Raising Cain about the grain in the lane


Speaking with a traveler, Frank Toller, who had stopped by to get a tire repaired, gave them a chance to vent a little. He had been admiring their farm and asking how they were doing and what were their plans for change if any.

“Every year we try to get our friends grain to market, before the snow comes. More than once we have lost not only grain but a tractor or wagon because of an avalanche from the early snow and the drivers just can’t get out of the way in time. If we could raise enough money to get a couple of older trucks, we would be much better off. The problem is the farmers are a little reluctant to invest in trucks, because they don’t understand why we can’t just keep doing what we have been doing. Those in the city do not understand poor farmers and just assume things are going ok, or don’t know and in some cases, don’t feel they need to know about our hauling business and are also disinclined to provide capital for it.”

Ben and Luke had been in business for many years but could never seem to get beyond the same routine every year. They were fruit and vegetable farmers, but also did quite well, in the winter, repairing farm equipment. They were some of the only garden farmers in the area. 

Somewhere back in time, their parents had started to haul grain to market in the fall, for the much poorer, grain farmers. They charged very little allowing the poor farmers to pick for them, on their orchard, in exchange for the hauling. Without someone to haul grain it would just sit in bags or on wagons and eventually rot.  Some of the business people said,

“Why do you haul for those lazy farmers? The more you haul, the more they raise for you to haul.”

Ben and Luke just felt like it was their responsibility to continue to help out the poor as they themselves, were doing so much better.  Because of the kind of roads and the mountainous terrain, horses had always been used, making the job long and not just a little arduous. Eventually they graduated to tractors but the loads to the mill, were not much bigger.

Frank Toller suggested, they let a lot more people know about their problem, get a committee together and attempt to get investments to start a real hauling business, starting with volunteers and as soon as possible hiring drivers, using the proper trucks.

 “See a Solicitor” he said, “and then get some influential people together who might be willing to help raise money. Everyone will gain from your plan so it should be a small effort to make it work.”

“There is one more important thing” Frank said, “in any business. Do not attempt to run it yourself. Give the running of the business to the most dedicated person and let them tell you what is needed. Be sure and give them all the credit. That is, see that they get all the credit they deserve.  Unlike your investors, and your committee members, that person will be close to the workings and be your best investment and advisor. You will be able to do your own work at home and with just a little of your involvement, trust your manager to allow you to do well.”

They thanked Frank and the next week they were off to see a Solicitor in the City and started the ball rolling. Arson Weakley was known for his help in Real Estate and property management, and they were told he had helped set up several businesses. Arson felt they had a good plan and he would be willing to invest as soon as they had a little more information.

Time went on and through Arson and others, soon they had a committee together who would talk about the necessities, doing various investigating, applying for any necessary papers, determining costs and feasibility.

As the committee grew, they found they had some of the best known and influential people in town. Business people, and people of status. More than once the newspaper wrote about their plans and the great wok they were taking on. The more they were known, the more people wanted to be a part of saving the poor farmers.

There were parties and get togethers, explaining their plans and get togethers to just thank the people who were involved. Ben and Luke, when they could attend, met people they had never even been close to. They ate food served in ways they had only heard of and treated like royalty. Often, they were reminded how lucky they were to have the committee they did, making their decisions, as it was a fine group of people.  

Ester McPherson was a young lady who would always come with her father, when he dropped off grain, if it were not a school day. She would always be anxious to hear about the experiences of the wagon drivers. Ester was going to school at Thorsten Agricultural college and would be graduating in a few months. She said she had no immediate plans and came looking for a job. She liked what they did and hoped there might be a place for her in their business.

What a great manager Ben and Luke thought. Honest, young and able to do long days. She seemed very able to make decisions on her own. Everyone knew her and was not likely to cross her as she knew how to tell them what they needed to hear. Ester knew the business better than anyone, no question about that. More importantly, she wanted, as much as them to make it work for the poor farmers.

Unfortunately, the committee didn’t agree and thought, she was just too young. Said, her parents didn’t do all that well. This was not the kind of job for a woman and, she might do well cleaning up or maybe driving in a few years after she grew up.

“No, they would not vote to put her to work as a manager.”  

Ben and Luke were disappointed but felt the committee must know best. After all, isn’t that what they were supposed to be doing, making decisions for the good of all? 

On the other hand, Herb Clement, knew that Fran and Joe Clark’s son Jack, had graduated from the university several years ago, with a business degree, was working at the electric plant, part time and was looking for a different job. Fran had been the mayor several years ago and his wife had been on the Planning Board at the hospital.

The meeting just went on,

“And the next thing on the agenda is the one-year celebration of the creation of our organization.” So, it went. “Let us be thankful for the opportunity to put our talents to wok and remind ourselves of all the great work we are doing”.

Some of the committee planed an interview with Jack Clark, and going out to the Clark’s house, found Jack to be just what they needed. They reported back to Ben, Luke and the rest of the committee, “He is intelligent, dresses well, did well in school and seems to be a gentleman. He will be able to talk with all your customers, sponsors, and business people. We strongly suggest going with him.

Once again Ben and Luke’s humility got in the way of what they really wanted to say and Jack was voted in.

On another day, a farmer came to Ben to say, he had heard of a nice truck which was for sale, out at the old Smith, hog farm, that Ron Brady owned now.

Off they went, finding the old hog farm much improved and different than the last time they had been by. The hogs were all gone and in their place, several pieces of machinery, building materials and more, all in a kind of order. Mr. Brady was glad to meet them, showing them the truck, back in the woods with tall grass and small trees growing up all around it. He said,

“It will need a better battery in it and I will change some spark plugs but I am sure it will run and it will do what you need better than anything else around. That is pretty much what it was used for before Henry Smith passed away. His wife Mary went to live with her daughter, selling the farm, just as it was. Before Mary left she told me, it was a shame to have to part with the old truck. It was her husband’s pet and later on and just before he died, the business was going really well. He had been doing some hauling for the government and they had invested a lot in his truck so he would be sure to make it through the mountain pass, even in the worst weather and in the roughest weather. Go and take a look at it and do come back when you are ready. I would like to see it get some work”.

On hearing this they were a little skeptical, thinking “it can’t be too good, out there in the woods all this time! “

Taking the short walk to the woods and the truck they found, at least at first, more or less what they had expected. A weed covered, rusty old truck, cracked windows, with small trees growing up around it.

They walked, and fought their way through weeds and brush, going in separate directions, looking under around and over, giving it the once over as well as the twice and several more times over. Without advance discussion and coming together near the back of the truck they both looked at each other.

“Did you see what I seen?” “Oh my gosh. This is beautiful. I just can’t believe it. We will have this thing hauling the first week we get it.” Luke said, “And spend the rest of the winter, gussieing it up” Ben said.

“The equipment that has been replaced on the undercarriage is worth as much as a new truck. Everything has been beefed up, kept up, and well lubed and the woods have more or less sheltered it. The sheet metal on the fenders and cab is much heavier than what they put on em today. Someone has fixed this up well beyond what it originally was. I can see our name on the side and we can have Harry Bantry do his fancy lettering stuff, painting on it, all the names of the folks we haul for.”

Ben and Luke knew enough about vehicles and equipment, that it was no difficult job to see the potential in this old truck. This was more than anything they had ever dreamed of.  It would take a little money to get it where they would like it, as it was going to get some hard use but so well suited for their needs.

At the next meeting with the committee, they were anxious to tell everyone about their find. They could hardly contain themselves as they spurted out their description of the vehicle careful to not brag about what they would be able to do with it.

The people listened, somewhat half-heartedly and were not near as enthusiastic as Ben and Luke expected. In fact, some, were looking around the room, as if not wanting to be the first one to be seen, paying attention and waiting for some other to make the first move.  Finally, someone on the committee decided they would go and check out the vehicle before making any quick decisions, quickly moving on to other business.

Sometime later, after much hounding by Ben and Luke, some of the committee decided to take the trip out to the old hog farm and look at this “old rusty truck in the woods”.  Arriving and having to walk all the way across what was an old barnyard, through several gates and at least two hundred feet into the woods, there it was. Sitting there on a bit of a hill, rusty, worn paint, cracked windows and all.

This was a large truck with a very large truck box for the grain. Probably much larger than needed for now but Ben and Luke argued that in time it would probably be too small if all went well. Also, for now it could be divided up to accommodate more than one grain and in that way, saving trips. The truck was being used in the woods to bring out firewood at the time, and had been left there for several years. It looked rough but in fact, started with very little effort, the fresh battery and few parts changed by, Mr. Brady, allowed it to start and run, just as he had said.  Still the seats were almost gone from wear and vandalism. The paint was mostly gone with some rust holes and some bent and broken body parts.  Tires were worn but still all had air and looked to Ben, Luke and Ron Brady, as though they could be driven on for several years.

Some in the committee group suggested the condition was just too bad. John had worked in an upholstery shop and said the cost to upholster the seats would be very expensive.  Sharon said, “she would be ashamed to be a part of a business owning anything that ugly.” Marv’s father had owned a motorcycle shop and felt it would be just too much work to fix it up. Argument after argument came up, all without much thought but, none the less, against buying the truck. Again, Ben and Luke argued, they had been doing repairs for years and they would be able with some small investment, to put the truck on the road.

Secretly they knew it would be an easy task to do the body work replace the seats and do a repaint. Used parts, with a lot of labor, which they had more than enough time for in the winter months. They knew mechanical work and had already determined that that part of it, was in pretty good shape. They could see it had had some serious work done, to bring the motor and the rest of the mechanical up to almost new condition, just before it had been parked.  They also knew because of the size, it was suited about as perfect as any used truck could be for their purpose. If they were to look for a brand new one it would greatly resemble the properties of this old truck, not be near as close to what they needed unless it was also re worked and the cost would be astronomical. They so badly wanted to tell more of their abilities, but that would be bragging and bragging was not something they did.  They had learned from a young age to be humble and allow people to judge you by what they seen in you. Had the people on the committee, known them better or tried, to get to know them better, many things might have gone smother.  

Mr. Brady was a person, very few people liked, and it was said he owned a lot of things and shouldn’t be trusted. Other than that, not a lot was known about him.  It seemed just because he owned a lot, he shouldn’t be trusted. The fact that he knew a lot about trucks, seemed to Ben and Luke, he was the guy to invest in. At the very least invest more time in.

Mr. Brady told Ben and Luke, if they wanted, to get it out of the woods, it would be a lot of work, but they could rent it and decide if they would like to buy it.

The committee was not so impressed. Latter on, back in town they complained about the useless trip. They talked as if Ben and Luke were not even in the room, insulting them with every word. They talked about the dirt and weeds, and why would anyone leave a truck out in the woods, if it had any value at all. Who would even think of such a thing.

One day when some of the committee members were in the diner, where they would often meet, Dan mentioned a truck they might be interested in. Dan Foley was a very successful tailor and owned several men’s stores. He knew Ralph banes, an automobile salesman who he had talked to, at the diner at breakfast. Ralph had told him about an almost brand-new panel truck for sale, on his lot and they should come and look at it.

Shortly thereafter, the group looked at the much smaller truck. A small closed truck in almost new condition with almost new tires and reported to get good mileage. The truck could be bought on time and with the warranty most of the labor for repairs would be covered for the next year.

Ben said, “The small truck will have to be loaded by hand and every thing in grain bags.” Herb on the committee said “Let the lazy farmers load their own.”

Luke argued that the price seemed way too high, the warrantee was only good for labor and not the parts and only for one year. “In a year they would still be doing repair work themselves” Cathy on the committee said, “have the drivers, drive slower so there are not so many repairs.”

He said, “At best, the small truck would only haul a fraction of what the large truck would haul” but the committee just refused to hear that as if Luke hadn’t said it.

They looked at several trucks over several months and in time, the committee felt the panel truck on Ralph’s lot would be the best investment and so the deal was made.

Before the truck could be used it was necessary to rebuild the front end, and replace springs and shocks to accommodate the heavy loads they would be hauling. That of course was not covered by the warrantee as the truck had been in working order. Just not for the heavier loads. The cost to do the rework was as much as the price of the truck and still didn’t make up for the small size. Ben and Luke were stunned but the committee just took it in stride, and acted as if they were getting a bonus.

The small truck made it through nicely, on days when there was no great amount of snow and it was necessary to use the tractors to pull the wagons on the bad days. The small truck increased their number of loads to market by a considerable amount on some days, being able to make more than one trip but because of not being able to handle even as much as the tractors and the snow and having to use the tractors on those days the total for the year was looking much smaller. The committee refused to see or hear of that.

One day, Ben and Luke were gone, doing business with the grain company and had left the decisions of driving the grain to their new manager Jack Clark. Jack was anxious to make a name for himself and was anxious to get as many wagons out as he could. On that day, when the tractors were being used an avalanche took a wagon. The driver was killed, and one of the tractors lost as well as the loss of the entire load.

Ester McPherson had warned about going out on such days as she had seen some of the snow and possible avalanches when she was riding with the drivers as a young girl. Instead the committee had hired a manager who had been successful in school as well as at the electric plant.

Ben and Luke, as well as their family were devastated. In all the years, they had lost a wagon here and there, several wagons but never a human death. Of course, he was a friend they knew well, which didn’t make it any easier.

A small article appeared in the local paper but not much more. Ben, Luke, Ester and some of the other drivers but other than the family’s, that was about it. At the funeral they talked with the family of the deceased but everyone knew there wasn’t a lot to be said.  

Ben and Luke argued that, “had they owned the larger truck from Mr. Brady, they would have accomplished most if not all of their hauling, long before the heavy snow season.”

Every one else, had other arguments weather they had any idea of the situation or not. Ben and Luke were farmers. What could they know. Some said the large truck might have blown a tire or ran out of gas, ignoring completely, that they would be hauling outside of the avalanche season. Some suggested they should have just used the small truck more starting earlier and maybe putting up lights along the road so they could see better at night. Once again forgetting the hauling, had everything to do with the time of year. More than one said they should just cheer up and be glad it wasn’t them.

“Time will pass and you will forget about this. We have all, put it behind us!”

Ben and Luke kept up, their own farms, doing well enough but never settling with the accident. They were even more careful, resulting in less grain being hauled. Much of the grain would be seen sitting around in containers or on small wagons and people would complain about the clutter along the road.  Every year more and more grain would be wasted leaving family’s poor and wondering if they should move away, if only they could.

It was very difficult for Ben and Luke, knowing that what happened was more or less what they had predicted. People depended on them to haul their grain. For many it meant everything to a decent survival. Still the thought of yet another accident, which was easily predicted was almost impossible to live with. All of their backers seemed content with, we are so sorry, but that is just the price of doing business or, it probably would have happened anyway.

The committee agreed it was a terrible accident and it should be brought up at the next meeting, “which by the way” said Lila, “is coming up at our new office soon and, Oh, Betty, don’t forget. You were going to make those wonderful brownies for us. Anyway, hopefully, Ralph Banes is going to be at it, to tell us about yet another fine truck he has been scouring the country for. It sounds as great as the last one and according to Ralph,” “even better”.

Ben and Luke and their families, had spent a lot of time in church after the event. I don’t know where all this is going” said Luke, “but I feel sure something will change for the better.”  Ben’s wife said, “You guys have been doing the best you could, God will show you one day.”  The strength of the family seemed like the first spring flowers after a hard winter. Things would get better!


Grease trap

ONLY hearing THE VERY FIRST Part of this story and as I do know at least a little about these things, I could do nothing but laugh. I knew it had to be written. As it turned out, much later, they had watched the whole incident on their in-house camera. By this time, they had been told that the entire kitchen would be re done and covered by the pumping company. I was told that my embellished story was dead on.

When the merde, hits the ventilator

A friend of mine told me a story that I felt I could not go another day without passing along.

It seems as though, that on one bright sunny day, this person, entered a building they felt responsible for and making various checks found the water to be draining, rather slow in the kitchen. This person, being very well-qualified in the “I can fix it myself area”, dug right in. Turning both faucets on, she was not only to discover that, yes, the water did run slow but now had a sink full of water. Staring at it for some time she was able to determine that it was going down but at the rate it was going, several holidays could have passed before it was empty. Always the thinker, she looked for and found any number of drain cleaner liquids. Curiously enough by adding them, most all of them, to the sink full of water only made it deeper and a little more dangerous to deal with. The stainless-steel sink was taking on a much darker shade of gray.

Okay, now she was ready to call in the big guns. Taking advantage of her cell phone and, in a loud voice, called for anybody willing to assist. Assistance came with plungers and snakes, gadgets and gizmos, and no shortage of suggestions. Other than some of the young children in the area learning some colorful new words one person going off to the hospital, suffering from the inhalation, not a lot more was accomplished.

Next came the professionals. All would be better again. Life would be made new, bright and shiny. A plumber or I should say as he is usually referred to, “the plumber” was called.

“Have you tried to repair the problem yourself? Have you used drain- cleaner? You know, there is an extra $75 charge if I have to work in water that is full of dangerous drain cleaner.”

“Yes, we understand this is not your regular hours of work, and that you have many other customers waiting, but we need this pretty bad and soon.”

“All right” the plumber said, “you holler and it’s your dollar, ha ha,,ha.”

showing up, and wearing his pants, just high enough to not be called indecent, strolled into the building eating a tuna fish sandwich. “My name is Dixon and I’m here to do the fixin”. “Well that really ain’t my name but I use it because it rhymes, ha ha Ha Hah.

Showing him what they had, he slowly wandered back up to the truck and bringing in much the same devices and gadgets that they had been using, only his looked a lot more expensive.

By now they were just glad to have the relief of knowing that soon this would be over and done. The plumber went to work, as if he was probing for treasure at the bottom of a murky bubbling sea, trading one device with another and each time pulling out whatever current device he was using somewhat warped and void of any of the shiny finish it had gone in with.  “Gonna have to replace that one too, ha ha Ha.”

After a while he stopped, “afraid you’re out of luck”

“What now, what do we do now, what do you mean we are out of luck?”

“Well, looks like you’re gonna have to call an excavator, er, well, got a basement?  er, ain’t  this place a co-mercial kind of a place? Have you got a grease trap?”

“What’s a grease trap?”

“Well it’s this year kind of thing that works kind of like your septic tank. When the greasy water goes down the drain, the grease sort of floats to the top an the water keeps a goin. Sometimes if you use a lot of grease it fills up, and you got ta have it emptied. Have you ever had it emptied?”

“Where’s the grease trap?”

Looking all around and then down at the floor right under the sink, “well, by Jiminy George, stright-here under this-er sink.”

Picking up his tools, by now a lot more than just tarnished, went out to his truck and returned with a doughnut and an invoice for them to sign. “Spose you got no place for me to wash up, ha,ha,he,ha. Here’s the number of the grease trap guy, good friend of mine, he’ll do you right, good luck. Ha,ha,hee.ha.

It didn’t take long and the grease trap man was there, removing the lid of this large square container under the sink right there in the kitchen. ”Guess this hasn’t been pumped for a couple of weeks” he said, as all of the ready to advise and help, onlookers decided it was time to assist somewhere away off, maybe, miles away. It was more likely, it had not been pumped in a couple of years.

The stench, rising from the container was like nothing they had ever experienced, at least anywhere near a kitchen or on earth, for that matter. Maybe a farm yard where they raised pigs.

The building was pretty much vacated by any and all, to their cars, and off they went, as if a bomb was about to go off inside. My friend on the other hand, felt she should stay, should someone be needed to advise them further on how to do their job.

