Leland Putvain is six feet plus one inch. He used to weigh 340, now he’s 180. Leland is bear-like, partly because of the God-given way he carries himself, but mostly because God made him hairy. I’d bet my toenails Leland can grow, ’fore noon, a full Santa beard from a clean-shaven face, just by holding his breath and thinking about it.
Leland didn’t come to much account in school, at least from what I observed back in the day. Ain’t like he went on to anything much more than washing dishes after he graduated, so I have to figure I observed right. But anyway, who cares about school? Not me, and I guess neither did Leland. What I think Leland cares about are people.
Leland left me a message Saturday from the local hospital. He was there to have a toe amputated and he suggested I call, or better yet, “stop by.” Leland and I have never been tight pals, but when passing on the sidewalk we’re more than apt to chat for a few minutes, and both more than apt to enjoy the chat. So when I got his message I thought, heck yeah, I got a little extra love to give when someone is in a pickle. I visited Leland Sunday.
Shiny clean in a hospital Johnny, beard big as New Mexico, wire- rim custodian-style glasses, curly gray-and-brown hair fluffy as cotton candy, clean fingernails, and a heavily bandaged right foot, less a big toe, Leland lying in the hospital bed was a sight to see, if only for his grinning contentedness.
While the cleaning lady scrubbed the head, Leland and I started in. “How you feeling?” “Oh, all right,” he said through a smile and beard, his voice strong,
lifting a few octaves as he added, “It’s just . . . it’s just the way things are gonna to be.”
We chatted for half an hour, and every time the chat turned to Leland’s misfortune, his missing toe, he’d surmise, in the same high-octave voice, “It’s, it’s just the way things are gonna to be.”
On his side table was a phone and phone book.
Leland is one of 10 kids, French Canadians, close-knit they are, and I’m sure calling on Leland all throughout the days he’s been in the hospital. Yet smartly, Leland has reached out to his friends, or at least folks he knows, and says, “Hey, I got nine toes, visit me, would ya?”
The sugar finally attacked his foot so that a sore began to bleed andspout pus two nights ago. When he woke the next morning it hurt badly and seemed a lot worse, so he limped onto the bus and rode to the hospi- tal. Alone. When he got there, they knifed his big toe.
“I guess your flip-flop wearing days are over, for the right foot anyway, huh Leland?”
“Yeah,” he drolly admitted. “But, ah, it’s . . . just the way things are gonna to be.”
“Wonder what they did with it? Do you know?”
“No,” he said, then he looked at the phone. “Kermit called. Tommy Fletcher stopped by, and Chip, from Gracie’s Restaurant. Martin. My dad lives across the street at the Manor now. He’s been by a couple of times.”
Without changing the gait of his speech he changed the subject. “How are things with you?”
“Me? Well Leland, I turn 50 tomorrow, November 15.”
He stared at me a few seconds “Really? My birthday is Tuesday, and I’m 50. It’s November 16.”
Most of the visit I spent leaning flat against the yellow-painted cider- block wall, which felt cool to my upper back and neck. But when Leland said he too was about to turn 50, I stood straight, my entire 183 pounds perfectly balanced and supported by my size 13s. “No kidding? You seri- ous? We’re the same age, almost exactly. Two humans, one in Canada, one in Philadelphia, born, could be an hour apart, cause I was born at 11 at night.”
“Huh, I never knew that, that you were born then,” Leland figured. Lunch arrived. “Hey, lunch Leland. Careful. You think that’s where they sent the toe?” “Nah,” he chuckled. “Yeah, they (his family) were having a party for
me Tuesday, but, well, they’ll have it for me when I get out, like later in the week.”
I said, “Yeah, doesn’t matter when you have the party, I don’t think anyway Leland.”
Leland nodded, relaxed his head back into the pillow and closed his eyes. “Yeah. It’s nice, you know, the way people have stopped by. It’s . . . it’s just the way things are going to be.”