Remembering Iowa Blackie, 1949-2011
Of Late Winter:
The sun moved higher in the sky
Daylight growing ever longer
The weather which then magnified
My urge to leave stronger
At long last winter turned to spring
And then the snow was melting fast
Eventually to warm wind bring
The dreariness and cold had passed.
Iowa Blackie died at his home in New Hampton, Iowa, Feb. 23, 2011. I first met RAG (Richard Allen Gage), as we called him then, in 1972. He sat, day after day, on a big old junk safe in front of the recently opened North County Co-op. Each day he would write on a different brick of the aging building, “I was here, February 1, 1972”; “I was here, February 2, 1972”; “I was here, February 3, 1972,” etc., etc., etc. This was his trademark. He later changed it to “Iowa Blackie was here, June 15, 1982,” etc. He left that everywhere, always. Then he started leaving a business card everywhere. I found one last year in a book I hadn’t opened in years. The inside of my then garage door still is inscribed in large lettering, “Iowa Blackie was here, May 11, 1991.”
In the fall of 1984 or 1985 Iowa Blackie fell on hard times. He was
seriously homeless and was having some serious mental problems. He stayed on my enclosed front porch until the weather turned too cold. I made a small room in my basement into a place for him to call his own. He would often leave the house for the day, to lord knows where. After all of the daycare kids left our house for the day and my wife had retired to the second floor to do her daycare paperwork, Iowa Blackie emerged from the basement. While I cleaned up the kitchen mess left by a day of childcare activity, Iowa Blackie and I visited for hours. I never stopped being amazed at his intelligence and knowledge. He always wanted me to make him one of my justly famous grilled cheese sandwiches. He loved those big sandwiches overloaded with cheese and raw onions.
Blackie’s mental problems made him quite dysfunctional during this period. I made no demands on him and with a secure place to stay and food to eat and a friend to talk to, his condition gradually improved. I shudder to think of how he would have ended up had he not had the refuge in my basement out of the cold. After several months he returned to his dream, he was out riding the rails again. Blackie is the only person I know who really lived out his childhood dream. He wanted to be a hobo, and he lived that dream. I feel so lucky to have known him. He often stayed with me when his travels brought him back to Minneapolis. His mother sent his Christmas presents to my house. He never showed up to claim his 1998 Christmas presents, and I had not seen him since—although I had heard about him.
Thank you Blackie. It was good to know you, I hope there are freight trains and grilled cheese sandwiches wherever you are.