He was an odd man, with his gangly frame and ill-fitting clothes. No one was quite sure where he had come from. One crisp fall day, he just appeared in the small town, making himself at home.
His first stop was the barber shop. He hobbled in, carrying a large canvas sack. “Hello. Gerald’s the name. I’m looking for anyone who is sad.”
Lyle, the barber, stopped snipping his customer’s hair. “Did you say you’re looking for anyone who is sad?”
“Yes I did, Sir. You’ve heard of a sad sack, haven’t you?”
Lyle peered at the stranger. “Yeah.”
Gerald held up his sack. “That’s what this is. People tell me what’s making them sad, and I put it in this sack. All the sadness disappears.”
The customer in the barber chair spoke. “Say, you wouldn’t be that fella we heard about on the news that escaped from the mental hospital, would you?”
Gerald chuckled. “Oh no. I assure you, my mind is sound. Why don’t you you tell something that makes you sad.”
The man in the chair pursed his lips. “Well, I think it’s pretty sad that Lyle here charges twelve bucks for a hair cut.” He slapped his knee and laughed.
Lyle shook his head. “Tom, cut it out, or I’ll charge you double.”
Gerald looked intently at Tom. “ Tell me something you’re really sad about.”
Tom thought for a minute. “I haven’t told anyone this, but last night I had to tell my little girl her hamster died. She cried all night.”
Gerald opened the sack with a flourish and waved a bony hand in the air above it. He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes.
The two men watched him curiously. He opened his eyes and smiled.
“You’re going to feel much better about this by the end of the day.”
Tom snorted. “Lyle’s turn.”
Gerald turned his attention to Lyle. Finally, he spoke. “I did feel sad that I was sick and couldn’t go visit my mother on Mother’s Day. She’s in a nursing home.”
Gerald held up the sack, and went through the same motions as before. “You’ll feel better soon. Have a nice day, gentlemen.”
He left the barber shop, whistling happily.
Tom looked at Lyle and shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe I do feel a little better.”
Lyle’s barber shop was a good place for news to spread. People began to seek Gerald out.
Millie Strong spent over an hour with him discussing her sister’s illness. Afterward, she treated everyone at O’Flannigan’s Diner to a Coca Cola.
Mr. Mooney, who was always a private person, was seen chatting with Gerald on the street corner. He swiped at his eyes a few times, then shook Gerald’s hand. By the end of the day, he was telling jokes.
Lorene Rich talked to Gerald more than anyone. Her family had been through several tragedies. One afternoon after she had talked to Gerald, Lyle heard Lorene singing “Count Your Blessings.”
It was too bad that Lorene was the one to find Gerald lying motionless on the sidewalk. She ran into Lyle’s barber shop, screaming, “Call 911!”
The official cause of death was a heart attack.
The day of the graveside service was chilly, with a hint of late autumn snow in the air. People crowded under the canopy to escape the wind. Pastor Jones read the 23rd Psalm, then scanned the group. “Is there anyone who would like to say something?”
Tom came forward. “When I first met Gerald, I thought he was nuts. He said he had a sad sack, and he could put your sad feelings in it, and they would go away. All you had to do was tell him what they were.”
Several people nodded. “Come to find out, he wasn’t nuts at all. It worked. It wasn’t magic. He just got people to talk about their feelings, and they felt better.”
Lorene spoke. “Yes, that was his secret. He truly cared about people.” The sack Gerald carried was lying on his casket. She picked it up and opened it with a flourish, waved her hand over it, inhaled deeply, and closed her eyes. “I am sad that Gerald is no longer with us.”
When she opened her eyes, she smiled. She held the sack out to Tom. He opened it with a flourish, waved his hand over it, inhaled deeply, closed his eyes, and spoke. The he smiled, and passed the sack on to the next person.
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