Uncle Charlie Trashcan


Sketch by N. Wilcox at deviantart

The lines on this face drawn by an artist’s hand, forged by a subject’s soul

Tell the stories of a man once young grown old

Homeless, not knowing from where he came nor where he is going to land

Living his life according to no one’s plans

There was an old man in my childhood whom I will never forget.  My mother helped me to remember.  She wrote a story about him that got published in the LaGrange Daily News.  He became rather famous whether he wanted to be or not.

This old man lived in The Heart of LaGrange Hotel that sat in the middle of the “Y” intersection where Hines Street met Hill Street just up the road from where we lived.  He was not totally homeless, but he might as well have been.  I was no more than about five or six years old.  My older sister and I would see him coming up the sidewalk pulling his little red wagon.

coke-bottle_chronology1When we saw him, we knew it was time to run in the house and gather all of the glass soda bottles.  Back then they were worth 10 cents apiece.  A few dollars could easily be made off of generous children.  The store on the other end of the street collected them for recycling with more soda.  We could have exchanged them or sold them ourselves, but Mama had a purpose.

She died when I was eight years old and there are so many things about her character, like the character in the man’s face in the sketch above, that I will always remember.  His lines came from years of sorrow and joy.  Her altruistic compassions came from a giving heart.   She intuitively knew that we had nothing to fear from this old man.

He would come by in the morning to collect the bottles that we readily shared, and come back in the evening with a handful of pecans that he had collected along his way to share with us.  He told us outlandish stories as we sat on the roots of the ancient oak by the street.  We listened with eager ears.

I asked him one day what his name was and he told me, “People call me Uncle Charlie Trashcan.”

“What is your real name?” I wanted to know.

“I don’t know.  My father wrote it down on a corn shuck and the cow ate it before I learned to read,” came his reply.

One day some preteens and teenagers jumped him and beat him up.  They left him in the bushes for dead.  His lunch box was smashed.  His wagon was stolen.  My mother found him on a walk.  She brought him in the house and cleaned him up.  He had a bath while she washed his tattered clothes and she bandaged his wounds.  He told us stories while his clothes dried.  She fed him dinner at the table with us.   She packed him a lunch for the next day in a shiny new metal lunchbox with a coffee thermos.  He seemed so very proud when he waved his good-byes that evening.images (4)

Mama’s article in the paper produced a new wagon and he got some much needed social services and quite a bit of fame.  That did not stop him from pulling his red wagon up the sidewalk to gather soda bottles, or from bringing us handfuls of pecans in the evening.  It did not stop the storytelling or the smiles that made more lines on his face.

24 thoughts on “Uncle Charlie Trashcan

    1. Thanks! I was rummaging through old newspaper clippings that really need to be tossed and I could not let this one go without rewriting my version on the story.


  1. Wow–this story resonates with me–I love the generous spirit of both generations. In my post about another homeless, man “Stinky Joe,” we showed more fear than a generosity, I must admit. Right on!


  2. My father did not like that she let this man into the house. He also told us to stay away from him, but my mother would just smile when she was hanging out clothes on the line and watch from a distance as we sat on the tree roots and cracked our pecans. He told us stories about his childhood, but always had a moral to the story that he would end with…like how his teeth fell out and why we should brush ours.


  3. I teared up reading that. People like him always have great stories and leave a lasting impression on those they meet. Simply friendly, kind-hearted souls that are on this planet to remind us how beautiful human beings are.


    1. So true! Who knows what story brought him to where he was on life’s journey. I always wonder that when I see a homeless person and I think, there but for the grace of God go I.


  4. Beautiful story. What a wonderful way to honor the memories of Mr. Trashcan and your mother. You def carried on her charitable character and writing! So many good things about this, her being a writer is cool too.
    One of the things I love about this neighborhood, that you invited me in to, is the silliness is blended with such caring.


  5. What a lovely story and what a lovely woman your mother was. Old people and young people are meant to be together. It’s almost like the further apart in age you are, the more you can unconditionally love each other. It’s an injustice that those kids got away with nearly killing him, but your mother may have put them to shame by outfitting Uncle Charlie like a shiny new penny and then writing about him. No doubt it was people like her and children like you that gave Uncle Charlie heart. Thank you for sharing the story.


    1. It was my pleasure. I did not have many years with her, but I remember so many important things about my mother that molded and shaped me into who I am today even. I think Uncle Charley Trashcan was as valuable to us as we were to him.


      1. Indeed, you were important to him. I had “an old man” in my life. Fortunately, he had a roof over his head; actually, he was our next-door neighbor, a lonely bachelor. But he loved us kids and kids in general.


      2. That’s cool. I had the same therapist for 17 years, he was like a grandfather figure to me and talked in parables, gave analogies, but never gave advice. He had studied Tibetan Buddhism for decades, but was Episcopalian. He died on an Easter full moon, just as he had predicted, at the age of 80 the same year I moved to FL. he had a Masters in Sociology. When I told him that I was getting divorced he said, “What took you so long?”


  6. I think I was his toughest case, when I finally settled on divorce and moved away his job was done. He sent me books in the mail. When I called to thank him for them, the office staff told me had died from a stroke…on the very day he had sent me the books according to the postmark. Stranger than fiction, the truth.


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