Busying herself in a closet, in the most remote part of the building, with the door closed, and holding a quilt over her nose, felt relatively safe. After about a half-hour and the not so pleasant aroma, seeming to be getting worse instead of better, she decided to go and investigate.

Oh my,,,,,,,, oh my,,,,,,,,,, ooooooooooh !@#$%^.  $%^&.   @#$%^.  @#$%^!!!!

the kitchen looked very little, like a kitchen but a lot more like a mud wrestling arena and the odder was like that of a fully operational slaughterhouse in Death Valley, where the power had been turned off six weeks ago.

“We are out here” a muffled voice hollered.

In between fits of what the? And vomiting and gasping, my friend was to learn how a slight mistake had caused this minor calamity. Turns out, the owner of the grease trap cleaner truck, had an apprentice. Anxious for his apprentice to learn quick, pretty much put him in charge of the small job. The owner went on wandering through the building checking out its new paint and decorations while the apprentice went out and turned on the pumper truck and started it pumping. Notice I said, started it pumping. Either no one had told him or he had forgotten that on this pumper truck and among its many valves, were pumping out valves as well as pumping in valves.

Yes, my friends, he opened the pumping out valve and as these trucks are designed to empty their load rather quickly, had emptied a considerable amount by the time our young apprentice friend was able to get back inside. His boss was wandering back to the kitchen about the same time the apprentice, had followed the hose back into the kitchen and the two of them basically realizing what was going on and scrambling and falling and bumping together, made it to the truck about the same time, but it really didn’t matter much. From the looks of things, the truck was pretty well empty.

The young apprentice will not likely be fired as he should’ve been supervised a little better. The owner of the company will continue to have a business, God willing, and if the story does not make the newspaper.

My friend has been informed that all will be corrected quickly and of course so will global warming. For now, as appetites seem to be waning, all cooking and use of the kitchen area, has been put off until the year 2026 and the local hardware has sold out of earplugs which are being used for nose stoppers.

I felt it my duty to express my sympathy to my friend for her inconvenience and having to deal with this horrible tragedy. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to stop laughing, long enough to be very expressive at least positively.


Sally’s Vison Center

Reread 20 July 2020

Tommy walked through the door and up to the counter of the crowded optical center. Dressed in a well fitted suit and tie, shoes highly polished and looking very important. Not the usual customer!

 “Can I help you”.

“Yes, Please, I need my glasses repaired and if you don’t mind, I would like to deal with Sally.”

“Sir, we have several qualified technicians and Sally is quite busy right now ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,”

“That’s fine, I am not in a hurry and I can wait”.

Most of the chairs were taken but Tommy was able to find one near the back of the room. Picking up a few magazines he settled in for a long wait and it turned out to be, a pretty long wait. People came in and left and more than once, he was reminded,

“We do have other tech’s who are not as busy as Sally right now. If you would like ,,,,,,,,,,,.”

“No,” he would wait.

Eventually he was called,

“Mr. Thomas Rinker”.

Up to the counter and Sally, directing him to a chair, near the back of the examining area,

“What can I do for you today? They tell me your glasses are in need of repair. Your glasses look in pretty good shape but if you will take them off for me, I can take a look at them”.

Looking at him there was something, well something. She almost excused herself to bring in a different person to do this exam.

Throwing the thought off, she said,

“before you do that, just for the records let’s check your current vison with and without your glasses.”

Looking through the Ophthalmoscope and deep into his eyes she could see nothing too unusual and yet something still bothered her.

“I’m sorry sir but I must ,,,,,,,,,”

 “I am sorry too, but these aren’t the glasses I am talking about.”

“Well than, if I may, what do you want us to do for you?”

Reaching in his vest pocket he pulled out a wrinkled old package and opened it to an old glass case and opening that, taking out a pair of rather beat up glasses. He handed the glasses to Sally.

awkwardly taking the glasses She started, “these are a mess I’m not sure we can ,,,,,,,,,,,.”

Almost dropping them, she looked at him for a long time, tears welling and freely falling.

Whispering out, “Oh my dear God” was all she was able to do.

On a late fall day, many years before, Tommy had landed in front of a building. Which building, didn’t matter, as he was coming from nowhere and going nowhere. He had drunk enough to get him to the place where he felt people didn’t see him or if they did, he, just like them, didn’t care.  The cement was very wet and cold but he didn’t care about that either. Tommy was drunk, that much he knew and soon he would fall asleep, clutching the bag of returnable cans he needed to start his next day’s mission and another drunk.

People passing by seeing him sitting, half laying there, would shake their heads in disgust. A few might throw a dime or a quarter in his direction but for the most part, avoid eye contact and some even crossed the street to avoid walking past him. Inside the building people were reporting his presence and advising that he could be bad for business, as if that needed to be reported.

Several times the owner had gone out, trying to encourage Tommie to move on, even offering to call a restaurant so he might have a good meal on her. Calling the police didn’t seem like an option as what could they do anyway. Put him in jail at the taxpayer’s expense and they were already too busy to be involved in one more of the many marginalized people.

On her fourth of fifth trip out to talk with him, she noticed he had broken his glasses and they were held on to his head with string and wire and what ever else must have worked for the moment.

“Sir, I run a vision center and we repair glasses. If you will come in for a few minutes I believe I can fix your glasses up a bit.”

Tommy wasn’t all that interested but his glasses were one thing he valued, at least enough to want to hang on to them. While she went on about their service somewhere in his glassy state he pulled him self up and followed her in to the building.

As customers looked on, she led him in to a back room and a chair out of sight of the others. Near the back of the building, was a rear entrance, to a room which had become a storage area with an inner door separating it from the rest of the building. This rear door was only used by the employees and the room for things “too good to throw away or not in use right now”. She set one of the chairs up for him, coaxed him in and told him she would be back soon.

At her desk, she started to examine the glasses and was sorry she had volunteered for such a hopeless project. The glasses were bent, broke, miss aligned, scratched and just about worthless.

She scrubbed them up and slowly started to put her skills to work. Finding some temples from and pair of display glasses with the right hinges and screws that would fit was maybe the hardest part. What she came up with, was a pair of large partly yellow partly turtle shell temples, that looked out of place but more or less, fit. Nose pads were gone and she managed to repair them with an oversized pair.

 The whole thing became a kind of challenging Project with Sally putting in a lot more time than she had planned.  Buffing lenses after removing them from the dirt encrusted frames and replacing them. Buffing any rough corners of the oversized parts she had installed.

By now the appointments had all been taken care of and customers off the street had come and gone. Three of her employees had ended their shift and the last was informing her that he would see her in the morning.

They had all been asked to use the front door tonight and assured that she felt safe enough as this guy couldn’t hardly walk, much less do any harm.

Finally, she was finished and quite proud of the results. Strictly by accident, what she had come up with could easily be considered “Art Deco” and been sold at a high price to the right person.

She went to the back room, knocking and getting no response, opened the door. Tommy was sleeping on the floor using some chair cushions for a bed and obviously not likely to wake up soon no matter what she did.

Now what to do? She went around collecting snacks and restaurant leftovers from the fridge, a couple bottles of water and most of three packs of cigarettes left behind by customers. There was a nice nylon jacket that had been there for more than a year and this might be a chance for it to get a good home. All of this she packed in a carrying bag also left behind by a customer and put it with a note informing Tommy to exit out the back door and to take the bag with him. There would be no charge and wished him well. The inner door had the facility to be locked from the inside and so she did, leaving her charge to his own means.

She didn’t sleep a lot that night and arrived at the office early the next morning, happy to find that her guest had not only left but even made some attempt to put things back in some kind of order.

It didn’t take very long for the word to get out, about the good deed and over the years it played a big part in how her business grew, opening two more offices. She became Sister Sally to the street people. Making small repairs for those who couldn’t afford it became part of the business and without advertising, people from all over heard about it bringing in their old glasses to be used for parts or to be sent to some place where they would be needed and at the same time making appointments for their own glasses and more than happy to spend a little more on that better pair.

Tommy had woken up that morning, like so many mornings looking for something to take off the edge and, in his bag, he found he had left the least amount of a drink. Downing that seemed to give him a little life if one calls it that. The bag of snacks and leftovers were there with his glasses in a nice case. A note said to let himself out the back way and so he did grabbing his things as he went. Stopping behind a large dumpster provided some early morning relief. Soon he was off as usual, wanting to be as far away as he could from where he had spent the night. Who knew what he had done or didn’t do in the area and he would be prime target as a suspect for any foul play which might have happened in the night.

He walked for more than a mile, picking up cigarette buts and smoking them as he went.  Eventually he came to a city park and moving to the center of the park where people were less likely to come, found a bench and plunked himself down. It was nice to be here early in the morning, all alone, quiet except for birds and distant vehicles. The city hadn’t woken up yet and this was his time.

Unless you were a street person, you just didn’t get it. There were things here most people would never see. Some good and plenty of bad but it was real and made a lot more since than a lot of what was going on in the coffee shops and drive throughs. In the daylight, people were worried to the point of seeing therapists and taking pills, because they couldn’t keep up with their neighbor or what was going to impress the most or what if I can’t get this or that. People talking on their phones about some person stealing and at the same time bragging about what they stole, time and product from their employer.

 Sitting there was about the only thing he had to enjoy any more, he started to think about the past twenty-four hours. Than he remembered the bag he was carrying.

Pulling out of the bag, leftovers, snacks, a couple bottles of water he turned his nose up at, some open packs of cigarettes, and even a cigarette lighter.

 A lit cigarette in one hand and savoring the mixed snacks, to him was like his own little party. He imagined himself in the company of friends, talking and sharing bits of expensive food, talking about politics, the weather, and their families, their wonderful families.  Oh, how he would have loved a family. Just the presence of another caring person. What must it be like, having even one-person care, or even know you are alive.

Voices interrupted his thoughts and he could hear people starting to come into the park. Joggers, dog walkers, people with kids, and a few loners, like himself. Getting up and pulling his things together, he thought, “at least they have a place to return to, a coffee pot, maybe, a few magazines on an old table, a soft chair and a phone for people to call them on.” “Maybe they have a little dog or a cat”. Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he pulled on the jacket he found in the bag. Rather light for most people but he was used to the cold and this would block out the wind. Also, it was long and covered up a lot off his rather ragged clothes.

As he walked across the park in the direction of who knew where, a young boy said “cool glasses mister” with the father smiling and giving an affirmative head nod. Walking on and out of sight of the boy and his father he pulled off his glasses. Rather surprised that he hadn’t noticed earlier. Wow! Who could not notice these glasses? Rather silly he thought but at least they were not falling off.  Through the day, he encountered other people who seemed to notice or gave comment on his glasses. A few were disagreeable but most found them to be to their liking. Several asked for the address of the optical center where he had purchased them and he would just say that it was somewhere a long way off and he didn’t remember the address.

Somewhere later in the day he came to a coffee shop and remembering some change that had been thrust into his bag he stopped at one of the outside tables. Carefully counting out the correct amount, went in and bought a coffee, brought it back out and sat amongst the cold, empty tables drinking, letting thoughts pass and just staring into space.

“Excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?”

It was too cold for most people to sit outside and so the voice surprised Tommie.

Sitting down across from him was a well-groomed man and obviously not the kind of people who usually approached him. I see you and immediately figured you as someone who needed a job.

Tommy started to protest but was cut off.

“I think I know your story or most of it and I am not interested in your history. I work in a place where many of us, make a pretty good living. Some would say, we make more than we should. One of the things we do, which is kind of outside of our regular work, is try to get people back on their feet. Not a free ride but a job and at least for a while, we do our best to get you what you need to hold on to the job. If you are successful you can move up or go somewhere else. No strings. We do it as teams with a team or small group of people picking an individual and trying to rebuild them. We don’t do it for gain other than knowledge of what we might be doing wrong or right. You have to make all the decisions and we do our best to treat you fairly, without giving you a lot you couldn’t acquire on your own. In other words, we try to help but by no means, spoil you”.

“By the way, my name is Tim. You don’t have to make a decision right now, but I know the value of what I am offering you. I’m going inside to get a Coffee. I will give you five minutes to make up your mind. If you are not interested, that is fine. You probably will never see me again.”

With that the guy got up and went inside. Tommy sat there. Who was this person who, like so many others, were going to do some great thing for his own ego? Take care of the poor homeless drunk and tell your friends how great you are. Was he serious? This was all too much to think about. Tommy needed a drink. By now the traffic was busy, people were coming and going on the street. Noises and voices everywhere, lights, doors opening and closing. “Run away,” Tommy told himself, but it seemed like he was glued to the seat.

In what seemed like a lot less than five minutes, Tim was back, coffee in hand and looking at Tommie.

“What’s it going to be?”

Tommie heard himself choke out “OK” and they were off.

Tommie followed him for a couple of blocks to a parking lot and a pretty nice car. Tommy nodded off a couple of times while they drove to an industrial park, somewhere on the outskirts of town. There, they pulled up to the front door of a building and got out. A lady came over, got in the car and drove it away.

Tim said, “that was our parking attendant. She like you was in need and now has a job. We decided long ago, that we would create jobs but they had to be jobs that made sense. She will take my car and park it saving me time but also keep records of things like oil changes, fluids, wash and clean the car when needed and we have a hoist, so that some of the minor repairs can be done. She makes out a bill, reflecting current prices. I will pay for what is done and the money will go into an employment fund. She in turn receives a fair hourly wage and given the opportunity to move into something else, when an opportunity comes along.” ‘

“I get a good job because she is not pressured by time or needed business costs. If she has to keep the car for a repair or take it somewhere, there will be a loaner car for me.”

“If you look closely, you won’t see too many new cars here but because they are so well maintained, they look and feel like almost new. Over there”, pointing to a large garage looking building, “Is where we keep the hoist and the landscaping equipment. We do most of the landscaping in this industrial park. One day our grounds keeper asked in he could do some needed repairs on the mower. Of course, not everyone is the repairman he thinks he is but we gave him a chance. Well, that turned into employees and their friends and family’s bringing in mowers to repair and pretty soon we were seeing everything from vacuum cleaners to four wheelers. There are times when the work backs up and we bring in people from other areas to help. For instance, the mail clerk or even one of us might need a break from our daily routine. No one is too good to roll up their sleeves and it could be just to keep records, while the person doing the repair can go on and not have to stop and wash up, in order to record what is needed.”

“Cleaning and organizing is something always needed everywhere, from our offices to the work shop and you will be expected to figure that out as you move along.”

“Now, let’s go inside.”

Going up the walk to the massive front doors made Tommy a bit nervous. Tim seemed to notice and said, “If ever you need to leave and it all seems too much, just come out these doors. Someone will eventually see you and take you to where ever you need to go. Although I will tell you, we run a pretty tight ship. You won’t want to make a habit of it.”

Inside was a spacious lobby with a person at an information desk, working away at a computer. Beyond that and through a door, down a short hallway they came to a very large area of offices, cubicles, people getting up and sitting down, moving from place to place almost like being inside some kind giant clock.

Some HI’s and a hand shake or two, a couple of “like your glasses” but other than that not the stares Tommy was expecting. Tommie followed Tim through the large building to the back of the building to a row of doors. Opening one, Tim said, “this can be your room for a while if you need it.”

Tommie thought, “who ever said I needed a room and for all he knows, I might have a house better than his”.

Tim seemed to read his mind and said, “Just in case you chose to stay, instead of going home some night”. 

It was a small room, with a little refrigerator, sink three burner range, a bed, large window and not much more. A sign said “monitors in place for safety and security”.

“Restrooms, a couple of Tubs, showers and laundry facilities, are down the hall and you will be sharing them with other employees. We have a cafeteria with most of what you might want and there is a charge but pretty small to employees. By the way, there is a charge for most everything here but rates are based on the wholesale costs plus labor and of whatever it is, is based on your rank. If you stay and move up, you will pay more but only enough to defray the cost of providing the service. Part of our business here is non-profit and because of the service we provide, we receive many donations of many different items. Weather it is food, an old car, someone’s laundry equipment, art, dishes, clothes, or a lawn mower, rather than just pass it on, or throw it away, we do our best to reuse what we get. Great chiefs have been developed here and are able to put together incredible meals from good food that others were ready to throw away, because they didn’t have the need or the room for it. Waste is a bad word here and everything that can be recycled, is recycled for use or cash.  Sometimes a load of cardboard barley pays for the driver and vehicle but we make sure it pays for at least that. We feel good about recycling and someone has a job.

Out back, you will find beautiful gardens, started because a contractor needed a place to get rid of some dirt. A person just like you asked if they could plant a few things. They were given a chance and now employees are glad to stop pick a couple things out of the garden, save time stopping at the market and donate maybe less than they would pay at the market, and know the origin of the food”

“I think that is enough for now. Someone will be by to help you go from here. They will set you up with some clean clothes until you can wash yours and good luck. Oh, they will be here in ten minutes so whatever you do, don’t take too long at it.”

Away he went, leaving Tommy looking after him and wondering “what the??” It was all going to fast and he hadn’t had time to even think. Turning into the room a large sign read,

“Be respectful, be on time, and Be open to wisdom. You owe it to yourself”.

 He took off his jacket and thought about the bed but thought, for a change I am going to wash my hands. A small thing but in his own private room, no one looking on, bobbly soap, warm water and then a loud knock at the door. It couldn’t be ten minutes yet. Quickly drying his hands on his pants, he went to the door and opened it.

“Hi, my name is Robert and I would like you to come with me. No don’t worry about your things, everything is safe here.”

Down the hall in the direction of the bathrooms and laundry equipment.

“I got a picture of you on the monitor, when you came in and guessing, I found some clothes that should work for now. You have thirty minutes. There is a clock you can see from the shower. Take twenty minutes of that time in the shower. Not a minute less. When you come out pick out the clothes you want and leave the rest. Get dressed and put all your things in the washer across from the showers. Don’t worry about turning it on for now. The first-time laundry, is on us. Sox and slip on shoes of a couple sizes are with the clothes. You might not be ready for a presidential wedding but you’ll be alright for today. Don’t waste time, someone will be by in a half hour”, and with that, he too was gone.  It had been a long time since Tommie had seen a shower and some might think he would be looking forward to it but that is usually not the case for street people.

Stripping off clothes that had been worn for such a long time was hard enough. Imagining someone else seeing the clothes, was humiliating to the point of tears. In the shower, to hot, too cold, gradually adjusting it to something he could tolerate. His skin was a mess. Bug bites which had festered, a bruise or two, dry scaly skin in places and the touch of the water being painful to some tender skin worn places. What he didn’t know, for the first five minutes of the shower, medicated soap came on and dribbled from the ceiling.  The showers had been built with enough privacy and Soon Tommy was caught up in the comfort. Standing there in the warm water was like something somewhere in his past and he almost forgot about the time. Looking at the clock he had used up twenty-five minutes and he knew these people wouldn’t wait. Jumping out of the shower, grabbing a worn but soft and large old beach towel he dried him self like he was doing the job at the car wash, for a guy who was a big tipper. He dressed and quickly put his old clothes in the washer, before anyone could see them in the state they were in.  Putting on sox and a pair of Slip-on shoes which came close enough to his size, he was ready and not a minute too soon.

A female voice from a little way away asked, “are you decent?”

Walking out, his body still stinging from all the lesions and street sores the water had re awakened.

