Thursday, August 19, 2004

"If you met him once, you knew him for life"

I was pulling some boxes out and clean up -- stumbled upon an old article regarding this deaf, illiterate man who frequented the deaf club -- the same person who introduced me to my favorite character in comic books -- Amethyst. Today, I have the tattoo of Amethyst on my left calf. All of this will not happen if not for Morton Adelanski. Here is the article which occurred right after Morton's death.

"If you met him once, you knew him for life"

By Bill Lohmann, Richmond Times-Dispatch

He was lying in a hospital bed at the Medical College of Virginia, recuperating from a collision with a truck. The truck survived and so did Morton Adelanski, which was no small feat seeing how Morton was 83 years old and on foot when the truck ran into him on West Broad Street three months ago.

So, here he was in the hospital a few weeks later, his left hand bandaged from where doctors had to amputate a finger.

He didn't care much for being in the hospital. He was too much a man of motion to be happy cooped up in one place for so long. But at least he had just about everything he needed right there. His beloved sister, Anne, with whom he lived, slept on a cot nearby. Pretty nurses were forever stopping by. A television flickered within a few feet. A bottle of ketchup sat on the window sill.

Morton lay there intently watching a talk show on the overhead TV.

He wore pajamas.

Black socks.

And black wing-tips.

Ready, apparently, for a quick getaway.

It was pure Morton.

* * *

Morton Adelanski, the deaf man who became one of Richmond's best-loved and most recognizable characters, made his final quick getaway last Wednesday. A massive heart attack took him quickly.

"It's rough," said his sister, Anne Chernack, who lived with Morton practically her entire life. "This house was Morton. When you walked in he'd tap you on the shoulder or kiss you on the head. We just enjoyed each other all the time. He's really missed.

"I've got to learn a new life for myself. At 77, I guess it's just part of growing up."

Richmond Circuit Judge T.J. Markow, whose family owned the florist shop where Morton worked for more than 50 years, delivered the eulogy at the funeral. He regaled the gathered with Morton stories, leaving them crying and laughing.

"It was wonderful," Anne Chernack said.

A point made by Markow was this:

If you met Morton once, you knew him the rest of your life.

A lot of us discovered that.

* * *

Though he couldn't hear, Morton lived a richer life than most. He was sweet and resilient, generous and intrepid. His heart made up for whatever his ears lacked.

He delivered newspapers and flowers, acquiring the nickname "Scooch" for the way he scooted from place to place. He silently sold ice cream and anything else at ballgames, scrawling the price on a sign he tacked onto his hat. Who needs to yell? His former boss said he never had a better salesman.

He traveled most anywhere, usually alone. He made regular jaunts to Las Vegas and even went on a cruise once. He absolutely loved buses.

When he wasn't riding, he was walking. He and his thumb were familiar to Richmond motorists; he hitchhiked everywhere.

He never learned to read or write and he didn't use formal sign language, but he never had trouble communicating. A conversation with Morton was like playing a game of charades. And nobody did it better. If Morton had ever stopped you on a sidewalk, grabbed your hand and kissed it, you would have come to the same assessment.

He loved wearing the wildest assortments of clothes. At the same time.

He hated wearing his false teeth.

Morton didn't worry much about first impressions.

Lasting ones, he knew, are the ones that count.

He was famous for giving presents -- trinkets he collected, somewhat-less-than-perfect flowers that wound up on the cutting-room floor, whatever -- to people he met along the way.

"Morton was one of a kind," said his sister Anne. "God bless him."

In preparing a 1995 article on Morton, I spent an evening with him and his family -- including Anne, another sister, Mary-Ann Ladin, and other relatives who doted on him his entire life. As I was leaving, Morton grabbed my arm and told me to stay on the front porch. He disappeared into the house and came back in a few minutes with a plaid baseball cap. He wanted me to have it, he insisted. It still sits on my computer monitor at the office.

For a man trapped in a world of silence, Morton's life resounded eloquently and loudly with those who knew him. He possessed and exhibited on a daily basis a quiet fearlessness and a simple dignity most of us can only wish for.

And he was a creature of habit, whether it was thumbing down Monument Avenue on weekday mornings at dawn or eating grits at Tony's. But no one -- other than Morton -- knew them all. In an age of cell phones and pagers and instant access to everyone and everything, his life had a delicious sort of mystery about it. Where had he been? Where was he going? How did he get there? Who knew. Morton would never tell.

We don't know what we missed.

But Morton always will.


Guys, guys. Why did I talk about this? When I was a kid and attended the deaf club in downtown Richmond, my parents treated Morton like normal ... even if it was obvious that he cannot communicate very well with anyone else in particular but what mattered the most is that he always tried to get his message across, somehow and eventually.

I enjoyed him because he was famous for bringing hundreds of magazines and comic books to the club. How? Nobody knew how, someone said someone saw Morton getting in 7-11 store which is a block away from the deaf club and the manager saw him and told him to go in the back and pick it up. He did the deed and brought it to the club and distribute it to everyone else.

When he died, his sister left Morton's monies to the deaf club. The folks were surprised but again, I was not surprised. The club was the place where Morton can be himself as a Deaf person.

Why didn't he learn ASL nor read and write? He became deaf when he was 8 or 9 on a farm in the Czech Republic and fled the Nazism atrocities -- he never had the time to go to school to learn. He only had the time to survive escape the Nazis.

When he arrived in the United States during the World War II, he just walked into the Markow Florist Shop and picked up the broom and worked there for 50 years. He was not even interviewed, he just hired himself in the florist shop.

These little things will *never* happen again in this modern society.

Some lucky things do happen to good people, I guess.


No comments: