CORINNA, Maine — As long as anyone can remember, Everett Rockwell, 56, has pedaled an old-fashioned bicycle around town twice a day nearly every day to clean the roadsides of returnables and to visit the clerks at local stores.
Sunday was no different. Rockwell, who has cerebral palsy and is deaf and mute, parked his brown and orange bicycle outside of Robinson’s Mobil Mart, went inside and visited with his friends. When he went back outside about 30 minutes later, his bicycle was gone.
“He just fell into my arms and cried,” clerk Vicki Parker recalled Wednesday. Rockwell had come back into the store and gestured that his bicycle was gone. “He was very upset,” she said. Parker said she felt so bad for “Ebbie,” as he’s affectionately known around town, that she too ended up weeping.
Parker said she and Rockwell went outside and checked around the store for the bicycle while customers searched in other locations without success.
“Everybody adores him and everybody was so upset, and the biggest consensus that I got from everybody is that this is just so wrong,” Parker said.
Wanting to do something to help Rockwell, employees on Tuesday placed a jar on the counter seeking donations for a new bicycle. By Wednesday it contained about $250. She said vendors and salespeople who know Rockwell have helped fill the jar. Parker said store employees plan to keep the jar on the counter through the weekend.
Rockwell, a Corinna native, had been very happy with the Raleigh old-fashioned single-speed bicycle his family gave him on his birthday last year, according to Betty Floyd, his sister and caregiver. Until he received the gift, Rockwell had pedaled a used, cobbled-together bicycle, which he since has resumed riding. Because of his disabilities, Rockwell is unable to use handlebar brakes and must rely on the more traditional pedal-operated brakes, she said.
The loss of his new bicycle devastated Rockwell, Floyd said Wednesday.
“It’s pretty distinctive so if anybody saw it they should be able to recognize it,” she said of the bicycle. Her brother had never felt the need to lock his bicycle, but has since learned his lesson, she said.
Floyd said Rockwell travels the sides of the roads daily balancing a box on his knee for the bottles and cans he finds along the roadsides. His daily travels put him in contact with local employees and residents, who have befriended him.
“It’s kind of amazing how he makes people understand him,” she said of her brother’s hand gestures.
Because of his disability, Rockwell doesn’t work, so collecting bottles and helping out around the stores give him something to do, Parker said. She said he is quick to empty the trash and even takes out the flags if they aren’t outside. “Just little things like that, he really enjoys doing because it makes him feel like he’s accomplishing something and he likes being part of the crew,” she said.
He’s such a fixture at the local stores that Parker said employees call when Rockwell fails to show up, to make sure he is OK. If he’s going to be gone for a week or so, his sister calls to notify the store, she said. “She knows that we look for him every day,” Parker said.
“All we want is for whoever took it to bring it back, have a big enough heart to know that this is his only means of transportation and it’s his life,” Parker said. “You know, if they just have to bring it back and leave it behind the store or whatever, just do it.”