. If you need any help with things around your store, I would love to be of help, I like to work and I love riding my bike and out there is my best friend Homer sitting in his basket. This all said so quickly without him taking a breath of air. Now I could go on to talk about Wally and his hardships in the street, his broken and bruised body from the beatings he received, his days when he didn’t appear because he fell off the wagon and was found in his own vomit under some stairway in a run down boarded up old house. Yes he lived in the streets and tried to survive every day the harsh elements, the criticism, the physical attacks and god knows what else. But I am not going to dwell on the darkest side of his life, I want to glorify him for what he had inside his broken body. A heart filled with compassion and love for sick and dying children.
This is a man who was raised as a minister’s son, a boy who was forced to believe in God, he was constantly told by his minister father all the damnation that would befall him if he did not go to church every Sunday, read his bible daily and only fellowship with like kind. Wally told me he ran away at 17 and never went back home nor did he ever marry. He simply kept moving from town to town, doing odd jobs here and there to feed him and pay the rent in a one room shanty wherever he was at that time. But the one thing he kept in his heart was the belief of God and he would challenge him when he could, by putting himself in positions in life that he needed constant help with, he would tell me that God never let him down and would find a way to come and comfort him in the darkest hours. Well to say the least Wally had dark hours and addictions that were beyond his control. He got himself wrapped up in booze and drugs and dependence on them. As frightful as this all was to him, he always smiled and helped anyone else who was suffering as he was, he would give his last penny to a fellow homeless friend and would do without on many occasion to see to it that any of his street friends ate first before he did. He was taught by his father to give first and never expect to receive. This is something that was instilled and embedded in his mind so much so that it would continue till his passing.
One day a man dressed up with a black-tailed tuxedo jacket, big red bow tie, painted clown face and red nose would walk into our store, I barely recognized Wally behind the clown makeup and garments he had on. It was a sad face on first glance, but when he smiled his whole demeanor changed and he became electrified as a big smile brought that solemn makeup face to life. Little did I know at the time, that there standing in front of me was one of the most kind, giving, brutally honest, street persons I had ever met. He had a waist band that had plastic bags of balloons shoved into them, there must have been a hundred or possibly more. He pulled one out from his belt and started to artistically blow and shape this hunk of plastic into shapes unimaginable. He did one in the shape of a hockey player and perched it on my counter and said there you go, just for you sir, I hope you like it. I was pleasantly surprised and speechless as I watched his fingers so delicately shape and twist this balloon into a hockey player.
I said, Wally you astonish me, how did you learn to do this. He told me of a woman he met under a bridge, when she awoke, immediately pulled balloons from under her dress and started shaping and twisting these things. She taught me everything I know about balloon shaping and I am now able to share it with the children. I said where do you meet these kids. He said I go to the children’s hospital and I stay there for hours putting many smiles on their faces and that is what God sent me to do, it brings him joy.Take care of the children. Now he said this to me with a look of sincerity that made me want to cry. I felt the pain pierce my heart for that one moment in time as he spoke those words that day, he told me it broke his heart to see children suffering in cancer hospitals and he wanted to try to make a difference for them by twisting and shaping balloons and seeing the smiles they gave him back.Now you might be wondering where did Wally get the money to buy balloons, feed himself and his pet dog Homer?
Wally and I had a system from the very first day we met, he asked me if I would be so kind to loan him five dollars and he would pay me back in a couple of days. I said how will you do that? He said I collect bottles and aluminum cans and take them to a collector who pays me what their worth. It’s pennies but they add up to dollars and I use this money to help other people survive in the streets and buy balloons for the children. How about yourself Wally, how do you survive, he sheepishly looked at me and then a smile came across his face, I pray and God meets my needs. I gave him his first five dollars of many that I would give over the next few years. He would bring me back the fiver and then immediately ask if he could borrow it again, as he needed some extra cash for something or other. But in fact what he was doing was helping other street people out by spending the five dollars on them and when he sold his bottles and cans he would come back and pay me back, but he always knew I would give him another loan. Wally suffered with colitis and would often be heard in our washroom at the back of the store in tremendous pain, he would spend sometimes up to an hour in the toilet. When he came out, you would never know he suffered, he would be smiling and thanking us and saying goodbye all at the same time.He was a man on a mission, he lived only to give as much as he could before his time was up.
He asked for nothing other than the fiver every other day and always was back to exchange it for another one. Wally was even written up in our local paper as a hero to the children and our mayor apparently sent him a letter of thank you for attending to the sick children by leaving them with memories and the talent he had for twisting and shaping smiles by the many balloons he left behind. One year, the days went by and no Wally appeared, I was really getting worried, as this man’s spirit had grown on me and I talked about him to many of my associates and shared with them the generosity of this unusual loving caring human being. Now I had many types of customers frequent our stores to shop and one of them was a police officer named Tony and one day he came into the store. We said our hello and talked about the day, the sport he was involved in and of course his job. I sensed in his face that there was something wrong, I felt a coldness creep over me. He said to me, I know you have a soft spot for a man who comes to your store. He is that clown they call Wally on the streets.
He immediately got my full attention, I said what about Wally? I haven’t seen him for over a week, that’s not like him not to stop by, he has become a frequent customer, of course Wally never bought anything, but I didn’t feel that needed to be said. So tell me what’s going on, have you seen him on the streets Tony? Well I won’t keep you in any more suspense, Wally is dead. My jaw fell open and I was visibly shaken, I said what the heck are you saying, he can’t be, he is loved by so many people. Tony said, yes I know and the children are going to miss his presence at the hospital to. Tony, tell me what happened please. My partner and I got the call to go to a lane in the back of the Occidental Hotel, when we got there we found this man so severely beaten he was unrecognizable, but for the makeup of a clown and balloons attached to his belt, we immediately knew it was Wally. After our investigation we were able to arrest two men who were not street people, but known to beat them up . They found Wally and he became their victim, it’s so sad, because here is a man who would not harm a fly.
His remains were cremated as their was no will to be found, no relatives in the city and no addresses or telephone numbers to call. All we found under the steps of where he slept was an old bible with a small wooden cross attached to it with a string, page after page was highlighted with a yellow marker and on the front page was written. ” To my son, may you find God and may you serve him and show your kindness to your fellow-man, without expecting rewards. Your reward awaits you in heaven with your holy father.” I will never forget Wally, his face comes to me often when I think of my store and those days of being witness to a giant of a man in my estimation. Why? because he wasn’t rich in material things, he was rich in living, giving, caring and loving. I was happy that God put him before me in 1988 he left an indelible mark on me as well as many others, especially the children and that was the most important gift he gave, he is with many of them in heaven and he is twisting and shaping. May you RIP Wally, thank you for coming for a short time into my life and showing me your loving spirit. All photos courtesy of Flicker
© Copyright by Vincent Moore 2010. All rights reserved