He was known as “Crazy Eddie,” and he was recognized all over town. There was something wrong with his mind, but no one seemed to really know what it was.

His speech was slow and broken, sputtering out from behind large and crooked teeth, and it took him an interminable amount of time to get a sentence out. He lumbered along my city’s streets with a step-drag, step-drag rhythm, a big guy with a strange curve to his spine, possibly from a bout with scoliosis.

No one knew for sure what Eddie was all about, and as far as I could tell, no one ever asked. He was a drifter who arrived one summer day on a borrowed ride, and after a couple weeks it was apparent he’d taken a shine to this rural burg with its friendly shops, lenient cops and its assortment of other quaint and colorful characters.

It was there I first encountered Eddie, outside the Newberg Graphic in the spring of 1981. He was standing near the paper box, leaning on it actually, as I approached the steps to the small brick building where I’d taken a job as a reporter the autumn before. I smiled at him and he smiled back, pulling the collar of his dingy brown coat up past his ears and rubbing his large, red hands together, as if he was having trouble keeping warm.

A twinge of pity skimmed through me, oddly mixed with a feeling of connectedness to this mostly mute man who, I would soon learn, attracted precious little attention from others who looked right through him, or just past him, never getting close enough to get an accurate view of the real Eddie who lived inside.

I took my eyes off Eddie and entered the office, which was releasing an inky, oily odor from the ancient printing press. Sitting down at my desk, with its two large windows that faced North School Street, I noticed a shower of pink petals floating down from a flowering cherry tree lining the thoroughfare. Eddie was tugging at one of its branches, causing the small flurry of color. He was grinning up into the sky, entranced by what he saw, his black hair mussed by the breeze and becoming a temporary resting place for several of the errant blossoms.

Day after day, I’d see Eddie as I rushed out to my reporting assignments. There he’d be, squatting near the entrance to the bank, munching something out of a brown paper bag. I’d see him coming out of the antique shop, holding onto the doorjamb, unsteadily making his way down the three steps. It seemed like Eddie inhabited only a square mile or so of space, and I’d catch myself wondering where in the world he went after the sun set — if he had a home or a bed to sleep in at night. People made room for Eddie when they passed him on the street. Some gave him a quick hello or a thumbs-up, while others crossed quickly to the other side.

Eddie didn’t invite conversation. This strange man in his mid-30s was a curiosity to me partly because he didn’t seem to need anyone. From what I could tell he spent nearly all his time alone, but he didn’t strike me as lonely. He was clumsy and delicate, sad and merry all at once.

It has been 32 years since I last saw Eddie, crouched between a couple park benches on the eastern edge of what by then had grown up into a slightly bigger city, staring wide-eyed at a flock of pigeons, tossing them bits of a sandwich he’d bummed. But I still think of him now and then, usually at times when I’m feeling low or lost, confused over questions of belonging.

I can’t bring myself to believe that Eddie is still out there somewhere, that he found a place or a person willing to grant him pleasant sanctuary. I think instead that he probably moved on some time ago, alone but not lonely, under the radar — the way he seemed to exist when he and I frequented the same small Oregon town.

Nancy Townsley is managing editor of the News-Times.

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