Outside the wash area a woman waited, my name is Judy and if you will follow me.

Down the hall to an elevator and down to the basement as busy and as large as the area above.

From the elevator to an open door, and a sign saying, “Mail Room.”

“For starters, you will be working here. Brandy and Max will guide you through and have a blessed day.”

Like all the rest, she was gone in a flash down the hall, leaving him shaking hands with Brandy and Max.

“Here is what you will be doing today and don’t expect to be perfect, just be open to criticism and adjustment. This mail coming in needs to be sorted. After a while you will develop your own plan. Different kind of mail with different urgencies. If it doesn’t have a particular person mentioned, it goes to the mail reader over here. Specific names and box numbers go over here in these hundred slots. Nothing is junk-mail. It may go to the shredder or the paper collector but it is all recycled and turned into cash if only a few pennies. There is a place for coupons and some of our employees go through and take what the will use. Some are sent to places they can be best used. Child care items to child care homes, adult diapers to nursing homes.  At least once a week a person sorts out coupons.  Every few days anyone who has a little time will go through the mail boxes to make sure they are being emptied taking these sticks, putting the current date on them and placing one in the box they started on and the box where they finished.  That way nothing gets left behind. You might think we have created a lot of small silly jobs here but it all helps the business to run better and makes for employment.

The rest of the day was rough, Tommy wanting to get to a drink so bad but at the same time, caught up in the small tasks, always more than could be finished. A week went by and soon several weeks.

One day Tommy ran into Tim. This was the first time he had seen him, even though he had delivered mail to his office more than once.

“How are you doing Tommie, do you have a little time for a coffee?”

“Well I am on a mission but”

“Your mission will wait. I knew you were coming in this direction today and made arrangements for someone to take your place for a couple hours. Let us head for the cafeteria.”

The cafeteria had a couple of semi-private rooms and in they went. Tim ordered coffee, suggesting Tommie order something.

 “Could you send us one of those assortment trays with that and thank you Connie”.

Tim looked at Tommie and said, “I’m not even going to ask. I have been through this before and find it best for you to lead.”

Tommy looked at Tim kind of half smiling, “easy for you to say. I have no idea where to start.  What just happened in the past month and a half?  What planet am I on? How do you make any money here? How do you support all of these services? Who organizes it all? Are you the big guy and running all of this on some gold your great, great, grandfather stole from the Aztecs? How was I chosen for this job, whatever it is”?

“If you promise not to interrupt me I will do my best to explain as much as I can and you might be surprised to learn it is not as complicated as it may seem.”

“I am not the guy in charge of all of this,,,,,,,,,,.”

Two coffees came with all the cream and sugar on the side, A beautiful rather large plate came with small sandwiches, sliced fresh vegetables and some fruit. Some small chocolates came with the plate.

“See, that is what I am talking about. That must have cost a fortune, not only the food but putting it together to look that great. I am afraid to eat anything it looks so pretty.”

“Tommy, no interruptions!”

Tommy nodded and apologized. “Go for it and I am glad I am sitting down.”

Laughingly, Tim started in again. “I am not the guy in charge of all of this. Danny Worst is the top man. As you may have figured out by now, we are a Brokerage company and the better we do the more we make. Someone back there in time went to Danny with a suggestion of hiring a person down on their luck to do a little work on the building. Danny immediately said, as long as he can do as good a job as a company we would have to hire and do it reasonable enough to earn his pay I am for it. The man was hired and because we are often charged high prices for work done it was easy for every one to be satisfied. The man did a good job, staying on to do more odd jobs and pretty soon more people were coming up with people needing jobs and jobs needing people. In no time it was necessary to have a meeting to explore all that was needed to make this practice work properly and stay within the codes, laws, insurances, and so on. Much was discussed and suggested, tested, and fine-tuned. Our employees are encouraged to use some of their brake time to help other employees. Sweep a piece of floor, straighten up a desk for someone on vacation, spend twenty minutes on a lawn mower, or making a call for someone who is having a busy day and doesn’t have the time. As you can see, people bring things to be repaired, laundered, mailed and they take home fresh garden vegies, printed invitations for family events, addressed envelopes, and paying for what they take but having the advantage of personal service as well as saving a lot of time shopping around. We encourage our people to have plenty of away time and to spend as much time as possible with family. Our employees are considered some of the best and although some have been offered better positions, most chose to stay.

Not only does everything pay for it self but we have a staff of very happy people, dedicated to their work and with less stress and distractions, to keep them from getting a good job done.

The customers see it and in turn, we see it in our profits.  Because we see and feel the good of helping out others, and because we are able to save more, makes us want to spend less on ourselves and save so we can help somewhere else.  We don’t make a lot of noise about our place and the workings because we can only do so much at a time. If we put out a help wanted sigh we would have more people than we needed and would have to let some go. It is not the intention of our place to solve the world problems but to do what we can a little at a time. We ask that you do not advertise the helping hand part of the business for the obvious reasons.

As for choosing you, you may not be ready for my chosen by God speech so maybe it was the glasses. Yes, I couldn’t help but notice the glasses. As for the lunch, the bread for the sandwiches, supplied free from a bakery down the street. The owner once an employee here, starting out much like you. Coffee and chocolates, from employee’s desks received from clients as token gifts for a job well done. If you look at the plate, cups and flat where, like so many of the decorations throughout the building, all castoffs, donated, voted on and approved by the employees. Anything extra goes to a charity garage sale, we all have fun at.”

Tim took a minute and then, “all of you have done a terrific job”.

“I don’t believe you will find a person here willing to take credit for any of this. We are all still as much in awe as you. We have all become much wiser and realize we have much to learn. One of the things we have learned and you will see this posted around the building, and Tim pointed to a sigh,

when you touch someone, you touch the world. Touch them in a good way.

Tommy stayed on, days, weeks, months turning into years. Years rolling by, finding time and funding to go back to school and all the while moving up in the company. The knowledge gained at his job helped his schooling, putting him at the top of his classes and the schooling helped him into a much-coveted position, much sooner than most would be able to achieve. As Tommy was quick to show his appreciation and constantly thanking people, everyone celebrated when he landed his position. He had worked hard, helping many of them as well as helping the company grow and no one deserved to move up more than Tommie.

Coming back to the moment, looking at Sally, tears streaming down her face, Tommy handed her one of the tissues from the examining table. He said, “I heard you had a little trouble with an employee doing a bit of embezzling and you are having some problems with financial aid. I think I know someone who might be able to help. In the mean time I would like you to accompany me, for a cup of coffee at a cafeteria in an industrial complex on the outskirts of town. There are a few friends there I would like you to meet.”

Sally looked at him. “Somehow, and I don’t know why, I trust you and will be glad to go. My employees can take over and close. Sniffling and more tears flowing, I don’t even know why I am crying but I am sure you have quite a story to tell. Can you give me even a small part of it?

Tommy looked at her, anxious to tell the whole long story and just not knowing how to sum it all up.

“For now, let me just say this.

When you touch someone, you touch the world. Touch them in a good way.”

Salt that heals

Raphael is on his way back to the ship, sober and alert. Raphael Mainz, is a seaman and has been a seaman so long, he is never comfortable on land. He enjoys the sea life and never thinks about doing anything different. A shellback for longer than he cares to remember and touched more countries than most land lubbers realize exist.

Maybe he was destined to be a seaman, with a name so close to Melville’s “Ishmael.”  Maybe something, in the genes caused his parents to choose that name. He might have been named from the Archangel Raphael who is credited with many healings in as many religions. Raphael Mainz, stumbling along on solid ground, needs an earthquake to make him feel steady.

Raphael is on his way back to the ship, he not only calls home but would go to a watery grave for. Today he is happier than he remembers for a long time.

Where did it start? What was the event or moment, one could call the beginning?

He remembers Sharon Koning, a friend in high school, talking about a visit to a nursing home to see an elderly aunt and how at first, she was apprehensive but later was glad she had made the trip. He remembered his parents talking about the poor and neglected. He remembered them going to visit people in hospitals and nursing homes but that was them. He didn’t know anyone personally back then and why would he bother and if he did, what could he do or say.

Several years ago, he had been on leave from the ship, and was spending time with a girlfriend. They had, long since, visited all of the local tourist sights, spent too much time in the pubs and restaurants and agreed they needed something more.

His girlfriend, Melissa Dreyfuss, suggested they go and visit her grandmother, as otherwise, she would be going to see grandma, as soon as he left for the ship. This would be a chance to spend more time together, visit her aunt, and anyway she, Melissa, liked to talk with some of the other people as they may not have any other visitors, ever.

Raphe as she called him, was not the least bit interested. This was not only the last thing on his list, it had never made the list. He would rather be, as they say, “kissing the gunner’s daughter”.

A little of the past history started to creep in as he was trying to dream up a believable excuse and he was starting to feel a bit guilty.

Raphael cared a great deal about Melissa. How many women would wait for a guy who bounces around the world, coming home for such short times. Melissa was good looking, smart, and thoughtful. Beside caring, Raphe had a lot of respect for her.

He said he would be glad to go, trying his best to make it sound sincere. After a short lunch, they drove about two miles to a school looking building and went in. Inside were, the expected odors of medicine, disinfectants, bodies, and just old bodies.  Wheel chairs were everywhere, people fiddling with, pieces of paper, cloths and nothingness. A tv was blaring off in a large room with so many of the residents more or less being in its presents as if they had been instructed by an invisible force to be there.

Off they went, down a long hall, Melissa obviously knowing where she was bound as well as knowing most of the staff. Some of the rooms they passed were empty and in some, it was easy to see people, generally much older and often just lying in a bed. Some were moaning while others were reading or doing something to pass the time.

Raphe was brought out of a kind of trance, when Melissa announced, “this is her room”. “I will check if she is awake,” which she did and called Raphael to come in. The room, like all the other rooms, was small by land lubber standards. A bed, a table, some storage, and a bathroom just off the from the bed.

He was introduced and mostly listened while Melissa talked with her grandmother Harriot Dreyfus, who seemed to be in pretty good shape for someone in a nursing home. He would find out that her husband had died and she lived alone for years visiting and getting visits from friends and family. One day she had a seizure and was advised to go into a home, where she could be watched and given the attention needed when the seizures happened. In the three years she had been in the home, she had had two seizers and knew she was in the right place. Family would come by often and take her out for a different meal or maybe just a drive.

They stayed about an hour, Raphael trying his best to look comfortable and talking about current news and some of the things Raphe was doing. When the time came to leave, Raphael, breathed a silent sigh of relief.

Saying their good-byes to Mrs. Dreyfuss, and leaving the room Melissa turned right instead of left toward the exit door. Off down the hall and stopping in for short visits, at several other rooms.

On entering one of what Raphael hoped would be the last, he was introduced to a lady who looked like someone who had just come from a very costly hair salon. Thin, well-groomed and perky. She talked slowly, obviously happy to see Melissa as well as him. His introduction just wouldn’t due without a hug from this short little lady. Bending over, the heavy cross, hanging on a chain around Raphael’s neck, came out of his shirt, gently bumping her on the chin.

Raphe apologized, being embarrassed and started to tuck it back in his shirt.

 “That’s quite all right,” Mrs. Jenson said, “Never apologize for wearing a cross. It represents everything we are alive for”. “May I see it?” she continued.

Raphe took the cross back out again, pulling the chain over his head and handing it to her. 

It was heavy, compared to most neckless crosses and Mrs. Jenson asked him where it had come from. He told her it had come from the town of Dover in England, where he had visited. He had been to London and someone suggested he go to Dover to see the white cliffs as well as the Dover castle and St. Augustine’s Abby. When visiting St. Augustine’s Abby, a young man who was out front selling trinkets, said, “they were antiques from his grandfather’s brother”. The young man showed him the cross, saying “it will protect you.”

Raphael offered the cross to Mrs. Jenson, but she refused saying,

  “It will serve better if you keep it and just think of me with a prayer, once in a             while. It is difficult to keep that sort of thing here, some of our guests, forgetting what is theirs and not theirs.”

They left the room, once again saying their good-bye’s as if she were a close friend and well, Raphe thought, “I guess she is.”

A couple more visits down the hall, that somehow now, didn’t seem near as uncomfortable. He was starting to feel as though he was adding something to their lives that they so badly needed. He didn’t want to make himself out to be a hero, but couldn’t help but notice the change in them by the time they left. It was almost like they had provided a vitamin or given the elder person some magic health food.

Like all things good, his time with Melissa had run out and he was back at work many miles and a lot of water away. He thought of their visits to the nursing home and would discuss them often with Melissa over the phone or in letters.

One day when he called Melissa, she said she was just about to call him. She had received a letter and was anxious to get it to him. “I won’t tell you now, what it says because I don’t think it will have the same bang as it will when, “you” read it.” I will send it in the mail because that is the way it is meant to be received. It just has to be that way.

About a month went by, Raphe curious, about what this letter could say as well as who it was from, but work and study kept him busy enough to forget the rest of the world, at times.

Finally, one day the letter arrived, a soiled and rather bulky envelope loaded with stamps.  Back at his birth, he opened the letter. In it were two envelopes. One had a return address he wasn’t able to recognize and the other was from Melissa, his girlfriend.

Opening Melissa’s first, he read,

 “The letter I sent, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is from a woman we visited the day we went to the nursing home. Her name is Fran Jensen. She had wanted to give me this letter sooner than she did but because I hadn’t been to the nursing home, on the days she was in, she didn’t know how to get it to me. Finally asking about me in the office, someone remembered me and called. I went to see her, by the way she is doing well, and, as you will read, had quite a story for me.  It is all so much to take in and seeing or maybe feeling your reactions when we left the nursing home that day, well, I believe it will mean as much to you as it does to me. Please let me know, what or how you feel about the letter, as soon as you can.” 

“Love, Melissa Dreyfuss”

Of course, he had hardly finished the letter from Melissa when he heard the ship’s whistle, telling him that he needed to be at his post immediately. A fire had broken out and everyone on board was involved. As it turned out, the fire was contained in a short time, causing minimum damage but meaning he and several other people, would be working long and steady hours. For four days, it was work with only short amounts of sleep. Finally, the ship was pretty much, back to where it had been before the fire and other than some cleaning and putting things back in order it was business as usual. Sleep for everyone was not only needed but ordered, with only a few trading off, doing short watches.

Some time later, with a little more awake time available, he pulled out the letter from Mrs. Jensen.

Opening the envelope and pulling out the folded pages, written in beautiful hand writing, he read,

“Dear Mr. Raphael Mainz                                                                                                                                          This is coming to you much later than I would have liked. Because of the significance of your visit, I felt it necessary to do some investigating in to your reasons and if someone had previously told you things about me you wouldn’t otherwise know.

During the second world war, I had been in Dover, going there to do volunteer work. I had gone there in the early part of the war, no one ever thinking it would escalate to what it became. I would go to St Paul’s church for services and one day they had a dance for the volunteers and soldiers. I met a man there, who was not a soldier but among other things, a fisherman and made and gave away the same crosses as the one you wear around your neck. It was easy to recognize it as it was just like all the other handmade ones. He knew a man who would cast toy soldiers and arranged for him to cast a small corpus of Jesus. My friend would make the crosses and attach the corpus.  He and I became very good friends, talking and dreaming about spending a lot more time together when the war was over. Soon, we were as in love as any two people could be. Things were much different than and one did, what had to be done. We visited the priest and telling him of our situation, he married us in a very private service. Friends we had recently met, were witnesses and stood up for us. There was no big celebration and we were together, only a short time when he had to go.

In nineteen forty it became necessary to evacuate soldiers from Dunkirk.  All available sea worthy vessels were enlisted. Many of the fisherman from Dover volunteered. He had been fishing in the area at the time and volunteered to do his part. Not having time to say goodbye, I received a letter, he had written just before he went off in his fishing boat to help in the rescue. I still have the letter. I later heard, from information collected that he had made several trips, carrying soldiers to the large ships from Dunkirk shores, as the large boats couldn’t get in close enough. He or his fishing boat were never found, but from the description, that was common.

As I said, those were different times and we did what had to be done. There wasn’t a lot of time for tears. Some years after the war I married a good man. I told him of the event but never mentioned it again.  Seeing the cross made me remember so many good times in an otherwise horrible time. You may never understand but you have given me so much to be thankful for.

With all God’s Love,

Mrs. Fran Jensen.”

Boatswain Raphael Mainz, just sat there. What are the chances of a happening like that? He had read of the tragic yet heroic Dunkirk time and of the rescues but reading about it was just like watching a movie of star ships in the future or dinosaurs thousands of years ago. When you get this close, it becomes a lot more real.

During mess he would talk about the event, telling fellow workers about what had happened and his thoughts of returning to the nursing home when he was back with Melissa. The more he talked about it the more people were intrigued and somehow, wanted to be a part of it. Someone suggested a card with everyone’s name, sent to Mrs. Jensen. Someone else suggested sending several cards to the nursing home. In the beginning it was all just talk but eventually a small group got together and decided they would send to the nursing home, finding out who best to send to and try to more or less adopt a senior friend. They would send letters and a small gift when they could.

Raphe shortened up the job by asking Melissa to gather the addresses as well as some names which he was able to get over the internet.

Soon the mailing began. The sailors would talk about their experiences, places they visited, the work they did on the ship, where they were from and just any kind of short story they could think of. Sometimes, when they were in a foreign port, the sailors would pick up a trinket or special something. Maybe just a little sign, note from a hotel, or paper place mat from a restaurant to send. It became a kind of competition seeing how many letters you could send in a week.

 The results after several months were phenomenal. The home was very happy to be able to deliver and, in some cases, read to the people, from the letters. More sailors had gotten involved and the idea spread like wildfire to other ships. Someone had called a local newspaper, a reporter came by the home and the kind of story, everyone likes to hear was in the news.  Soon more and more letters were coming to the home and to other homes, from all directions as well as showing up on the ship, thanking the sailors for their great work and for giving their loved ones something from a different part of the world.

They would never know, just how far, how many nursing homes, poor people, and shelters had eventually gained from their exercise.

One day when they were in a port in another country, Raphael found a cross to replace the one he now wore. Back at the ship he arranged for one of his sea buddies to make a plaque from a special piece of zebrawood cut from a pallet, picked up in yet another port.

Taking the cross, he had worn after replacing it with the new member, he fastened it to the plaque well enough that he was sure it wouldn’t be taken.

Here we are, today and Raphael’s stumbling back to the ship. Mrs. Jensen had cried when she seen him. On her wall a bit high was the cross he had sent. Many of the other residents had thanked him warmly making it as hard to leave the home as it was leaving Melissa.

Communication was getting much better from the ship and because of all the publicity about the letters and gifts, mailing would be cheaper and easier. 

Raphael is sad, having to leave but happy, knowing he has started something which will go on making a lot of people happy, if only for a moment. 


As I was writing this, I heard there is a new movie out about Dunkirk. I had no idea!

WJRIII  6/26/2018

“Teaching the poor, “to Respect”

“Why don’t they have more respect?”

 How many times have I heard that, or similar words basically meaning the same thing? When I hear it, I have the greatest compassion, not for the poor person but for the, not so poor person making the statement. So disconcerting to believe a person has missed so much in life, not be able to see beyond. We move into a neighborhood, not expecting to know our neighbor, yet feeling comfortable, still we think we know and can be disrespectful to person who is poor or different than we think they should be.

“They should have more respect for the clothes that are given to them!!”

