CONCORD -- When Concord lost Melvin Caldwell in a traffic accident Thursday morning, we lost one of our superheroes. Melvin was the Invisible Man, Superman, Batman, Captain America and possibly the last Boy Scout.
I always thought Melvin was my own secret superpower, but as I listened to folks mourn him on TV news stories and read their responses to my online post, I realized that everybody downtown knew him, even if they didn’t know his name. Melvin helped this clerk carry heavy boxes across busy streets, he defended that caterer from a would-be robber, he guided senior citizens to their cars. Melvin may have been the unknown Boy Scout, but he had magical powers to appear when he was needed.
He sure showed up for me. As the director of Kitty City, an animal rescue and education business that occupied Union Street for ten years, I met him early on through Audrey’s Boutique, another merchant. He hoisted boxes up the steep back stairs for her, carried the empty cartons back down, and once chased a thief down the sidewalk to recover a stolen toy.
At the end of my workdays, sometimes when volunteers hadn’t show up and it was cold and dark outside and I still had a huge floor to mop and windows smudged with puppy licks to clean and heavy bags of garbage to carry down the steep back stairs, Melvin would pop in to see if I needed anything.
Melvin was always hustling for a few dollars here and there, but if you didn’t have it to spare, that was OK because he’d still take out trash or wash dishes. Looking back on it, I don’t know where he got his endless supply of energy. Late at night he scrubbed floors for various businesses and early next morning he was there to wash windows and hand folks their newspapers tossed on the sidewalk. He seldom complained.
As a nonprofit we had little to give him. Sometimes I’d send a stuffed toy home with him for his beloved granddaughter. I remember one particular day when we had new tee shirts for our fall barbeque with a tuxedo printed on the front and I gave him one. He wore it so proudly for weeks.
What he gave me, as well as many of the women who worked downtown, was a sense of security. Melvin kept his finger on the pulse of everything and he knew everyone from the newest merchants to the street people who sat on the benches and muttered to themselves or panhandled or sometimes made suggestive comments. I often asked him about new faces.
He warned his friends about some of the unsavory characters– don’t turn your back on this guy, don’t talk to that one, this fellow is OK, but you have to be careful because sometimes at the end of the month he doesn’t take his meds. He was our interface with what could be frightening if you were one of the shop owners who came out late to dark empty streets. He reassured me that some characters that I was quick to judge were just down on their luck and were harmless. I actually became friends with some of them, just as I came to trust Melvin.
Some of the replies to my post about him were from kids who volunteered at Kitty City, especially in summer camps. They remembered him fondly. He always looked out for my kids as they sat out front selling soft drinks and cookies. They might not have known that a superpower watched over them, but he sure swooped in to warn me when he sensed a threat.
When I last saw Melvin, I was with a friend at the new Press & Porter coffee and wine shop on Union Street. We chatted a bit and he told me he had just gotten a job washing dishes at Wayside Restaurant on the corner of Branchview Drive and Cabarrus Avenue. He had ridden the bus from his home in Kannapolis and was getting off and crossing Branchview when he was hit by an oncoming motorist at that intersection.
He died immediately, which is a small mercy for those who knew him. He will be remembered fondly and missed by more people than he could ever know.
Patsy Davis Beeker is a local author and was executive director of the former Kitty City cat rescue in downtown Concord. Her latest book, published under the name Patsy Davis, is “Darwin’s Rules,” and is available at area bookstores and at Amazon.com.