The Old Darn Man

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(Host) Commentator Joe Citro tells the story of a myserious wanderer whose life was “altered” by a lost love.

(Citro) A while ago I told you about one of those mysterious gentlemen of the highway who roamed southern New England in the 19th century: the Old Leatherman. Today I want to talk about another wayward wanderer. Though not so well remembered, he was equally loved and every bit as colorful and puzzling.

No one knew his name, so they called him “the Old Darn Man.” He began his trek around 1820, traveling Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Those who met him said he was a “man of good breeding” – gentle, highly intelligent, well-read, a trained violinist, with a sad, lost air.

Like the Leatherman, the Old Darn Man is remembered for his distinct apparel. Rather than tattered swatches of leather, the old darn man wore a formal suit with tails. At the beginning of his wanderings it looked brand new. With vest and gold watch fob, he appeared a distinguished gentleman out for a stroll. That continued for over 60 years. In all that time he never changed his suit.

Yet he always kept his cloths clean and in good repair. When approaching a house for food or shelter, the first thing he’d ask was, “May I borrow a needle and thread to mend my clothes?” Then – with skillful hand – he’d stitch up the torn or worn spots. Darning cloths was how he got his nickname.

When a hostess offered to do the repairs, he’d always decline and politely explain, “I refuse because these are my wedding clothes and they are sacred. My bride will be here soon…”

As decades passed, the fine formal wear became blemished and patched, but the Old Darn Man would never permit a spot or tear to go unattended. He’d repay a family’s hospitality by reading to them, playing his violin, or doing light housework.

There was much speculation about why his life had taken this odd, endless turn, and where he went every winter. He’d say he’d gone to his “mansion” during the cold months. Speculation was that his condition resulted from an unhappy love affair that – considering his clothing – may have ended at the alter. But the fact is, no one ever learned his story.

When he died an old man – the year is uncertain – he wore the same tattered suit, a crazy patchwork of mismatched cloth and skillful stitchery. Supposedly his last words were, “My bride will come tonight. Surely she will not disappoint me.”

Today, there is no place on our highways or in our lives for these colorful and benign solitary eccentrics. But I’ll try to see they are not forgotten.

This is Joe Citro.

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter. He lives in Burlington. The title of his new audio book is “Weird Vermont.”

2003 Copywright Joseph A. Citro

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