Take away your second set of clothing, the closet to put them in, the money for cleaning and a lot of other things, we might get close to an answer.

“They have no respect for the food they are given!

I remember in my early years, late 1940’s early 1950’s food was much different. Most everyone I knew in the city, was taught to eat what was given and do our best to clean our plate. With a few exceptions the food went down and the delivered quantity was consumed, especially if it was Sunday and you wanted dessert. On two occasions I was allowed to stay at my uncle’s farm for a week and food there was a scrumptious surprise. Breakfast was like a thanksgiving dinner with sometimes three meats. Sausage, bacon and beef, pork or home-grown chicken, eggs floating in grease, pancakes, piles of homemade bread and ending with toast sopping up the warm grease, slathered with homemade cottage cheese and a healthy portion of homemade strawberry jam.

Wraps, pizza, Caesar salads, drive in restaurants and a lot more hadn’t come into my life by then. As quantity and quality of food increased, we became choosier, describing what we had in earlier years as tasteless, unhealthy, and unacceptable. We may go to the doctor more often now but ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.

We change and as we do, through our actions we cause others to change just as others cause us to change. Like it or not, admit it or not, we live by influences weather from a university professor, media or the guy next door.

Poor people attempt to do as we do, feeling that is the right thing to do, often picking up our easier bad habits sooner than picking up, what we consider good habits.  Today, it is a lot easier to find anyone, poor, middle class or rich complaining about healthy food and enjoying what is not near so healthy. Given a choice, many poor are not likely to use powdered milk, dried beans, fresh vegetables in season and dark bread. I wonder how many of us, find it easier to just order a pizza.  If they, the poor, were to share an opportunity to prepare, from foods they were not so anxious about and turn out a delicious meal, in time some things might just change.

They have no respect for property!

Every being needs a place o rest. Bugs, birds, fish, snakes, animals and humans require rest or at least as far as I know. Some of the various species have rested long enough for us to sneak up on them and annihilate them from the face of the earth. Humans are us. We are supposed to be smarter than that.  We should be intelligent enough to provide a place where at least, those humans, without the means, can get decent rest without fear. This shouldn’t be an exorbitant cost and the alternative, jail is far too costly to the taxpayer to even be considered yet we find ourselves being satisfied with that choice.

I have long since, tired of hearing, “not in my yard, not in my park, not on my street, not in front of my store” and so it goes.   I understand all of that. Of-course. Often with good reason. Through history, it has taken a log time for various groups of people to get along and at times it is good to stay a distance from even a family member for a while. We all need to respect property. Go to a so-called camping park, loaded with hundred thousand-dollar campers and check out the respect for property. One wouldn’t consider these people poor.

I have a great respect for the poor and I have met many who have shown me considerable respect, without me demanding it. I can’t say it has always been the same percentage from those with money.

To me it all comes down to the same thing. The poor, homeless, marginalized, mentally ill, need a place, where they can survive, and be given a chance to move forward, close to the kind of social life we think they should arrive at one day, but far enough away that those who have not yet, learned, the poor are still good human beings and are strapped with burdens and problems we can’t begin to imagine. These folks still deserve respect.

WJR III Tuesday Sept. 15/2020

Store Owner Jim Dresser

One too many!

He hadn’t had the best childhood but somewhere after drugs, alcohol and being homeless for a number of years, something happened. Was it the meals the church served, the church that served the meals, the people who attended the church, the church where the people attended?

Here we are some 25 years later and he was on top of the world.

He remembers one of the days and maybe the day it all started to turn around. Christmas time, he had been sitting by himself, eating the free meal at Saint Benedict’s when Sam Townsend comes over, asking Jim if he can talk to him or if Jim would even like to talk. Without much discussion or a chance to decline, Sam sits down and starts in about investing.

 Investing? On his way out, Jim is going to be checking the outdoor ash tray for any choice buts. Jim is not exactly in the habit of investing and if he happens on any cash, it would only last until he could get to whatever it is going to take, to get junked-up again.

What a laugh, but he has been there before, so many times. People wanting to satisfy their own guilt and offering some useless information or their idea of what he needs.

Jim is not a dummy. He might be high most of the time, living on the streets, panhandling for whatever it is going to take to get through his next awake hours.  

He will listen to this guy, long enough to drag him in and maybe talk Sam into a sawbuck. Sam goes on for some time but talking slowly and asking a lot of questions. What would you do? What if this happened? How would you like to be able to do this or that?

Around that same time or year, he had stumbled into the library to get warm and found reading, could pass a little time. Later on, more trips to Saint Benedict’s and Sam Townsend, other soup kitchens, the library and again more people with plans for him.

Somewhere in all of it, something stuck. He started to listen and seeing some of his fellow street people become ill, wind up in jail or die in less than dignified conditions, he decided to try a little harder.

Jim Dresser remembered a lot of pain back than but it was all behind him now and best to forget what he could and concentrate on all that was good and there was a lot of good.

He had taken a number of jobs, gradually working up to better and better, all the time remembering a lot of the investing information, he had learned from Sam Townsend.  Learning anything became fun and after a short while having a good attitude was pretty easy. He was moving and he was moving up. No matter how many times he fell he would never be back there eating out of trash dumpsters and looking for cigarette stubs.

A woman he had met, Sharon Labre Mason, serving at the soup kitchen at Saint Benedict, became Mrs. Jim and there were by now three, well two little Jim’s or more correctly a Joseph, a Benedict and a little Miss Labre. Naturally their parent’s experiences only enhanced their knowledge and desires to look forward and to be considerate of others. The three children turned out to be those children everyone wants to take home and they were appreciated, wherever they went.

Jim had worked up to a manager’s job in a small grocery chain. The owner seeing his work ethics was impressed and offered Jim a chance to buy into the company. He had saved enough, invested wisely along with good standings at the local bank, was able to borrow what he needed.  He became a partner as the business was growing and too much for one owner to manage by himself.   

Every time something good happened, Jim’s family would celebrate. Not the kind of celebration where you spend a lot of money but a happy family kind of party with laughing and a simple but special meal, every one hugging and they would try to invite at least one person who was alone that day, to celebrate with them. They had many chances to celebrate and many chances to meet people who were alone.

Every year around the Christmas holidays the store would do something special for those in need. Maybe a free ham, a store coupon, a Christmas tree but for sure, something. On this year, Jim Dresser wanted to do something different. Something that might do a better job of getting to a person who really needed a gift.

He started early, talking it up a bit with friends and employees at the store and together, they came up with a plan. He would ask for volunteers from his staff to register their names. There would be a drawing. Twelve names would be drawn and their job would be to search out one person each who needed something. That person would be given store credit for a hundred dollars. The employee who found the person who had the most to gain by this gift would be given a hundred-dollar gift card themselves.

Everyone knew Jim was generous and it was easy to volunteer and those who were picked as one of the dozens, would do their best to be the winner, just for the sake of impressing their boss.

As instructed, they carried their steno pads everywhere because, you just never knew when an opportunity would come up, to interview and maybe get just a little information about a person.  Soon they were collecting pages and pages of names with connecting information. More importantly they were learning a lot about just how many were out there, needing help.

They had gone to soup kitchens, thrift stores, food pantry’s, places where the poor hung out, met some on the street and asked a lot of people about those they knew. This was started in mid-October and the prizes would not be given until the last week before Christmas. The idea was to find someone who might be so moved by the gift they would want to try a little harder, to change their own situation.

All had seen Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory and many more fairy tales and this was something like that. Every day the dozen employees would come in to work, talking with the other workers, about the places they went as well as people they had met.

The event turned out to be a lot more successful or at least a lot more than anyone would have guessed. The chosen volunteers found themselves telling of the people and their stories, with more and more of their fellow employees wanting to help. Clothing, canned and dry food, small repair jobs would be opportunities for people to help and someone would be there to do their best to answer the call. Sometimes it was just a chance to steer a needy person in the direction of a service provider. The more they heard, the more questions they would ask and so the more they all learned.

In time, this become almost trendy. People planning their off time to help. Someone made up simple arm bands calling themselves, CP’s or Caring people. Volunteers were taught how best to help and in more than one instance professional help was sent to the person in need.

The original twelve as well as the original idea was almost lost in the excitement, people having help stories and who did what or needed what and solutions and so on.

Christmas week came along and by now, several newspapers had found it to be a great holiday story. It seemed to have a needed positive effect on people finally having something happy to read about.

The day was chosen and as it turned out all of the twelve original volunteers as well as others had a lot more than twelve names to submit. It was decided to put them all together and do a drawing for the twelve. That was done and special coupons which had been previously made up, were hand delivered. They would wait until after Christmas to determine if they could, just which needy person had gained the most and which volunteer had picked that person. Gradually the receivers of the gifts came into the store, redeeming their coupon but store workers were told to not make a big fuss so as to not embarrass them. 

Close to Christmas eve, Jim asked the cashiers for the coupons and to his surprise, there was not twelve, but thirteen. Thirteen coupons!! Something was drastically wrong. These were specifically made so it would be very difficult to counterfeit. Giving away one more was not the issue here, but somewhere in all of this was a person trying to cause great problems. Were there more out there? Who had access to getting another coupon made just the same? Why would someone go to that much trouble for a simple hundred dollars’ worth of groceries?

Jim felt sure he could trust his employees and this just wouldn’t wait. He called together everyone in the store, he could take away from their job. Gave them the story and asked them for any help they could. Please, make calls, go over your lists, try to remember who received the tickets, checking them against your lists and anything else you can do to solve this.

Although it hadn’t been required, four of the people had signed the back of the coupon. They were soon found on the very long lists leaving nine more, that were going to be difficult. Going over the lists and trying to put together something to identify the rightful winners was a long job.

More of the employees got involved and others were called, many coming in to do what they could to ferret out the culprit.

Slowly, one by one, some of the other winners were identified. They had been recognized by the person taking the coupon as a person on this or that side of town. A person at a food pantry or corner of the street.

Still three coupons were yet to be identified, and they had been working all night.

Some of the coupons had amounts as well as signatures on the back. Some of the winners were not able to take all they would buy with the hundred dollars and would take it in smaller amounts, they would be able to carry. Some were given vouchers to use the balance when they needed. On one of the coupons several amounts had been written and in only two days, eventually using up the hundred dollars. The cashier, Gertrude Edwards, who had signed it was on vacation for the holidays and would not be back until after New Year’s.

Early the next day Jim called around and was able to get a phone number for the vacationing cashier.

After a few messages and call backs, she answered,

“Gertie here, can I help you? If your selling I’m not buying.”

Jim identified himself, telling her of the situation and asking for any help she might have. 

One of the other cashiers had called her earlier to tell her of the situation, before her name was connected.  She had no idea she could be of any help. She said, how bad she felt and would do whatever she could, even to the point of flying home.

They talked about the coupon telling her that the person had made several small purchases in a couple of days. There were two other coupons to be identified and they were in a quandary and if she had any suggestions?

As much as Gertie would have liked to help,

“there is so much going on when people are checking out and I hardly remember my friends.” “Are there any cameras but naturally you would have already checked that out”.


 he had already checked the video and,

 “sorry to bother you while on vacation. Thanks for your time.”

So, three coupons were yet to be connected to their owner, rightful or not. Jim was beside himself. Tomorrow was Christmas eve and he had hoped to have this solved before Christmas.

His employees felt his anguish and did as much as they could to help, bringing him coffee, caring out little errands and handling customer’s needs.

He had hardly hung up the phone with Gertie Edwards when her number showed up on caller ID.

“Oh my gosh, I am so lame. I would forget my head, one time I walked all the way home because I drove to work that day and forgot I had driven. I live almost a mile away. I hope I am not going crazy but I have so many things going on with my married kids and the church and so sometimes,,,,,,,,,,.”

 Jim interrupted,

“Is there some special reason you called back and do you need to tell me something?”

“Oh, I am so sorry, yes, I know who that person is, well I don’t know who she is, but I know her. How could I forget. She carried all her groceries home and one day she forgot a bag of cat food. I had seen her walking before and figured she lived in a place close to where I live.  I was getting off work and she was almost my last customer. I figured I would see her and could give her the cat food.”

By now, Jim wants to scream into the phone or just leave it on the desk and walk away.

Gertrude went on,

“She is not someone who will be easy to identify. She is pretty plain and pretty old. She walks very slow. I think she had a gray jacket on. Her hair is, well she wears a scarf and,,,,,,.

Jim interrupted again

“Gertrude, can you please get to the story”

“Oh, yea, sorry Mr. Dresser, driving along, I spotted her, sitting at a bus stop. I turned around and stopped, calling to her. She must have recognized me and coming to the car, almost frantic, she said “I forgot my cat food, will they keep it for me? Will they remember me?”

“I told her I had it and seeing she was at a bus stop on the wrong side of the street from the direction she was supposed to be going, she must not have intended to take the bus. I asked her if I could give her a ride and after several protests and several of my insisting arguments, she got in. It turned out that she lived much further than me and in fact, more than two miles from the store.

You won’t like this Mr. Dresser but her place will be pretty easy to find. As you turn off Jenson, on Whittier street go down about four houses. On the right there are older homes, much older homes in pretty rough shape. One has painted purple siding on part of it looking like someone decided to take a break from painting and never came back. You can’t miss it. She lives in what some might call an apartment in the back. She insisted I come in and have coffee and I did but let me tell you Jim, I felt like a thief, taking her coffee. The place was very clean but beyond that, there isn’t much I can say.

If you go there, could you take her some groceries and put them on my tab. I was going to do it as soon as I got back. She seems to have so little and spends more on the cats than herself”.

Jim asked if she knew from where or from who the woman got the hundred-dollar coupon.

Gertrude had no idea but insisted on being called as soon as the woman was found. Hard to imagine this woman being a counterfeiter.

Jim started to see some of his past coming back. Old houses, with bad landlords in places too far away from needed resources.

In a matter of minutes, he had collected a bag of groceries and was off and down the street. Like Gertrude had said, “You won’t like this” and “It won’t be hard to find,” and he didn’t and it wasn’t.   He sat there a minute in his car, thinking of all the neighborhoods he had visited just like this. Houses full of people with addictions, mental health problems, buyers and sellers of everything wrong and people who just couldn’t do any better.

He got out and walked up to the back door, stepping over and around children’s broken toys, old tires, assorted rusty car parts and a few garbage bags. Somewhere dogs barked and people hollering at the dogs and maybe at themselves. Televisions seemed to be talking to him through the walls of at least a couple of other houses and car radios were rising and falling as they passed.

He knocked on the much-abused door, almost hoping for a no answer so he could move as fast as fitting from this place, to his car and just forget it all. Not fear but the feeling of watching something slowly crumble, right in front of you and not being able to do anything about it.

No such luck! Someone was coming. Soon he heard a bit of a shuffle and someone looked out the corner of a washed-out shredded curtain.  Partially opening the door, she asked him what he wanted and before Jim could answer she put her hand to her face and stepped back. She just stood or stooped there, bent over and looking like she was being threatened. Slowly she fell or kind of melted to the floor, not saying a word but just staring and so still. Jim could see she thought him to be someone she was afraid of but everything he tried or said was no help. Gradually he opened the door far enough to get in and having to push her, by now, all but laying on the floor.

Any conversation he tried to have with her returned nothing and other than seeing breathing in her frail body, he would have thought she was dead, with her eyes open staring at him.

Well, this didn’t require a lot of thought. His cell phone was out and an emergency vehicle was on the way. In no time they arrived, assessed her situation and determined she was more than anything, suffering from malnutrition.

Jim was asked to meet them at the hospital, to maybe give what information he could. He would have gone anyway. He wasn’t going to miss this for anything. He had made a quick trip through her place, collected a purse and anything she might need in the few minutes they were loading her and gave it to the driver.

The short four-mile trip to the hospital seemed to take a lot longer than it should. All of those old memories started to play in his head, all of those old, dirty, lonely people, living or just existing in places people like him would never even consider. He had met many of them so long ago.  How in the world could something like this be? How could someone, in this time and place be going hungry? He knew the story. He had seen it and been in it himself.

The woman probably never bought meat but noodles, potatoes, cereals, bread and a lot of cat food. The cats were her only friends and she would take care of them first. She wouldn’t normally make that many trips to the store but having the coupon, she would want to get all she had coming before something bad happened. Normally she would only go out on food stamp day and most of that would be used up the same day. The trip from the store to her home would be long, hard and scary. She would be an easy mark, not so much for what little money she might have, but someone to just come and grab one of her grocery bags. She wouldn’t have a cart because that would have been stolen and you just don’t spend money on things like carts that are going to be stolen. Her rent would have been worked out so she would be left with just barely enough to pay for the utilities. The heat bill would be more than many large homes and any appliances in this “furnished” apartment would be older and grossly inefficient. Being aware of her situation she would have bought soaps and cleaners but conditions made it a grueling chore even to clean. She would be worn out before the day ever started.

How could he be so stupid, thinking he could help people in these conditions. In a crazy kind of way, He had caused her to need a trip to the hospital.

In the hospital, what Jim learned, was about to turn the world upside down. He immediately called as many people as he could, who would help him confirm or denounce what he was thinking. He called his wife and in no time, she had a babysitter and on her way to the hospital.

When Jim’s was living on the streets and started going to the library, someone had gotten him interested in doing a family tree. What a joke, with not much more than a list of foster homes and a lot of coaxing from library staff he started in.  After a long and arduous search, he had found the city state and hospital he was born in and eventually a name of his birth mother who had given him up at birth. No father was listed and no forwarding address or next of kin.  It is supposed to be easy to find someone if you have their names,,,,,, but it helps if you have an address or at least a city and state and for that matter a country where they may have lived or are living. Any information attached to the birth record was of no help. Eventually he gave up to, “sometimes you just can’t find them, or maybe they just don’t want to be found.”

The family who had adopted Jim had arranged to give him their name and so he became James Anthony Dresser, never knowing his birth name until finding the hospital records. His adoptive father had passed away and after a while the mother went to a nursing home, suffering a mental breakdown and not able to care for Jim or herself. Jim was put into foster care and at a pretty young age and after a number of foster homes, graduated to the streets.

 By the time he was sobered up, had a job and thinking a little better, he had acquired a driver’s license, social security card, credit cards and so on, gave some thought to changing back to his birth mothers name but, what would be the gain?

When he seen the name Abella Murphy, it couldn’t help but grab his attention. A first and last name, put together like that was not all that common, and he had picked up a piece of mail in her apartment that also caught his eye. It was from Fairmont Wisconsin which is where the hospital he was born in is or at least used to be located.

By now he was feeling a bit woozy and was glad to be able to share this with his wife.

“What are the chances? How could this? What if? How did she just happen to get here, this city, the coupon, my store? This is all too crazy and I don’t know whether to be anxious to be disappointed or happy to be ,,,,,,,,,,,.  I really do not know what to think but will be pretty happy to have this over.”

There had been several trips to and from the woman’s room by nurses and a doctor. Questions about relationship, told she didn’t seem to have anybody else; she would be ok but needed a bit of nourishment and finally they were told they could go in.

Jim’s wife decided it would be best if she went in to see the woman first, as he seemed to have brought on the shock to this Abella Murphy. Jim had no choice and could not think of any good reason to keep someone else from doing his thinking for now. Jim’s wife went in to the woman’s room and for what seemed like hours he walked the halls.

The door had been closed and after a while, Jim came back sitting just outside and started watching it like it was going to just melt or he would be able to see through it, like superman.

