Today I met Al Lilly. He says his last name is easy to remember because “it’s a sweet smelling flower.” Al goes out for a walk everyday when it isn’t frigid or snowing or raining. He has twelve grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren. He has a daughter who just turned seventy.
Al told me he came from Altoona and says “it’s a great place to be from but to live in.” He was happy to leave. He was a welder by trade, a skill he picked up at the age of nine when he hung out at his uncle’s shop everyday after school. They didn’t have a welding mask small enough for a nine year old, but he loved it just the same. The mask would engulf nearly his whole torso, but he knew then that he was a welder and always would be.
He has lived in the Lehigh Valley and Jamestown, New York, and Florida. He and his wife came back to the Lehigh Valley at the behest of his children and grandchildren. You can recognize his house because it has “the tallest trees around.” That may not actually be true but who cares.
Al walks with a cane, but doesn’t need one. He had a little problem with a dog some years ago when he was out for his walk. The cane is “for protection” but he does really like friendly dogs. Along with the cane, Al always wears the same light blue leisure-suit-style jacket and wool newsboy cap. Large, thick glasses complete the look. “I’m actually legally blind” he says. With his five-foot-five stature and his cheery face, you cannot simply pass him by without stopping to talk. And he lights up telling the story of his life.
He is proud to announce that he is turning ninety-one this year. He is still sad to say that he lost his wife to cancer two years ago. They were together seventy years. He misses her.
I don't have a photograph of Al. It’s likely that I won’t. But this is my picture of Al.
Everyone has a story. They walk by you every day.