Harry Crosser is slowly picking up the pieces that split into a million parts.
Time was he had a wife, two kids, a house.
He had a job, a truck and his health.
Bit by bit they all went away. Now it's just Harry and his dog.
"I don't let anything upset me anymore," Harry said. "I try to stay positive."
Harry and his black lab Sparky have become mainstays along Route 1 since last fall.
"Everybody knows him because he's such a nice guy, and he has a dog," said local Realtor Pat Hearn. "There are a lot of people concerned about him."
Route 1 business owner Walter Palmer said he met Harry and his dog walking along the thoroughfare last fall. In mid-November, Palmer said, he noticed someone had been staying in one of the sheds on his property. A sleeping bag and book bag lie neatly in the corner.
"I'm not going to move it," Palmer said. "I figure it belongs to someone down on his luck."
Palmer said he doesn't intend to lock the shed, either.
Sleeping where he can
Finding a place that will take him and his dog is always a problem. A shelter off of Route 9 would not allow it. Over the holidays, he stayed at a shelter in Millsboro that allowed Sparky to come along, but when people there started stealing from him, he left and they returned to the Route 1 area they know.
Harry admits he sleeps four or five nights a week at the shed. The rest of the time is split among a variety of places. There's been a school bus and an elevator. Through the generosity of some, Harry's spent a few nights at an area motel. Then there's the Epworth shelter, but only on nights when the temperatures dip below freezing.
"I've slept in some interesting places," he said.
The lifestyle has taken its toll on Harry's 6-foot-3-inch frame. A cane helps him walk on days when his leg acts up, but he admits the walking is wearing him out. His ready smile and engaging personality belie the hardship of living on the street.
"When it's warm out it's fine, but when it's cold and rainy, it's a job to stay dry," he said.
It wasn't always this way.
Harry grew up in the Pittsburgh area and graduated from Salem College in West Virginia, where he played football. He married and had two children, a boy and girl, both grown now.
He taught special education, coached football and lacrosse and managed a service station in Montgomery County, Md., before getting a job with Home Depot. In 2004, he and his wife moved to Milton for a slower paced life.
"I got tired of the rat race," he said.
Harry continued to work for Home Depot; his wife got a job at Beebe Medical Center.
Always lingering in background was a drinking problem that Harry said made him withdrawn and unsociable. When his wife left him in 2010, he said he wasn’t surprised.
"Pretty much had to do with she didn't want to be married to me, and I can't blame her," he said.
His bouts of drinking following his marriage break-up had deeper consequences. He alienated his son and daughter and they remain estranged today.
Through his recent troubles, Harry has had one constant companion – Sparky, a 6-year-old black lab.
Sparky was by his side when he dried out after his year-long binge, moved with Harry into a home in Milton, and then moved out after a series of mishaps involving drinking relapses and dropped charges resulted in the landlord replacing the locks and evicting them.
An infection in Harry's right hand kept him from the carpentry work that supplemented his income and that he enjoyed. It also keeps him from doing simple tasks many people take for granted.
"It took months until I could tie my shoes," he said. Clenching his fist together, he said he still has good and bad days. "I couldn't hold a fork and spoon until a month ago."
The kindness of strangers
Homeless with no where else to go, Harry and Sparky did what many have been forced to do these days – live out of their vehicles. That option, however, dried up in October when Harry let his car insurance lapse and police impounded his truck.
With a disabled hand and no work, Harry said he had no money to pay the fine and fees needed to get his truck back.
Harry and Sparky have been on the street ever since.
Walking up and down Route 1 inquiring about work, the pair has caught the eye of many business owners and travelers in the area.
"It's neat how people are interested in him," said Delaware State Trooper Samantha Joseph, who checks on Harry at least once a week along with her co-worker, Trooper Matthew Blakeman. "So many people have asked how he's doing. They know he's the one who walks along Route 1 with his dog."
Sparky's shiny, black coat and strong frame catch the eye of many passers-by. One lady recently gave him a bath, and a veterinarian recently visited the soup kitchen to give Sparky his annual shots. Others have bought a steady supply of dog food for Sparky. There's a bag of dog food at an area consignment store, a soup kitchen, a motel and other stores.
"He has all kinds of dog food up and down Route 1," Harry said. "The dog eats pretty good."
Brighter days ahead
With his hand slowly healing, Harry spends his days putting in applications for work at stores along Route 1. He's upbeat that he'll find work soon.
Once he does, Harry said he plans to find a room for rent and then buy a vehicle. Then his days of being homeless will be over. "Hopefully, this is going to end soon," he said.
He's not too concerned about Sparky because at least six people already have offered to take care of him. Giving Sparky up, however, is not an option for Harry. The way Sparky's brown eyes key on Harry's every move prove it's not an option for him, either.
"They can't live without each other," said Alan Baull, a helper at the soup kitchen on Route 1. "If they were separated, either Harry would die or Sparky would die."
But Harry likes to keep things positive. He wants to stay sober and goes to counseling for his drinking problem.
"I look at every day as a gift," Harry said. "Can you imagine a 10-year-old at Christmas? I wake up like that every day. Trouble is every day isn't Christmas."
Since his downward slide a few months ago, Harry says he's determined to climb his way back up. His quiet determination and humble demeanor have won over many fans.
"He's one of the few who is making an attempt," said Trooper Joseph who Blakeman and Hearn are among countless others rooting for him. "He has an opportunity that not many people would get, and it would break my heart if he doesn't take it."