The door opened slowly and he jumped up not being able to move from where he stood. His wife came out slowly, very slowly with her head down. Walking closely to Jim she lifted her head as she did, grabbed and hugged him. Her face was lit up from ear to ear, makeup running down her face half laughing half crying and together they just held each other for a long, long time, both crying and laughing at the same time.

She had called the baby sitter from the room and she would be bringing the children up to the hospital to see their only grandmother.

Both Jim and his wife had seen enough in their time on the streets to not be worried about why’s, right now. If there was any necessity for explanations, that would come later.

Abella Murphy never went home to her apartment from the hospital. In fact, Abella never went back to her apartment. She was able to manage a wheel chair to Jim’s car and in to their house that same night and in only days was quite fit to move around.

She was told early on; all the explanations could wait and she was going to get healthy. She was to take whatever was given to her, wear the new clothes, eat as much as she could to regain back some strength and ask for what she needed. The three children were put into service seeing she carried out the orders which although she protested, was easy to see, she loved.  

Her two cats were collected the first day, after a quick call from Jim’s wife to a friend who just happened to have a friend who was a veterinarian. The cats were given a quick but thorough check and other than some precautionary medicine, and a strict diet, not surprisingly, were in good shape. A place was provided for the cats but with the children’s pleading and the love that Jim and his wife had for animals, were soon given the run of the house.

Abella had no trouble being told what she needed by the children and the children treated her like a queen. The boys wanted to wait on her playing butler or servant. Little Labree treated her like a big doll, asking her to try on this or that piece of clothing and directing her to a chair or special place in the room.

When someone in the house wasn’t shedding happy tears, they were laughing.

The two other coupon holders had been identified by now and it was still an un answered question, as to where the thirteenth ticket had come from.  His mother said someone had come to the door with an envelope, saying, “a man in the car out here, asked me to give this to you”. By the time she had opened it and found what it was, they were gone. She wished she could tell them more but,,,,,,,,.

Not a single person at the store, the company supplying the tickets or anyone else handling them, could give any suggestions.

No more tickets showed up, so after a while the subject just sort of slipped away.  

Christmas had been something to behold. It seemed like everybody in town or at least everyone who had heard of the story was in a giving and celebrating mood. It was all too incredible and more than one person was accused of making it all up.

Jim’s mother had known who he was but never expected him to show up at her house. She had more or less followed him from birth. His adoptive parents had contacted her shortly after they were able to take him, feeling he needed to eventually know her. She refused to see him knowing it would only bring on more pain but kept track of where he was.  Taking a small job here and there and living in an old house his father owned when she was in the area.  His father was not exactly a supportive man and had only married her after the birth insisting Jim’s mother leave no address even though she used his last name. The house had been given to his father by a cousin but needed a lot of work back then. A lot of work he never could get to. He didn’t live very long after their marriage but she decided to keep his name for no particular reason other than she had used it at the birth and no one had asked for anything else.  

A large industrial developing Firm had been sending letters to Abella, asking if she would sell the property. She had always tried to keep up the taxes, thinking someday ,,,,,,, something, but keeping them up had been hard. 

Checking and settling the property business turned into a fun family trip. The buyers set them up in a downtown hotel with a swimming pool, all day buffet, complete with things you couldn’t identify as well as things you couldn’t stop eating. There was a work out room, game room and more. The hotel staff soon learned the name of the children as well as the adults.  Jim and Sharon left grandma to babysit but it would be hard to decide, between grandma, kids, and hotel staff who was babysitting who.  

Jim and his wife had talked about returning to the old area someday and they would have to return to the lesser part of town just to see,,,,, just to see.

Some things never change or seem to keep repeating. They visited Saint Benedict’s, a few soup kitchens, and walked the streets a bit. They listened to a lot of stories, didn’t give out much more than directions if asked but were glad to have come. No, no quick fix to the problem but knowing the value of a listening ear, if only for a few minutes were glad to provide that.

The property settlement turned out better than expected and Jim insisted all the money belonged to his mother.

Abella had said she was feeling guilty about living with Jim and Sharon. She was quite used to living on her own but knew it would be hard to leave. She had seen an apartment just two blocks away and could they help her get that as it would be close for her to walk over and see them.

With their help, grandma was able to buy a small two-bedroom house just down the street from Jim and Sharon, keeping her independence while still close enough for the children to spend an occasional night. Often more than occasional.  

There were some sad days. Labre had contacted a serious virus, been hospitalized but was home and in perfect condition now. The children suffered a few small injuries at school. One of the cats had passed away and of course meant a great deal to all of them by now.

Al in all, there was much to be thankful for and being thankful had become one of their regular duties.

One day an envelope came in the mail, with a hand-written letter inside.

Dear Jiminy

Wow! He hadn’t been called that for a long time.

“Not to long after I had seen you the last time, I did a counterfeiting job for someone who turned out to be the law. They gave me some pretty serious time. They watched me pretty close in there so I was forced to take up a different hobby. Following your style, I started to read a lot. I remember it did a lot for you and so what could it hurt?

Not a lot of books to choose from but did get into the bible and got a lot more out of that than I would have ever dreamed. I know you won’t believe this, but I am a different man.

Besides the bible, one of the guys gave me a magazine on genealogy and I remembered you had gotten into that some. Turned out some of the other guys in the joint were into looking for family and they had a kind of supervised group who met every Wednesday with a volunteer librarian. She would take what information she was allowed and other volunteers at the library would work with her to help sort out what we had.

Working from inside the joint is pretty slow but it was something to look forward to every week.

One day I was called to the deputy warden’s office, thinking I was in to more hot water. I said a few prayers. Well, I guess they worked and it turned out, the state police were having problems with counterfeiting in an area up-state. I was able to give them a little help and made a name for myself. Although you don’t brag about that kind of thing in the prison, it sure made my life a lot better. Pretty soon I was being called out more and of course wouldn’t have any idea of who, but I could usually give them some information about equipment, ink, and places where it might be obtained legally or illegally. They would go there and check records of purchases and at least make their job a little easier.

You had told me about your mother and her name but you could never get any further. I mentioned it to the State people one day and they said they would look into it. As they say, the rest is history and although I have no idea how it is going to turn out, my prayers are with you, for the best.

I am out now, my help to the state gave me some good time but you can be sure Who I give the real credit to. You will see my return address and if you ever get a chance to reply, but of course I will understand if you don’t.

By the way, I haven’t picked up my old hobbies but sometimes Gut finds a little place for talent we thought we would never use again. The knock-off store coupon was pretty easy but let’s just keep that in our hearts.

God’s friend and yours, Irv McHugh”

Jim stood there staring into space. The old neighborhood. The old life. Would it ever leave him? Was he sure he even wanted it to? So much good had come out of what was once a train wreck. He had climbed up farther than he would have if he hadn’t known the streets, He had met his wife there. He had found his mother. Now ,,,,, this!!

Irv McHugh had been a sort of friend on the streets, sharing cigarettes or a bottle when he could and when Jim was finally clean, he, Jim would go back to the neighborhood and sit with Irv for a while. He would bring a thermos of coffee and a couple of sandwiches or maybe they would go over to the soup kitchen and just spend some time with Jim doing more listening than telling.

You can’t drag someone with you when you leave the streets but your return visits are always a payoff.

Jim had moved away putting Irving McHugh in that dusty closet of his mind with all of the other, “one day I will” things.

Jim would be looking for a phone number in the next hour or so and even if that didn’t pan out, there was a family trip coming up in the next two weeks, come rain or pain.

It was almost Christmas again. How strange it had been. Three attendants bringing things his mother had needed to give her life. Her getting away from an area where there could only be trouble. The animals, two cats for warmth, well, never mind. Move on.

Right now, he needed to go back to that seat that had been starting to show wear for a while. He could talk to the Boss anywhere but for some reason he preferred to meet Him at the altar. This time of year, he could see Him, just as he had found his mother. Wanting to be found and in a rundown place with a special Father and a very special Mother.


A cloud

Passing moving never still

A sight to some a dream to fill

And what if any explanation

Seeming lost no distention

Shapes and pictures, constant change

Childish narrations to rearrange.

A fiery dragon or butterfly

A scary thought to make me cry

And once I chanced to ride the air

To ride the wind without a care

And on my way, passed through this cloud

Yet times I wonder and dream out loud

Was it really there? Where would it go?

Is it still awake did it turn to snow?

Has it traveled on, where has it been?

Will it carry storms and pain within?

Have we shared a vista have we shared a kite

Will it stay around in the darkest night?

Did I feel it’s breath on my decent?

Taking in its silence without consent?

Or did it pass through me, instead

To paint more dreams within my head.

Did it take from me and I from it?

Did it change my thoughts old ideas to quit?

So here I am down on the ground

Is it far away or still around?

Is it busy on some other plain?

Shade relieving, someone’s pain?

And I know one day from the lowly grass

Ill announce to the overhead billowing mass

I’m here right now and will be still

I knew you once and I always will.

Of Mutts and Men

Moving to the country had been one of those sweet, sour things for everyone. Bruce Campbell and his family had made the decision together, considering all the positive and fun things but not giving a lot of thought to the uncomfortable things. For the three children the thought of running in the woods and fields, watching all the garden things grow, watching all the wild animals and maybe even having their own pets.

Mrs. Campbell liked the idea of the quiet and not having to hear sirens, loud trucks, loud machines and loud people. She looked forward to having a place to sit outdoors and be private, early in the morning with a cup of coffee. She had heard all the stories of hanging your laundry outside and how fresh it turned out; something you couldn’t do in the city. She had a degree and did work from home, so that could only change for the better, having less interruptions.

Mr. Campbell’s work had been transferred and his new home was about the same forty-five-minute drive as it was before the move but with less traffic. Less competing with neighbors about landscaping and actually less lawn to care for. Although they had bought the home with twenty ackers, only the area close to the house was landscaped into a lawn. He liked being in the country for so many reasons.

Somewhere around April 23, 1564 a guy, was born, Baptized William and one day would pen,

“All that glitters are not gold”

There were mosquitos, ticks, flies, mice, snakes, spiders and a few more things they hadn’t thought about. Not a lot of sidewalks, winter snow was not all removed like the city. At times the rain covered the roads making them impassable or At least pretty muddy. Hanging out clothes was fine if it wasn’t freezing or windy or raining or a day when there was not enough time to hang them out.

One of the children came up with the idea, maybe we could leave scraps out and maybe, just maybe, see a wild animal. Leaving out scraps for the wild animals soon brought more than wanted. Wood chucks showed up to burrow under the porch. Skunks showed up and the children were told right away, not to shoo them off or make any fast jesters when they were around.  Racoons came around climbing all over everything and leaving dirty paw prints on anything they came across.

When friends came out to visit the Campbells, they expected cuddly little sheep, fresh milk from the cows, horseback riding, and apple pie. Often, they would leave behind, encouraging words like, “we’re really glad you like it out here. It is so beautiful. It just wouldn’t be for us.” 

The neighbors didn’t seem to be in a hurry to meet, “those people from the city”.

Shopping was limited to a few small stores and a lot further to go with less variety.

Bruce decided to fence in the yard as it would keep a lot of the critters out and make some boundaries for landscaping and children’s toys. One Saturday, Bruce went into the lumber yard ordered materials and after some long days and a lot of work, they had a fenced in yard. Naturally some of the critters could climb over, but it made for a generally cleaner yard. Any time they threw out scraps for the animals it was outside the yard.

One day an old dog, or at least she looked like an old dog, came around. She was looking pretty bad with a dirty and raged coat, eyes running and not real lively. There was no identifying collar or other way to know where she came from. She wasn’t allowed inside the yard with the children but they talked to her through the fence.

Immediately the children adopted her, giving her scraps from the fridge while she stood there making noises, like she was thanking them. Night time came and as much as they hated to leave their new friend, bringing her in the yard was out of the question and the children understood.

Their parents had explained that in the country, people drop off animals, which they no longer can care for. Maybe she is too old, maybe they had to move, and couldn’t have a dog or who knows. She is not our responsibility. For now, we can just let her live where she has been living and if she shows up more, we will talk about her and if there is anything more, we can do.

Bright and early, the children were up and sure enough, the dog was back. More scraps and morning after morning the same thing.

Bruce suggested she should have a name and a home. His wife Mary and all the children agreed.

On Saturday they would build a dog house.

Saturday morning the children were up early, eating breakfast and bringing out as many of their fathers’ tools as they were able. Saw horses were set up with an extension cord just as they had seen him do so many times.

First thing Bruce said, “we need to make a trip to the lumber yard”.

Trying to make conversation at the lumber yard, he told about the dog and did anyone know anything about her.

“Too many loose dogs around here”

“If it’s a sick dog, it needs to be put down”

“If it’s any kind of an animal, it will make it on its own. Once you start feeding it, it’ll never leave”

“Just make sure it stays away from my place”

A guy calling himself, Harv, said, “You probably seen that old drunk, Gus on the streets in town. He ain’t never ben anything but a bum all his life, but we give em some clothes and they let him sleep in the old train station when it’s cold. He’s always getting food somewhere and he panhandles out on the highway, most days. Now he’s like that dare dog. You sure wouldn’t want ol Gus comin in yer place an being round yer kids”.

Bruce loaded the lumber and materials he figured they would need. Gave a smile and a see ya, driving away as soon as he could. Little Bruce asked why these people didn’t like dogs and said they sounded mean.

“Well, Brucie, sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t understand. I bet almost all of those people have pets at home but because they don’t know this one and she has been living out in the wild, they are just afraid”.

Bruce, with the help of his three children, built the dog house. Not just a dog house but a beautiful, warm and roomy dog house. Vivian found an old piece of carpet for the floor and Marie found a flap from an old worn out back pack for the door.

“Now we have to leave it outside the fence and anytime she wants to be in it, it will be waiting for her. You guys can put old dishes out there and put food and water in them. What more can she need? She will be doing great”.

Everything went along fine. The nameless dog would show up every morning, raising its paw like it wanted some food. The children started to put out scraps in the morning, just before they went to school and sometimes, she would be there at night.

This went on for two months and then, one day when the children went out, they found her, just lying there. When they ran for their parents who came right out, Bruce decided to call work and tell them the situation. He would be in late as he needed to take this homeless dog to the vet.

Bruce and Mary talked to the children and tried to explain what the outcome might be. “She might not make it, she is looking really bad and sometimes, well, Sometimes God wants them to come home”.

The children wanted to go along to the veterinarian but Bruce told them, school was far more important. They loaded the dog in the truck wrapped with old blankets and the children were sent in, to get ready for school.

As Bruce was about to leave, Mary came running out.

“Bruce, hear me out. I think this is a good time for the children to take a day off school and go with you. I believe the experience although it might be hard, will do them a lot more good, than one day at school. I will call the school and I know Sally will understand”.

Bruce agreed, apologizing for not thinking of it himself.

The children thanked their parents and even Vivian, who’s birthday it was today, said, she would rather go with dog than to her birthday party at school.

“This dog came wondering onto my property and it is not looking to well” Bruce said to the vet. “It’s not mine and I know she is just a mutt but We feel she should be looked at. I would be glad if you could find its owner and I’ll be glad to pay for whatever it needs now”.

“Well, this sure is no mutt, I don’t see a blue merle Border Collie too often. Kind of rare around here”. Taking him in to the examining room, he motioned Bruce and the children to follow him. An assistant took some blood samples and made several other tests, poking and probing the veterinarian eventually stopped at the foot, with some electric clippers he shaved a small spot on the foot. Taking off his gloves and turning to the Campbells the veterinarian said, “I’m sorry. I’m afraid You brought her in too late. I probably won’t be able to save the dog as it has a serious infection in its foot that by now had spread all over its body. Antibiotics might have worked once but it has gone too far and too long. Said he would keep it and do what needed to be done, when the time came.  I wish someone would have brought her in sooner. It would have been easy to treat than, and she would have been fine by now”.

Bruce just didn’t feel bad, he felt really bad. If it hadn’t been for the children being there, he might be crying right now. “Well, Doc, what could I have done? I had no idea there was anything wrong. She wined at times but we just thought she wanted more food. If I would only have known, of course I would have brought her in”.

“I can see you treated her well”, the vet said. “She has been fed well and her coat looks better than it would if she had been living in the woods all the time. I have been around animals for a long time and the thing too many people do not understand, animals need love. Sure, that might sound silly but they are like humans in so many ways. They can usually find food and shelter anywhere. There is plenty of food thrown out and they know how to crawl in somewhere, to stay warm. If you really care about them and spend time getting close to them, then you begin to understand how they are doing. You start to learn a bit about them and only then can you help them with what they really need. You did the best you could and if there is a next time, either spend a lot of time getting to know the animal and if you can’t, see that the animal goes to someone who has the time to care for it”.

It was a hard lesson for the children and one they wouldn’t forget soon.

The veterinarian stooped down and talked to the children. “Sometimes life is hard. I know you want to cry right now and that is perfectly all right. Now that you have had some experience with Mrs. Dog. You may want to get another one someday. I always have animals that need a home and not just a place to stay but a home where they are loved. I know you would do a great job. For now, say your good byes to Mrs. dog and spend a little time thinking about today before you take another pet. You can say a prayer too, and ask God to give dog a safe journey”.

For Bruce this was the worst thing he could have done. Why didn’t he just shoot the dog or drop it off down the road somewhere and tell the children he just wandered off. Watching the children crying and talking to God while petting the animal was just too much. Slowly he gathered them in his arms and said, we need to go and let Mrs. Dog have a good rest because she has a long way to go.

Driving home, was pretty somber, and passing through town he passed drunk Gus. Waving and moving on, when a thought came into his head. He quickly pulled over and then turned around going back to where Gus was. Parking the car, he had the children get out and together they all walked over to where Gus was sitting on the ground beside the meat market.

“Hello sir”, Bruce said, “I was told your name is Gus and felt it was time we meet”. He held out his hand but Gus didn’t respond.

“Gus”, Bruce started in again, “My children, Marie, Vivian, Brucei and myself, are just coming back from the vet where we left a stray dog that he doesn’t think he can do anything for. We all said our goodbyes to Mrs. Dog but we feel terrible. Mrs. dog was homeless, just like you and it looks like we didn’t do enough. I know this sounds crazy but I just thought, I just thought well, maybe you could say something to make us hurt a little less.

Gus sat there not moving, as though he was dead drunk, frozen or just didn’t want to hear what Bruce was saying.

“I’m sorry we bothered you” Bruce said and motioned for the children to get back in the truck.

You cared”, Gus said. Almost under his breath.

Looking back, “What did you say?” Bruce asked.

Motioning for the children, Gus turned to them and waited for them to gather around him.

Children, don’t spend too much time crying about the past. Use what you learned and be ready for tomorrow. Caring is a special gift and if you don’t use it, it will be taken away.”

That was all they were going to get out of Gus and as they drove away, some of the town’s people looking on, Bruce wondered what had gotten to him to stop. Still, the three kids seemed to be in better spirits and when they got home, telling their mother about what the vet had said, went easier than Bruce would have thought.

“You know Mary, in some ways, Gus is a lot like that dog. He is homeless or so it seems, has to scrounge for food but the only thing he really needs and should be so easy is, someone to care. I’m not ready to move Gus in with us so don’t think that was where this is headed. On the other hand, I wouldn’t fence him out like we did with Mrs. Dog. If we could find out where Gus’s problem really is, well. Let’s all keep Gus in our prayers and ask for guidance. Maybe there is something we can do. Maybe we can find a way to Care.

