Adventures With the Old Man From the All-Night Restaurant ‘(2021)

I recently had lunch with a group of lady friends. We all know each other, mostly from current or past work relationships.

We’re comfortable together. There are no strangers among us and, bottom line, we’re pretty much all cut from the same cloth when it comes to what piques our interests and animates our conversations. Our group shares the rewards of our connectedness. There is little to no risk involved. We share mutual trust.

When I first learned of author Claude Hammond’s “Wednesdays with Wally” and the gist of the book, I grew curious. I knew it was to be a true account of an elderly man, Wally, whom the author befriended in the last decade of Wally’s life.

Author Claude E. Hammond served as editor of “The Lane Report” in the early 2000s. His book chronicles his decade- long friendship with Wally Carr. (Courtesy of Claude E. Hammond)

As I got into the book, I wasn’t disappointed: What an unexpected gift I was unwrapping. I discovered a read that not only shares an engaging and heartfelt story but carries with the narrative an underlying inspirational message, perhaps of how to live a loving life.

Radical Hospitality

Claude’s outreach, his decision to connect with Wally, was one out of his comfort zone. I suspect it would be way out of all of our comfort zones. In this instance, Claude’s radical kindness and hospitality went beyond the boundaries of sharing a smile with a stranger. He took it much further, ultimately giving of his time and talents over the course of many years.

The story begins in the late ’50s and takes place in Lexington, Kentucky, principally hovering around the University of Kentucky campus and its nearby environs.

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Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of Kentucky on Oct. 25, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

William Wallace “Wally” Carr was one of the recognizable but easily ignored characters, who was most often seen shuffling the streets, disheveled, and with his head down. He looked like and was treated like a street person. He was fond of walking and fond of visiting the libraries. He was also struggling with mental illness, on and off medications, and frequently prone to losing or giving away his modest funds.

Wally rarely spoke to people he did not know, and most had little or nothing to do with him. He might be seen occasionally at a local diner or at the Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church.

His story was locked away, blurred through years of isolation and personal tragedies. Beneath the layers of soiled clothes was a brilliant, sensitive man with degrees from Colby College, Teachers College at Columbia University, and the Royal Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin. His father was a noted American classicist, Dr. Wilbert Lester Carr. Wally was fluent in Latin and German. He liked to quote Shakespeare and refer to Greek and Roman philosophers.

Out of the Shadows

All of this and more would be discovered when the young, soon-to-graduate college student, Claude Hammond, agreed to visit Wally on a weekly basis. While he had seen Wally on campus, he did not officially meet him until he was asked to help by a small group of local advocates, most notably an enthusiastic social worker.

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Wally Carr on a visit to the California coast, treated to the trip by the director of Life Adventure Camp, Elizabeth Ivy, and friends. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Ivey)

Hammond is frank describing his initial reluctance to become essentially a caregiver to an aging man, but that attitude soon changed. Both men, differing in ages and backgrounds, became friends. They truly enjoyed one another’s company.

Readers will find themselves rooting for Wally, cheering when he is placed in a new housing situation, when a gentle guardian takes charge so that his money does not disappear, when he has a good meal, and when he grows comfortable conversing with his new , young friend.

Together they go to the horse races, share dinners, attend lectures, go for walks, and often find themselves in comical situations.

We learn that Wally’s home within the Christ Church Apartments is accessible through the main lobby where the “lounge ladies” hover, ever eager to engage in gossip and always glad to see Claude when he comes to visit Wally. One Halloween, Wally dons a sheet and attends the costume party as Julius Caesar’s ghost. He dances with “all the witches” and a grand time is had by all.

Life Lessons

There are many chapters to Wally’s life that are revealed over the course of their decade-long friendship. There’s the time he spent studying in Berlin when Hitler was ascending to power, there’s his royal friends, and there’s the time spent in a psychiatric ward in New York. There’s the death of his parents and his time as a tutor to a notable family in New Orleans.

A writer and editor, Hammond researched Wally’s claims, sometimes wondering if they were delusional; but this was not the case. He is often pleasantly surprised at the depth and breadth of his sage friend.

Wally was a life-long learner enrolling and re-enrolling in college courses, mostly Shakespeare and Latin. The vicissitudes of his circumstances did not squelch his thirst for knowledge.

Throughout, Wally remains grateful. He contemplates his spirituality and relationship to a God that is ever nurturing. He has arrived at a place of serenity. Perhaps he has been awarded a doctorate in contentedness.

For Claude, his time as apprentice, mentor, and friend is etched in his heart forever as a joyful journey that he took the risk to take.

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Cover of “Wednesdays with Wally” by Charles Ellis Edmond. (Amazon Media)

‘Wednesdaydays with Wally: Adventures with the old man from the all-night restaurant’
By Claude E. Hammond
Self-Published, Dec. 22, 2021
Paperback: 267 pages

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