A couple of days later Bruce was in town and spotted Gus walking. He waved and passed by going directly to the restaurant. Two coffees and two pieces of pie to go please. Can you put in a couple of plastic forks and some cream and sugar on the side?

Going back to where he had seen Gus he stopped and hollered at him. Gus came over and Bruce invited him to sit on the truck tail gate with him, sharing the pie and coffee.

I wanted to thank you for what you said to my children Gus. I’m not saying they forgot about the dog they gave up, but It made a difference.

Gus stopped eating his pie for a minute saying, “we never know if what we say will make a difference but as long as we are sincere, we must keep trying without waiting for the results.”

Gus finished his pie, grabbed his coffee and headed off in the same direction he had been going when Bruce had called him over.

One day, on her way in to town, Mary seen Gus, introduced herself and thanked him for his advice to the children. After that she would always wave when she seen him. Bruce would repeat the coffee, Pie thing when he could and sometimes there would be variations bringing something baked or left over from home.

“Listen Gus, I didn’t pay enough attention to Mrs. dog and failed to head off something that may have saved her life”. Bruce said one day. “I would like to ask you a few questions and I won’t be offended if you don’t want to answer. I have been talking to you for some time and I feel I should know a little more about you, but I don’t mean to pry. My wife and my children like you and want to know you a little better but maybe we are not supposed to.”

Without saying a word, Gus pulled out an old dingy leather wallet, opened it, removing a worn and tattered news article.

War hero’s house is burned by mentally ill protester. Three left dead.

Bruce noted the date as he read what he could from the tattered page. The story was clear enough that he didn’t need the faded and missing words to get the story. He carefully refolded it, handing it back to Gus.  They both just sat there for a long time saying nothing. Finally, Gus got up and walked away.

Bruce sat there, watching, his head spinning with distraction and wonder. What could he do? Should he be doing something? Of course, this was real but,,,, but what?

At home, telling Mary, they decided to do a little more investigating knowing pretty well what they would find. Gus had probably just walked away, the only way he could deal with it. Mary had friends with access to old newspapers and libraries and without telling them Gus was living here, ask them to do a little research for her. Bruce had remembered the date of the article, Gus had shown him and the city, where it had taken place, several hundred miles away.  In the next couple of days, by way of email, they had received copies of several newspaper articles. 

Stopping by the lumber yard became a part of Bruce’s Saturday. He would think up some reason to stop there and after buying what he needed, spend time looking around like he might be in the market for something else they handled, all the while, keeping an open ear for the local gossip.

He told Mary, that he was sure that the towns people knew nothing about Gus’s past and they should ask or try to convince Gus that this was something that needed to be out in the open.

After much coaxing Gus agreed and Bruce hatched a plan, discussing it with Gus. This seemed to put a whole new face on Gus, filling him with a kind of energy no one had seen before.

 “We will keep this quiet for now and let it unfold the proper way”. Gus agreed.

One day when Mary was home, a knock came at the door. Surprised because it was rare for anyone to come to their door.

“Hi, I’m Francene from next door. I have a letter here and I believe it belongs to you. I must apologize because You have been here for months and I don’t even know your name”.  

“Please come in. I work from home so I am glad for a break and a chance to have a cup of tea and some, not made by me, cookies”.

A little reluctantly, Francene came in and in a short time a friendship had been born with a lot of apologies and if only I had known and so on.

When Bruce came home, Mary was so excited to tell him about her new friend that she almost forgot the letter. Eventually she remembered.

Handing the wrinkled envelope to Bruce, “Would you believe, they didn’t even know our name? I guess we have to go out and meet our neighbors, one of these days soon”.

Bruce opened the envelope pulling out the letter.

Mr. Bruce Campbell

Hi, this is John Spivey, the guy you bought the house from. I know this is a long time, but we are missing our dog. She is a blue merle Border Collie. When we moved, we thought that she was with someone else who lives out that way. We used to leave her with them when we went anywhere and right after the move, we had to rush to Europe to see our daughter who was very sick. After a long serious illness, she is finally much better and we were able to bring her back with us. She has been asking about Misty.  When we came back and called the Jennings, they said they had not taken her and they thought we had taken her, to our new home. We really love that dog and because of the emergency with our daughter, Misty was overlooked.  I know there are no excuses, I should have watched her better. I am hoping she might have shown up there. I am sending this to the neighbor’s address, because the post office out there gets confused when people move. Sometimes it takes a while for new residents to get their mail.

Be well, John Spivey.

Bruce immediately called and John answered.

 “John, Hi, Mr. Spivey this is Bruce,,,,,,,,,,.” 

Immediately he was interrupted by John.

“Bruce, you won’t believe this. Misty came home. I can’t imagine how she came this far and I don’t believe all those stories about animals walking thousands of miles to find their owners, even if she is a Blue Merle Border Collie, but anyway she is here and doing fine. Thanks for calling back and one of these days we would like to come out and see our old place,,, that is of course if it is all right with you. I won’t keep you but call anytime”

Bruce hung up the phone and just sat there for several minutes. Mary came over to him, “What’s up”?

“That was John Spivey. The dog we thought we had, well, apparently it is not the same as John’s. His dog that he lost is back and he can’t imagine how it got there.

Here is the strange part.  I called the vet some time ago to see if Mrs. dog was still hanging on. He told me; the dog had disappeared the same day we dropped it off. No break ins, not easy escape, just gone and no good reason for how of why”.

“So maybe he was taken by someone who worked there”. Mary said.

“I know this is crazy and coincidences usually have reasons but,,,,,,,,, Please stay right here. I need you for this”.

Calling John Spivey back, Bruce said, “Sorry to bother you again, I just wanted to tell you how much we appreciated our, well your old home. It has turned out to be a blessing for us in many ways. While I am at it, how is the dog doing and did he have any injuries when he came back?”

“Funny you should mention that Bruce. She has a spot on her foot that looks like someone shaved it. Like a vet would shave something to do an operation. Other than that, nothing. She looks pretty good to have been gone that long. Someone must have taken her into their home and cared for her. I bet they are missing her now. I wonder if I will ever find out the whole story. For now, she is not talking but we love her just the same.  We will always remember May 27th, the day Misty came home”.

His voice shaking, Bruce said, “thanks John, we will be talking soon”.

Mary said “I heard that”. “That is the day”,,. ” Yes, that’s Vivian’s birthday”. Together they said, “The day we took Mrs. Dog to the vet”.

“There is no way she could ever get that far that soon”. Bruce said.

They would not tell the children now but sooner or later they would have to discuss it with them.  If John Spivey decided to come out with his family and this dog looked anything like ,,,,, For now it was just put back, although not something one could put out of their mind very easy.

It was time for some action on the uncle Gus operation. By now, he was uncle to the children, with no complaints from Gus. With Mary and the children’s help, they put together a plan. This was to be a clandestine type of operation, which made it even more exciting for the children. They couldn’t tell anyone of their friends or people at school until the time was right but they could use one of their mother’s computers to gather information.

On a given day, Bruce, dressed in his best suit, Drove over to the lumber yard. He had already called the town newspaper, asking them to come to a meeting at the lumber yard at 9am.

He knew there would be plenty of curious people and by now, the men milling around the lumber yard were just a little suspicious of this city slicker.

When he felt he had a sufficient number of listeners, Bruce started in.

“Folks, you have a fine town here. I moved here for the country and I really like it”. He paused. “But people, you are going nowhere. One of these days this town will be paved over. You have very little business. It is not convenient to anyone and your children will all move away”.

Now the crowed started to get a little rowdy swearing and telling Bruce he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Please, Listen up for just a few minutes.

Opening a brief case on a pile of lumber he pulled out a stack of papers and handing them to one of the closest men, asked him to hand them out.

By now it was pretty noisy and then it started to become a little quieter.

A few holy !#$%. Some reading out loud. Some, listen to this. Some of the men taking off their hats.

Looking at Bruce one man said, how can this be? These are all different articles out of different papers. Can there be any mistake. By now, ten minutes had elapsed and men were crying.

The stories from more than twenty-five papers told about the heroics of Gus McDonald and about all the lives he had saved on several missions. They also told about the tragedy of the fire, set by a mentally ill war protester, that had taken Gus’s wife and two children.  When Gus disappeared, a note was left with his signature.

“Do not harm the man who did this. Enough has been done already”.

Now, Bruce, had the attention of all. In that short time, they had all been brought low. They were ashamed and sorry. Like so many, they had acted and said things without knowing any of the facts. They had cursed someone who had lost everything, while in reality, Gus was making their lives safer and better.

One man sheepishly asked, “what can we do”?

“As you can see”, Bruce said, “the newspaper has sent over someone to hopefully publish a story. My wife is addressing the women’s committee as we speak. It will be up to this town to come up with the story. I have given you something to start with”.

By now you could hear a pin drop in that old lumber yard.

“Beyond a story, I would like to suggest something more. That old train station Gus stays in is actually quite a nice building. It needs some work but the structure is sound and its architecture is beautiful. I took the liberty to have an engineer friend of mine look at it and he says it will stand for many years.

I am suggesting you turn that into a veteran’s memorial. There is enough space for several rooms. Let Gus stay there and run it and sell things to remind people about those who gave so much for us. You may want to allow a few other homeless vets, stay there.

I believe Gus’s story is going to bring a lot of attention to this town and if you play your cards right it could bring a lot of business to the area. Maybe a hospital or even a newer school.

Once again, get that train station cleaned up and looking good for Veterans day. Lots of red, white and blue and you might even get Gus into a clean pair of overhauls.”

They laughed and one man saying, “I’ll be dammed if he aint gona be looking pretty, in a uniform on vets’ day. Should be easy to find one from his old outfit. He’s the only one skinny enough to ware one of them old things”.

Others chimed in, “We been treaten ol Gus mighty bad fer a long while. Stime we try to pay him back a little far all the good he done.”

The town went into action, almost like they had been getting ready all their lives for an opportunity to do something good. There was cleaning and planting, every machine with in miles was given a project. A park, trash hauled from everywhere, Painting and fixing with long hours and a lot of laughing.

At Bruce and Mary’s home things were going well also. The children had been told as much as they could be told about the dog at Mr. Spivey’s home, as well as the reasons they shouldn’t repeat stories until they could be understood clearly. To the children it was just another miracle, as though, those kinds of things happen all the time.  They were glad to be involved with the Uncle Gus project.

Online thy found a war hero’s site and several other sites and were able to give and get a lot of information. Everyone who had ever been involved with the war, wanted to come on Veterans day.

Bruce, Mary, Brucie, Vivian and Marie were all together at the front of the parade. Mary said, “we would have to go to New York on Thanksgiving to see another parade like this”.

Bands from who knew where, actors, and floats, every kind of old and new vehicle and of course a long line of reconditioned military vehicles with Gus, standing in an open cab truck, saluting as it went.

“Hello Mr. Campbell”. Turning around, there stood John Spivey. With his family, pulling a small wagon.

 “Well what a surprise this is. So great to see you and I hope you will come back to our house and see all the damages we did to your place, laughing.”

“Can I call you Bruce?”

“As long as I can call you John.”

“Well it works for my wife, Bruce and by the way, I understand you are a hero. I have been asking around and everyone here is saying it was you and your family who put all of this together”.

“John, we won’t take the credit for any of this. If anyone deserves the credit, it would be Misty your dog. Don’t ask now. It is going to be one of those long, long stories. By the way, did you bring Misty”?

“No, Misty ran off and we have not seen her for a while. I have a kind of feeling we won’t see her again, but come over here”.

Moving around in the crowed was difficult but going to the wagon, all the children were crowded around, John pulled back a thick quilt. There in a furry pile, were several small puppies and easy to see where they came from.

“Seven”, John said. “We thought we might be able to give them away here. We would like to keep one for ourselves but we just can’t keep any more and this felt like a good place for them to call home. Do you think people around here would take them”?

After the Parade, and after all the speeches had been made, Bruce invited John and his family, Gus, the lumber yard crew, and a lot of other people over to his house. 

Gus was given first choice of the puppies, Mary Campbell was given the second choice and the remainder went quick, John’s children hanging on to their favorite.

The lumber yard crew, wives in tow, told Bruce how much they liked his place and he had a lot of space for improvements.

Harvey said, we been talkin, an ya knows, we does a lot a that. Wees decided that when we gets done wit Gus’s place, should be bout a month, ifin you buy the material, weed like to put you up a proper barn. One the little uns can play in n keep ther things in. Harv’s wife jumped in, and we will be along to do the lunches and keep these lunk heads workin so it will be done before the children get out of college”.

A lot of hugs and laughing, Mary planting a big kiss on Harv’s big red cheek.

John asked Bruce what he meant when he said, “Misty had a lot to do with the parade and all”.

Bruce looked at John, “If we can get your wife Sylvia and my wife away from your old neighbors for a while, we need to take a little walk. This story will take a bit of time”.

When Bruce and Mary finished their story and John and Sylvia collaborated what they knew about the dog and old Gus, there was a lot to take in.

Bruce said, “I don’t want this to just be dropped but, I’m not sure what to do, either. Somehow people need to take a chance and get to know all the poor and homeless and maybe just a smile or saying hello, once in a while will work toward something positive”.

“I guess it all comes down to caring”, John said.

They all agreed to go slow with any big plans but all felt that life could never be the same. They had a definite mission and would work together to accomplish it, whatever it was.

B-Ball in Coverall

B-Ball in Coverall

Betty had just come in to get warm. That was how it started. What did she know or even care about basketball today? She didn’t know any of the players. As I said, “That is how it started.”  By now, she had visited several games and seemed to be pulled in by some kind of force. She had a couple of old broken cameras hanging around her neck, just for the effect. She would pick out clothes from donation centers and try to dress like someone involved with a school, ask when the game was going to be and saunter in to the gym as early as she could, hoping not to be noticed. There was always a place on the bleachers away from where most sat and she would watch.

Whether others noticed her or not, she was never asked to pay. Never asking why, she was glad of that. Betty Snyder was homeless. Someone might have recognized her, from the soup line or shelter and covered for her. 

She had played a little basketball when she was in school but mostly to have more time to be around other people her age. Forging her parents’ signature and always with an excuse for their non appearances. No one at home knew what she did after school and no one at school knew what went on at home or, how seldom she went there and never wanted to know. Home was no place for Betty and only she knew why.

Had anyone cared back then, she could have told them, “help the poor homeless kids” people, a thing or two. When a person is homeless, they seem to be looking for something. It could be, that that something has to find them.

Even back then, she had that street sense. The great minds that had gone to school for so long and were glad to tell her that they would listen and then tell her what she should do, based, not on what she said, but their grand knowledge. Something as simple as holding her hand, and quietly listening for a few minutes might have changed a lot of things.

Once, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Betty had the privilege, of doing a couple of years in the State prison. After a while, found innocent and given an apology, a clean set of clothes, a bus ticket to where ever she wanted to go and “don’t come back” was once more, poor, hungry, alone and on the street.

Besides a warm place in cold weather, after a while, the basketball games gave her something to relate too. She could be away from her real life for an hour and almost like living on another planet.

Early on, she had singled out a particular girls’ team. Something about them that she wanted to feel part of. Although, not paying any attention at first, this was the home team and so she would be able to see them more.  After a while she started to recognize differences. Instead of just a team, the players became individuals making up a team and she started to compare this team with other teams they played.

A couple of years went by and people started to notice her sitting alone and so engaged in the play.

One of the players had come to her at the end of the last season to thank her for coming. She had seen the team look in her direction more than once but assumed they were just looking at the strange woman she felt she was. When a single player met her eyes after the last game, started to walk her way, smiling, she knew she was in trouble. What could this girl want? What could or would she say or explain why she came to the games without paying? Betty wanted to run but felt glued to her seat.

“Hi, all of us have watched you for a long time and appreciate your attendance. You have no Idea what that support means to us.” Touching Betty’s, frozen in place, hand, “Thank you so much and hope to see you next season”. With that, the girl, seeming to know this was not the time for conversation, turned, walking back down the bleachers and back to her comrades, all giving a wave in Betty’s direction.

Betty sat there in a trance, until, from a school attendant who was cleaning and moving things around, brought her back with, “I’m sorry miss, but I have to close up and you have to wait outside in the hall”.

Maybe that was when things started to change.

Small jobs, cleaning, a couple of painting jobs, some yard work for a landscaping company, and so on until, one day she was noticed. She had been trimming bushes at a rather large house, several miles away from where she hung out. A man came out of the house and up to her, asking her if she would like a different job. Betty had been around and had heard this too many times, “No thanks, I am quite happy with this job” going back to what she was doing.

Hollering over the sound of the landscaping equipment, “My granddaughter plays basketball and said she recognized you. Said I should give you a good job as you are one of their regular supporters” Betty stopped what she was doing, sheepishly looking at him. “What would I be doing?” “Come over here and sit at the picnic table. I have already told your boss I would be talking to you. He knows me and takes care of our businesses, so he is very glad to cooperate.”

Sitting down, he started in, “To be perfectly honest with you, I have no idea what you will be doing. We run several businesses and have several positions needing to be filled. More importantly, we try to bring people up, explaining not only what is expected by us but what is expected or looked for in many companies. We help them with special training, how to dress, personnel hygiene, how to save, live economically, the importance of learning and investing.

What we don’t do is give you a free ride nor, do we make your decisions for you. You will be expected to earn your wages and if at any time, you feel the job is too difficult or something about it you don’t like, you are free to go or be dropped off at where ever you like.

Before you ask, we do this, for number one, we get back great employees. The other reason, believe it or not, we as you will learn, get a lot back from helping those in need. Although you are doing most of the work, we feel like we are part of it”.

By now, Betty’s head was spinning. She couldn’t have asked a question if she even wanted to. It was all so ,,, so what ? Crazy, not likely, but what ,,, or if,,,,,,. In her mind all she could do is stammer, if one stammers in their thoughts.

Jumping in, “By the way, my name is Lance, Lance Pierson. I have been through this before and have a pretty good idea, what you are thinking or trying to think. It seems like a very big decision but it really isn’t. I have told your boss that if you decide, I will take you to the office to meet some people, when you are through here, in the neighborhood and if you decide to try this. Remember, you can quit any time and be delivered back to where you started or where ever you want to go. Oh, and by the way, my granddaughter, who plays on the girls basketball team, wants to meet you and will be going with us.”

Of course, Betty went. It wasn’t like she had to decide or could decide. This was, “a non-swimmer, jumping out of a sinking boat, into a lake that held, who knew what.

Near the end of her work day, her coworker dropped her off. Cash told her he had heard of this guy and it was said, “Mr. Pierson gave many people opportunities” and he had never heard anything bad.

climbing out of the landscaping truck in front of the Pierson house, Betty started up to the door. Before she even got to the porch, the door opened and Mr. Pierson said, “stay right there and I will bring out the car.”

Mr. Pierson went after the Car and his granddaughter came running out of the house. Running up to Betty giving her a big hug. “I’m so excited. My name is Cindy. This is like watching someone open a Christmas present. I’m pretty sure you will be glad you made this decision. Grandpa isn’t the easiest person to work for but almost from the start, you know it is right.”

The car pulled out of one of four garages and they climbed in.

Almost immediately Cindy started in. “I’ll bet you are a bit nervous and as you will find, I talk a lot. Grandpa said your name is Betty. Well Betty, Grandpa says we should try to come to the point when talking, so I don’t mean to embarrass you but here goes”.

“I see you at the game as we all did and assumed you were homeless. Grandpa taught us to look for opportunities to help others, no matter weather they have more or less than us. This might sound kind of silly but you showing up at all of our home games gave us something to look forward to and to play harder to repay you and all the other people, who support us. You are like the Little Drummer boy and gave us your best. Thank you so much for what you did and for what you are doing. If you like this job, and I am pretty sure you will, it’s another feather in my cap”.

Betty was still reeling from the offer, whatever it was and now was struck with being exposed. She didn’t know if she would cry, jump out of the car, laugh or what. What she did, was just allow herself to be led but to what, she wasn’t sure.

Arriving at a large industrial park and to an also large building, she was shown around, introduced to several people and after a while, brought to a cafeteria. By now it was after most of the workers had gone home.

Mr. Pierson said, “Take at least a half hour and I will be back”.

Mr. Pierson told the two women, to help themselves to whatever they could find and for Cindy to explain a little to Betty. 

Cindy grabbed Bettys’ hand and said, “I’ve been here many times and they have great stuff. You just have to find it”.

They both washed up in the kitchen sink and like two little kids, rummaged through the fridge and cupboards, pulling out lunch meat, veggies, half of a pie, some cookies, condiments and some chocolate swirl ice-cream.

Cindy made sandwiches, cutting them in fours and Betty carried paper plates, condiments and most of the food to a table. Sitting down, Cindy started grace which they wound up finishing together.

“I can’t imagine what is going through your head right now, but let me try to help”. Cindy told her some of the same things Betty had heard from Mr. Pierson. “It’s crazy, but that is how the businesses do so well. By giving away, and if it works so well. Why haven’t so many other places figured it out? Well, I wish I knew the answer to that. Anyway, Grandpa will find you a room in this building, so you can stay here for at least tonight and then, as long as you want. There are showers and laundry equipment, nothing very fancy but I have stayed here many times and it is like staying at a good friend’s house. You just feel cozy. Someone will always be around that you can call for information or to help you, if you want to leave.

Please don’t leave. You are like my own discovery and I know the rest of the team wants to meet you and thank you for being there for us. Oh, and by the way, most of the people here, came with nothing and are doing well. I give them credit for all their hard work and determination and we all like seeing people move up”.

“Oh, and Betty, I hope you will understand my candor. It is just a lot easier to get to the point and move on. We think you are too special, to put off”.

Soon, another lady came in, introducing herself as Page. “My mothers name is Betty, so glad to meet you. Mr. Pierson had a call and won’t be able to see you tonight but gave instructions to see to it that you are made comfortable and shown the ropes. A lot of this goes a bit fast so just hang in there. After a few days you will feel more comfortable.

Page showed her a small room with extra clothes she might be able wear. She told her, the laundry equipment is down the hall and gave her a cell phone to call what ever she needed.

Cindy interrupted, “I am going and hope to hear soon. If you can, come to our practice.” Waving as she is running out, “Love you”.

Page continued on, “Do your laundry, go back to the kitchen if you would like something more, get a good night sleep and someone will be by in the morning. There are always several other people in the building, day and night and all you have to do is scream loud, someone will be by.

Betty was still a bit apprehensive but, she was feeling pretty good to have her own private shower, in this quiet time. Clothes had been washed and she was off to sleep.

Someone was shaking her and talking. Waking up terrified,

“Where was she and who was this person”?

After a while her thoughts started to come, “you are all right” the woman said, “you must have had a bad dream. I heard you and came in to wake you. Betty sat up and the woman held her for a few minutes. Betty didn’t know why but tears started to flow and flow hard. She sobbed and sniffled and finally stopped too embarrassed to look at the woman.

“Don’t be worried or fusing. We all need a good cry some times. Let’s go down to the kitchen and find a cup of tea. Tea is just the thing at night.”

Back to the cafeteria where it seemed betty had just left, Helen Wendel made tea, a couple pieces of toast, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and cut in little triangles. To Betty, the tea couldn’t have tasted better, and the cinnamon sugar toast was a natural with the tea.

Feeling a bit sleepy she started to get up.

“Oh, I almost forgot”, Hellen said, pulling a small envelope out of her pocket. “I found this in front of your door”.

Betty tore open the envelope,

 “Dear Betty, Miss you already. Be well and looking forward to seeing you soon. Cindy.”

With the letter was a cut out felt teddy bear. Printed on the back, “I’m here for you”.

Betty slowly straightened out the envelope and letter putting them together as if they were something special. Noticing Mrs. Wendel looking her way, she tried to say something but words wouldn’t come. 

“Miss Betty, we need to get you back to bed. You have to be up and ready for work by 7am. Your first day is going to be hard but I know you are up to it. Don’t forget to set your alarm.”

The next morning, Betty was up and showered when someone knocked on her door.

“Hi, my name is Brian. I understand you are going to work for me today and with any luck we will have a lot of sun. I am supposed to take you to breakfast and we have to be on the job by 8am. Oh, by the way, we will be doing landscaping work today and I was asked to put you at the back of this building and turn you lose. Do your best to make something out of it.”

After breakfast they went out to the back of the building. It was obvious, this part of the property hadn’t seen any landscaping or even a lot of cleanup for several years. The area was about twelve feet out from the building and all along the back for about two hundred feet.

Brian told Betty, “There is a small building connected to the repair shop with rakes, shovels, pruners, hand tree saws and a lot more. Do what you can with what you can find. If you run into large jobs like big tree limbs, large rocks to move, trash to haul off, we can get that later with the power equipment. Right now, the area needs some direction and finding that will need to be done slowly by hand.  The Trash you pull out, just put in a pile. Someone will pick it up.”

Betty went to the shed picking out a wheelbarrow, a rake, shovel, pruning shears and a pair of hedge shears.

Looking the area over, it was difficult to know where to start. She parked the wheel barrow close to one end and just started in. At first, she found herself a bit resentful of the position she was in. First day, hardly an explanation, in the back, where no one could see what she had done, and alone, with no help, after a while getting lost in the work, she forgot the time. Trimming bushes, cutting out small, invasive saplings, picking out a can or two, old plant holders, plastic bags and newspaper. Slowly, foot by foot it started to come together.

When she had started to clean and pull out the unnecessary vegetation mixed with the junk it was hard to see any sense to what had been planted so long ago. Now it was just starting to make a little sense to Betty. When ever this had first been done someone must have had a plan and a vision for a beautiful garden. As Betty worked, she got more and more involved in its design. She pulled out rocks and a few bricks that had ben tossed in the brush. Some pieces of metal, and more weeds.

Moving right along and engrossed in her work, she jumped when someone came around with a small tractor.

“Hi, my name is Ted. Brian told me to tell you it was past lunch time and for you to go in and eat. I will clean up this trash while you are gone.”

Betty turned and said, “I’m not hungry and don’t pick any thing up. I will tell you when I am ready to have stuff hauled away”. With that, she went back to work.

It wasn’t long, and Brian came out. To Bettys back, he said, “Hay, hard guy, get out of there and come out to the picnic table. This stuff won’t stay hot forever. I have lunch and was told to be sure you eat so you have the strength to keep working.”

Betty turned to Brian, just furious and ready to tell him to hit the road and noticed the picnic table, about 25 feet away, with a perfect picture picnic, set up. From gingham table cloth, wicker basket and bottles of something.

Immediately she caught herself and wanted to apologize.

They walked over to the table sat down, and Brian started with a prayer. After that, he started to take things out of the basket. “You won’t believe this. This is so appropriate, it is almost corny. One of the workers had company yesterday and made fried chicken. She brought in her leftovers and it is ours to devour.”

“So, what’s up with not wanting any help?” Brian asked. “Ted said, you were upset when he came along to help you clean up. Don’t you want someone to help?”

“It’s not that I don’t want any help. For one thing, I don’t appreciate being treated like a weakling woman and the other reason is, believe it or not, I might have some use for the stuff in the piles.”

“Like it or not, here, you will be treated like a woman, but that doesn’t mean a weak one” Brian said. “We all know that this kind of work can be pretty hard and sometimes needs more than one person. If you want, we can leave you to do it by yourself. We are here to help each other and it usually works pretty well that way”.

Brian was quiet for a while and then asked, “Well what do you think? Is there any part of this you would like help with?”

Betty looked at him, “after I pull the weeds, the ground is still pretty hard to get a shovel in. If you had something to break it up a bit ,,,,,,,,,,”.

“Say no more’” Brian said. Ted is your guy to ask those questions. When it comes to landscaping, we ask him. Ted is the head of personnel. He is on the board here and wears a few other hats. Asked what he prefers, he would like to be out here. I will ask him to meet with you when he can get away”

It was a short lunch and both went back to work. After about an hour, Ted came out with a tractor and rototiller in tow. Shutting the tractor off he said, “at your service Mam ,,,, woops I guess I should say Miss or something. My mother insisted I say mam but things change.”

Right away, Betty apologized for being so short with him and they got down to talking about what she needed.

Betty told him more or less of what she had in mind and although it would take a long time, well at least she could start in that direction.

Ted sat there a few minutes, in his stained and raged coveralls, over a white shirt and tie.

“I see no reason why you can’t accomplish that. It will take several weeks, maybe months and a lot of elbow grease but I can see it as a surprise to the rest of the workers. I will make sure this area is roped off and announce it is off limits for safety and entering will jeopardize their employment.”

He chuckled a bit.

“Also, I will show you a kind of junk storage area and you might find something there you need. We have power tools and this tractor is yours to use. With the bucket on it, makes it great for hauling and lifting with the chains from the shed. If you haven’t used one before, be careful and take your time. Tomorrow I will be out here with you, for a couple of hours and that might be a good time to start to use it. I guess you used a rototiller before so I can’t tell you much about that. Also, the other things you have in mind, I will work on. Right now, I have to go back in to my office. I believe you are staying here tonight and you know when quitting time is. There will be food and what ever you need in side and as always someone will be around to answer questions.”

He showed her a fenced in yard with neat piles of stones, bricks, piles of grass, from years back, tree limbs, a few pieces of steel, benches, old plant holders, buckets, flower pots, and covered containers with seed and fertilizers.

Betty worked well past quitting time and when she came back in, she found she was pretty tired. Almost immediately a well-dressed woman approached her, “

Hi, I’m Carla. You must be exhausted. I heard you are working in that off-limits area and we were told it is pretty hard work. They said, you were a specialist and would be there for some time. I am going to be here for a few hours. I have a little work to finish but first, I would like to help you out. If you would go and take a long hot shower, it will give me time to look up something to eat. I was told to pass on to you, Sweats. Shower shoes, are already in your room along with other things you may need.  Leave your dirty clothes in the hamper in the shower area and come down to the kitchen.

The shower helped Betty feel a little less tired. Walking in to the kitchen she smelled something pretty good.

Carla had set a table with expensive looking water glasses, flat ware, and decretive plates cups and saucers, “I hope you like lasagna, and I have made us a salad. Dressings are out and what would you like to drink? I have made a pot of hot water in case you would like instant coffee or tea. If I can suggest, tea always seems to work good this time of day.”

Carla said a long prayer, thanking God for Betty, the food, the comfortable place and all the wonderful things in her own life.

Passing the garlic bread to Betty, Carla said, “if you were wondering, my job, or I suppose my main job is coordinating work and ideas with CEO’s of other companies. My work saves a lot of valuable time when meetings are scheduled. You might say, I cut out some of the fat. Translate wording and shorten it, toss out subjects that are not ready for discussion, and get a better understanding of the current issues so everyone is ready to discuss them.  I speak three languages besides English and have seven beautiful grandchildren I love to spend time with.”

Carla let that soak in for a while, then with a smile, “That is the good part.”

Betty looked up.

 “You might be wondering what could be bad about that “Carla said.  

She paused, then, “I was in a gang of eight girls and three boys. I am sixty -two years old. Fifty years ago, I hated everything and I suppose mostly myself. By the time I was eighteen I had seen more than most people will ever see, three of my friends were dead, two were in jail, at least four burned out their brain to the point they hardly know me now and the others, I have not been able to find. I was tough and I knew the streets. People who cared more about me than I cared about myself, helped me along. It took a long time to figure it out, but here I am today.

Betty had finished eating and Carla had poured a hot cup of tea. A cinnamon roll was found, heated and cut into four. It was very quiet and a peace seemed to be all around.

After Betty drank most of her tea, she found, she was nodding and closing her eyes. Carla gave her instructions to head for bed. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve. Have a good sleep and someone will be with you tomorrow. God’s Love and Peace and good night”.

The next day, Betty woke to the sound of an alarm. Laying there a minute and finally realizing what it was, got out of bed and shut it off. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she hardly remembered going to bed. She must have fallen asleep immediately and now was feeling sore and stiff. A couple choices of used clean clothing had been laid out for her and she picking out a light shirt, shorts, her shoes which looked cleaned and some coveralls, she headed for the shower. The shower felt wonderful but not staying as long as she would have liked, dried off putting on the work clothes, throwing her hair in a pony tail, she headed for the kitchen. 

Brian, Ted and a couple of other people, Betty had more or less met, were already drinking coffee and asked Betty to sit with them. A woman Betty hadn’t met, brought over a coffee for her with cream and sugar. “Choices are sometimes slim here so this morning you will be getting Oatmeal and a couple hard boiled eggs. Someone brought in more doughnuts than we need so don’t forget them.”

“According to Ted, you ran into more than you bargained for”. Betty didn’t know what he was referring to. Was it the conversation she had yesterday, and had that got around already?  What had she said? Did everyone know about her past?

Ted jumped in, “Sometimes the less people know the better. I figured if I didn’t tell them about what we encountered out back they weren’t likely to let the information get out to the wrong people. After all, our business has a reputation to keep up and if someone were to get hurt.”

With that, Betty caught on and with all the business about quarantine and closing the area off, she wanted to laugh. It was like a fun game she might have played when much younger. She was building a surprise but no one but Ted and her knew.

Ted pulled out a large and very official envelope from his briefcase and set it on the table in front of Betty where everyone could see. “You are required to read and sign these documents in private and please get them back to me as soon as you can. Printed in large letters on the envelope were RCRA, In smaller letters, Recovery Regulations, Conservation and Recovery Act.

Take your time to read over carefully. It is necessary to get it just right. There is a pen in the envelope”.

Betty finished her meal in a rather somber mood, headed back outside and to the rear of the building.

Sitting on the ground, she carefully tore open the envelope. Inside were pieces of blank drawing paper, a few diagrams, some tractor instructions, a couple of drawing pencils and a box of colored pencils were included. Also, Betty found a note.

Betty went through the envelope and its contents, a couple of times, looking for the regulations, then thinking over their conversation started to laugh. Maybe she was still tired from yesterday’s work or it was the right time but sitting there among the papers, weeds and tools she laughed and laughed.

Along with everything else was a note, “I won’t be out today, to help you with the tractor but I know you will do alright. Just take it real slow at first. Read the instructions and have a Blessed day. Come in at lunch time and get something to eat. Take water with you and you don’t have to stay out so late.

Remember even though you might not be able to see, the sun is always up there and The Son is always up there.

Stuffing everything back in the envelope, she couldn’t wait to get started. Betty had thought about the tractor and what she would be able to accomplish with it. Going over to the repair building she asked about it.  “

Ted called and said you would be by. The key is in it and it has been all checked out, filled with gas and ready to go. One of the guys will go with you, give you the nickel and dime crash course, show you what it takes to start it, remind you of all the safety’s and send you on your way. Any sign of a problem, just shut it off, let us know and someone will look into it”.

After some brief instructions, Betty jumped on the tractor and very slowly headed to the back of the building where she was working. She had driven tractors when she was working for landscapers but Ted had warned her not to feel she had to show off her skills. “Remember, safety is important here and the only mistakes that are hard to fix, are usually the bloody ones.”

The tractor proved to be a lot more then what she had expected. She scraped and pushed old sod and trash into piles hauled tools and equipment, pulled roots from small trees and lifted out some rather large stones.

Every once in a while, Betty would take out some of the paper and make notes. Using the tape measure, she found in the tractor tool box, she made some rough measurements, all the while working toward a plan.

This went on day after day, working by herself, checking out the tractor and tools, taking a little time for lunch, making more notes and always working much later than required. Always Carla or someone else would be there to greet and take care of a meal when she came in.

On her fourth day, Ted showed up, obviously surprised at what Had been done. Not only had she cleared out much of the old brush and vegetation she had torn up a considerable amount of the nice grass, doing her work. Ted thought to himself, it will grow back,,,, eventually.

Together they went over to the picnic table and Betty pulled out the notes she had been keeping.

“Do you think I could get some small plants or bushes? I would pay for them with my wages if I am going to get any wages. There are a couple of other things I would need also.”

Pulling out more papers, she unfolded a drawing.

Ted couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was for sure a drawing of the back of the building, drawn to scale with attached garden and suggested plant location as well as kind. Bushes and flowers had been colored in just as they would look.

“Did you draw this?” he asked. While Betty didn’t reply it was obvious from her red face and shy smile, she was the creator.

Studying the drawing over, he finally looked up.

. “I’m going to go out on a limb here”, Ted said, “I will order this stuff, have it delivered in your name and pay for it myself. I am going to get you all that you are asking for and maybe a little more. If the company approves it, when it is done, I will be reimbursed. It seems like a big job for one person to take on but for some reason I have faith in you”.

Several days later, Betty went out to work and found a large double axel covered trailer sitting close to where she was working.  A note and invoice were attached. To be delivered to Betty Snyder. Trailer to be picked up in fourteen days.

Slowly betty started pulling back the tarp cover. It looked like everything she had wanted was on board along with a lot more. She could hardly believe it.

Starting right in, like she knew exactly where everything should go, she worked tirelessly. A hole here for a bush a plant here, some border. Using some long garden hose, she laid out lines, some straight some curved, slowly pulling things together.

Always careful, to make it in for lunch and always reminding others of the danger of coming into the area out back, and no one seemed to bother her. No one knew what she was doing and didn’t seem to be too concerned.

She was so caught up in the work she forgot about a lot of other things. Coming in late nights, showering, putting her clothes in the washer and finding them the next morning dried and folded. She would eat quickly, sometimes taking a lunch with her and start in.

Saturday and Sundays were supposed to be days off but Betty insisted on working Saturdays. After all, what else was she going to do? No one else seemed to know what she was doing and they didn’t ask.

Sundays Betty was always asked if she would like to accompany someone to Church. They would pick her up, attend services, go to a restraint for breakfast and return her to the company building where there was always someone around.

Some Sundays Betty would go back to her room and look through landscaping magazines, Ted had picked up for her. she might read through the Bible a bit, go down to the kitchen and get in a board game or put a puzzle together. Mostly what she liked to do was go out to the area where she was working and get ideas of what to do next. She would sit at the picnic table with her papers, that by now were kept in her own worn but worthy brief case. Go over them and make changes getting this or that the way she thought it should be.

Sometimes she would think back to her old life. It had only been about six weeks since she had first come here and she hardly ever left, other than going to church.

There had been a few rainy days and Betty was asked to work in the garage, changing oil, tires, fixing small things brought in by employees, and doing some office work.

After a little more than her 8th week, she met with Ted, telling him she had done about all that she could for now and would like to do more when the plants were blooming.

Ted told Betty that was a good thing, as they had some other things for her to do. There was going to be a grand picnic and a lot of important people were going to be there. Signage needed to be made, food prepared and the building brought up to shipshape.  There wouldn’t be time for the landscaping project, for at least a week.

Betty didn’t take the news well. Although not saying anything, she felt she had been cheated or not given the credit or, well she felt like she had lost a friend. All that hard work, blisters, callouses, sores, this was like it always was. People took advantage but never gave any credit.

She hung on, not sure what to do next, making signs when asked, working in the kitchen, cleaning around the interior of the building and doing several other tasks but never going back to the garden.

On Friday, early, someone came to Betty,

“Hi Betty? My name is Fran. I am getting the ladies ready for tomorrow’s gathering and was asked to help you out. This is a routine benefit one gets when working for this company. It’s a chance to be pampered and get paid for it. That’s right, you are on the clock and so am I so let’s do it. Just follow me. A large restroom had been set up with appropriate chairs and it had shampoo sinks, previously installed.

When they got there, it was just like a beauty shop one sees on the street. Hair was being washed, blow dryers were going, the tinkle of tools and the rattle of conversations. Just sit here please, almost pushing Betty down in the chair and before she could protest, was being rubbed, washed, massaged, hair washed and dried things added and re washed, brushed all the while Fran talking, never asking nor leaving any time for Betty to say much anyway.

While all of this was going on another woman came in. Hello there, my name is Virginia.  I guess you are my next victim. As soon as Fran gets through with you, I will be taking over. With that Fran started in again as though Betty might find a free opening to say something, Fran wasn’t going to allow that. Finally, Fran finished and within seconds, Virginia came in Grabbing Bettys hand, laughingly bringing her to an office close by. I am a dental hygienist and today you are going to get a dental job. I promise I won’t pull too many but we are going to make what you have shine like new. Well maybe they didn’t shine when they were new but we will do our best.

Once again Sitting Betty down, explaining the rudiment fixtures and furniture in order to preform this service, Virginia started in. She examined, did a little scraping constantly asking Betty to wash and spit in the arranged fixture. Tools would pick, a little grinding and a little more picking and grinding. This seemed to go on for a couple of hours and finally Virginia said, “I know you don’t want to hear this, holding that for several seconds, then saying, “we are done” and laughing.

“Thank you my dear. I know all of this is a bit much and for now difficult but your cooperation means so much to us. By allowing us to give, we get so much back.”

Once again, she was taken back to the room Fran was working in. Fran giggled, I bet you thought you had seen the last of us crazy people. Well if you will please sit down, we have more surprises in store.

A woman came by, taking off Bettys shoes while Fran put a hot towel over her face. Sweetie, would you mind putting your feet in this water for a little while? Just sit back and dream of being out on the beach in the warm sand.

By now that was pretty easy for Betty to do. She was feeling limp from all the attention and would have liked to go back to her room for a nap. This was a work day and why did they pick this day. Oh well, it was just too much trouble to think right now.

After a while Betty felt someone pull her feet out of the warm water, dry them off and start rubbing them with sandpaper or something rough. At the same time, they were massaging them and it felt so good she didn’t even want to open her eyes. Than they were trimming her toe nails at the same time another woman was working on her fingernails. The feel of the rough board doing the finishing on the nails almost tickled. Than there was the smell of what she assumed to be polish.

While all the foot and fingernail work were going on, Fran was giving her a facial.

Finally, it was over, or so she thought. We have yet more for you and you are going to like this even more. Down the hall and around the corner, they went into a large room that was usually used for a meeting room.

Four women and a man were there, waiting for,,, ? Her,, it appeared.

Miss Snyder, have you ever worn heels? Of any height that is?

Betty might have somewhere but ,,”No!, never”

Will you please sit here? Her foot was measured by the man, while two of the women talked about what might work and a pair from a large assortment of boxes was chosen.

They were put on Bettys feet and asking her to stand. After some discussion, and a couple of changes, a pair was chosen that seemed to work. Standing on the shoes was not the least comfortable for Betty. Between feeling like she was going to either fall frontwards or to one side or the other, the shoe was tight on her foot. She was asked to walk up and back a number of times and yet another pair was chosen. These seemed to be a little better but still she was unsteady. Someone on each side holding her, while she was walked up and back many times, taking a rest, having a cold drink, the feet being massaged, lotion applied and back at it walking more. Betty had a determination and after a few hours of this regiment she was looking pretty good. She wasn’t ready to run through the airport after that elusive friend but she had the idea.

All the while these evets were going on, Betty was constantly reminded that this would help her one day to get to wherever she wanted to go. This wouldn’t change her inside but once in a while it might help her to feel the great person God knew she was. Well Betty listened but inside, really wasn’t hearing much of it. She had been on the streets too long to ever think she could do or be anything great.

She knew better but if these silly people wanted to believe they were making a difference, at least for now, she would let them.

They told her how to pronounce certain words, told her words to avoid and reminded that at times it was best to say very little. The part of that that stuck was, “At least until she had thought over what was being said”

She had noticed how people would always try to get into a conversation, even if it meant interrupting someone else. She also knew that many conversations came up to nothing, so why not wait?

She went to the kitchen and had something to eat, trying not to mess up her nails. What did it matter anyway? Whoever was coming tomorrow, wouldn’t be looking at “her” nails. They wouldn’t be looking at her but still these people had been pretty nice, so they deserved to have her act and look proper. She would try her best.

Bed time didn’t come soon enough and she wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow. Why couldn’t she just go back to the work she was doing, while the rest of the employees had their celebration or welcomed, whoever was coming. A little reading and she was off to sleep.

What seemed like only a short while and her alarm was going off. She was told to leave it far away from the bed so she would have to get out to answer and make it that much more difficult to go back to sleep.

Up and in the shower, remembering too late about her nails, hoped she hadn’t messed them up too bad. Still wearing her sweats as she was told, went to the kitchen, someone bringing a coffee and telling her to sit down. It seemed like people didn’t think she was capable of doing anything and treating her like she was going to die or be really sick soon.

A few bowls of fruit had ben set out and there was cereal if she wanted. A few more things around but this wasn’t a restaurant or the kind of place you ordered what you wanted. It was just a kitchen and if you didn’t bring it or wasn’t left by someone else, you did without.

Sitting there sipping her coffee and almost dozing off, was pleasant. Betty had more time in the last few days, not totally engrossed in her garden project and she thought about her transformation. She had been homeless for so long and now was getting use to being in her own room. Well, it wasn’t hers, but it was hers to use. She had been paid for work. Not sure how much but she had ben told it was a decent wage. The money invested as she made it but could have all or any as she needed it. She hadn’t needed money because up until now everything had ben done for her and they would take what they needed to pay for what she used.

She actually had money and maybe enough to buy a pair of shoes or a pair of pants. Maybe she could take the train to ,,,,,,,,,,,,, to where? And what did she need? Back and forth wanting than realizing she had most all she needed.

“Ok lady, you are mine again, and just when you thought it was all over”. Fran woke betty out of her daydream. “We are off to the land of oz or to meet some munchkins and ferries. Come with me please.” Off they went to Bettys room where some clothes had been laid out. We have looked and sized you up and we are pretty sure these things are your size. If you will just put them on, don’t worry about detail, and we will come back in to straighten you up. Please hurry”

There was no mirror in the room and Betty didn’t remember a mirror anywhere. She looked the clothes over, as she was putting them on and they seemed like pretty new as well as expensive. Everything in place or as in place as she could tell, she called Fran back in. Two other ladies came along sitting her down they started on her hair, brushing and spraying and forming and spraying. One of the ladies was touching up her nails and all the while they were fixing and talking about this or that wrinkle of miss aligned piece as if Betty was a manikin. They worked for most of an hour asking her to stand so they could put on her heels.

“I think she is there” Fran said. “Oh my” one of the women said, “I wish I, was as close to their”. Betty asked what that was supposed to mean and Fran said, “never mind, we just like to talk”.

Fran got on her phone to Ted and asked if he would come to Bettys room. She was ready and would need some explanation from him.

Ted came by shortly as the women were finishing up. He seemed to be startled a bit, but after all, he had never seen Betty in hells. He asked her to walk around a bit and said.

 “Now listen and listen close. You are a designer and work sometimes in the sign shop. Most of your knowledge is self-taught and you have only been here a short time so you are not sure of everything going on here. Weather or not you like it here is entirely up to you. What ever you say, do not mention your project or what conditions you came here in. Later I will try to explain more, but for now, for your own good, I am telling you, do not lie but do not, under any circumstances say how you got here or where you came from. One of our employees will be with you all of the time.”

Slowly the early hours passed and soon people were coming in to see the building. Rooms had been locked and others left open. Bettys room had been closed and locked.  Betty and one of the women, Shirley, who had helped her dressing, was walking with her.

A man, neither of them knew, came up to them looking at Betty, asked, “So what do you do?” Betty just stood there staring. This guy, looking like a million dollars, might have been one of the men she had taken money from, on the street. He was talking to her, “I’m asking you, so what do you do? Coming out of it, she said, “I’m a designer. I design things. By the way I really like your tie”. 

“Well thank you”, he said, “not too many people recognize a really good tie.”

“We are on a mission” Shirley said, seeing he wanted to have a little more time, talking with Betty.

 “Oh, Oh yeah. I’m sorry. Hope to see you later.” He said.

They walked around a corner and off in another direction, sometimes ducking in to a locked room, Shirley had a key for.

Around 10am the speaker system asked all who could, to come out front for some announcements.

Please if you have them, change into some sport shoes or something appropriate to walk on grass.  Lady’s, heels might not work so well.

Shirly took Betty back to her room and opened a couple boxes of sport shoes. Looking them over picked out a pair and handed them to Betty and putting another pair on herself. You have long legs and those look pretty good on you.

Out front there must have been a hundred people talking and milling around.

Almost immediately Betty recognized Lance Pierson. Standing on a quickly set up stage, he was addressing the group.

Talking for a while and turning it over to this person or that, talking about the various companies, the invested and organizations they were interested in, after a while, a lot of this you can read. We would like to make this a day for you to enjoy and relax a bit. Talk with each other through out the day but don’t spend all of your time on business. There are more important things than that.

With that, I think we should go out back to the picnic table and maybe spend some time sitting.

Betty froze. No one had been back there and had any idea what she had done. It was a mess. These people, this large crowed would, she tried to get Ted’s attention and warn him. What could she do? Walking with Shirley she was shaking all over.

As they turned the corner at the back of the building, what she seen was a surprise to even her. Several Large tents had been set up, with hundreds of chairs. Large coolers and an assortment of catering people setting up tables and bringing out food.

What really surprised Betty was seeing people crowded all along her garden, Pointing and looking so interested. She heard, “They must have had several landscaping companies collaborate to get this done”. “

“What an imagination”. “It all looks so peaceful.”

“Take a lot of pictures and see if you can find the designer.”

“I doubt if we could afford this for a few years but if our board sees this, I know they will want to do something like it”

She heard Lance, “to be perfectly honest, I did not see this until just now. I have been kept away as often happens. I was told about it, only this morning and had no idea what one, what one group of employees could do”.

“One group of employees”, Betty thought. These miserable @#$%. She felt someone bump into her, then. “Oh, excuse me miss”, and walk on.

Ted continued on and disappeared into the crowd.

Betty knew that was a message and remembered what he had said, what he had warned her about, in no uncertain terms.

About that time, Cindy, Mr. Pierson’s granddaughter came running over. Oh Betty, I am so glad to see you and look at you. You are by far the best-looking woman here today. Wow and wow. I want you to meet the rest of the gang. Waving her arms, girls seemed to come out of everywhere. Fourteen girls counting Cindy and all looking physically fit This is the team and one girl said I know you won’t know any of us but.

Betty stopped her mid-sentence, “Your number is seven, yours is three, yours is twenty-six and on and on she went.

“That’s awesome. We never thought you would remember us.” They talked a bit and gradually left, going back to the people they had come with, all asking Betty, if she would come again to their games next season.

Cindy asked, “so how are you doing and are you glad you decided to go with grandpa?”

“Can we walk a bit Cindy?”

They walked in the direction that by now had less people admiring it.

“I am happy that so much has been done for me but to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I have what it takes to be the person Society expects me to be. Those people all have so much going for them and I have nothing.”

Betty had found an old mirror at least six feet tall and ten feet long. She had put it in the garden against the wall up on some large blocks and landscaped around it. It had taken considerable work, wrapping and bracing it, pulling it with the tractor and using the tractor bucket to put it in place without breaking it. It alone was a work of art reflecting so much of the garden and along the path she had made out of discarded bricks.

Betty and Cindy strolled along the path, Letting Betty do most of the talking. They came to the mirror, betty with her head down and talking about friends she had on the street who had tried to get free but always came back.

Looking up, Betty, for the first time seen her image as a cleaned-up woman. Fran, nor any of the other women had showed her a mirror and she had no idea.

Here was a woman she had never seen. Betty stood there staring and in shock.

Cindy looked at her, “what is the matter? you are trembling, are you going to be all right?”

“I never seen myself like this” Betty said.

Cindy didn’t understand and Betty said, “they have no mirrors inside”.

“Oh heavens”, Cindy said, “You poor thing, you never knew how beautiful you are. In a way it is so sad but in another way it is funny. I’m telling you as a woman, well a girl, you are drop dead gorgeous. When I said you were the most beautiful woman here, I wasn’t kidding. You always had all the stuff, and just now its shows”.

Betty hugged Cindy for a long time when Mr. Pierson came up and interrupted them.

“Betty, we have to talk and Cindy can hear this. Between this garden my group, who put it together and this beautiful, strange woman who is walking around, there hasn’t been much else talked about. I couldn’t tell everyone you did all this by your self because I could hardly believe it, they would only think I was a liar and more importantly put you in the spotlight before your time. This garden is going to show up in many newspapers as well as a lot of inquiries coming to our place.

I would love to say I or my Grand daughter picked you out and recognized your great skill. That would put a feather in my cap. You are a beautiful lady and, in more ways, than one. It will take some time for you to adjust to that.

I heard you mention no mirrors and that is part of our plan. We usually know what people can be but we don’t want them to see it a little at a time and not recognize it for what it is.

You have always been free to come and go here. We like people to stay around long enough to recognize their potential and feel the value of putting something back. I’m sure you know a lot more people out there who could use some help. One day you may want to do that. Most of the people who worked with you have been helped and now go beyond their daily duties to help others out. That is how and why, things work here.

No one here, knew you were going to turn out to be this ravaging beauty that you are. No one here, would have expected you to have the skills to design and build this magnificent garden, all by yourself but everyone knew you had potential to be better than you were. Oh, and by the way, I did not tell anyone that you were the designer of this garden but, you have been offered several, jobs that would pay a lot more than you would likely dream. If I told people, the designer of this garden was also the person who single handedly built it, any ideas of you would be gone. No one as much of a lady as you could ever do this, at least in most eyes.

As the inquiries about the designer started to show up on Lance Pierson’s desk, he came up with an idea. Talking with Betty he decided to put her in business. She could work from his building get requests from people wanting designs. Take the ones she wanted and felt she could do, while charging the appropriate amount. Pay his company for the services they were offering her while they helped her along. She would gradually move into the company community, getting her own apartment and they would send her to school allowing her to pay them back as she could. Everyone would win. They had couriers going out from time to time and they could take pictures of areas and or places for her, do some of the homework for the designs and meetings could be arranged at their place and so on. There would be plenty of time to let the world know of her single-handed accomplishments after she moved along a little further.

One day, Lance, wanting to do more for the street people as Betty called them, asked her if she would like to go out and meet some of them.

Betty and Lance Pierson went to her old neighborhood. They dressed in clothes that would be a little more fitting in that neighborhood. Lance Pierson wore a ball cap and Betty wore a stocking cap, with long sides, Pulling her hair up under it. They made sure their clothes looked worn and abused. Parking the car several blocks away and walking to where she told him she hung out. The neighborhood was typically run down and wearing what they did, they were hardly noticed. Walking around they met several people, Lance, trying to draw several into a conversation. Some really didn’t want to talk much and the few that recognize her, noticed that she cleaned up a bit and were acting as though they were afraid of her. She tried to tell a couple of them about her changes, careful to only tell them a little bit and see if she could draw them in. She was disappointed to find, most of street people, would rather stay in the life, they were in. They walked around the good part of the day, a couple of times buying a bottle of water, wrapping it in a brown paper bag to look like they were drinking alcohol just to add to the disguise. They walked down alleys behind buildings around trash containers. All the while Lance was learning a great deal. Betty on the other hand was only experiencing more and more disappointment. By the time they left both lives had been changed considerably. Lance decided that at least once or twice a week they would meet at some convenient time and discuss their visit this day, as well as what might be done to change things. Betty felt as if she had left something she would never be welcomed back to.

When the season came around, Betty started attending the basketball games. While Betty was attending the basketball games the girls gradually pulled her in to be an assistant coach. She had long ago, read and worshiped Betty Faith Janes, who had done so much for woman’s basketball. She had read about people like Senda Berenson, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoops, and many more. She knew a little about women in basketball.

Working part-time she turned out to be a great assistant coach. Betty always dressed down, looking like anything but the beautiful lady she was. Some of that was from embarrassment and some to keep the male eyes on the game rather than her. There was one guy in the stand who seem to want to become familiar with her but not for any romantic reasons but rather he seemed to want to tell her, how the girls should be coached.  Not a very a nice guy but very annoying, always hollering out what should’ve been done what could’ve been done. Even after the game, he would angrily holler to her, things he seen as wrong as if it were her fault that the team didn’t score as well as he thought they should.

One day, the girls asked her to show up in the locker room about a half hour early. Although she was only the assistant coach, Betty had stayed with them, many nights after school coaxing and encouraging them in their practice. The results were astounding. They were getting much better. Figuring they were going to give her some kind of plaque or Card, to show their appreciation, she made sure to be there.

Walking into the locker room she met with what she had been expecting. Signs, “happy Betty Day” “Thank you, assistant coach Betty” “Go Betty” “You’re the best, Betty” and more. All the girls attacked her hugging her and telling her how much they appreciated her. The coach standing back, waited for the roar to go down and finally with hands raised to indicate quiet, told betty how much she had meant for, done for and was there for the team.

“I should be jealous of all the attention my assistant is getting but you have made me look good with all your help. If any awards come our way, you are going to be the one accepting them. There is so much more to say but for now we need to play ball.”

She handed Betty an envelope, quietly telling her to read it in private.

Betty thanked everyone, put the envelope in her back pack, threw on her ball cap tucking her hair up into it and followed the team out to the gym.

Just another game but this time with a win, Betty felt a little different. There had been all the same cheering and jeering, some so complementary and at times some so insulting. She took it all in stride. She felt, she was in her element. Being careful, not to give herself too much credit, she was glad to have been in a place where she could do something good. Just knowing that the coach was glad she was there was more than enough.

Betty had continued to stay at the work place keeping her little room. She had been told she could stay there for an extended amount of time, saving her from having to buy all the things she would need to live on her own as well saving on transportation and high rent. Although it was very simple, it had everything she needed right now.

Getting back there after the game, she sat down on the bed, opened her bag and took out the signs and posters the girls had given her. One by one she looked them over as if they were rare paintings, taping them to the wall all around the room. Still sitting there admiring these crude thankyou’s, she remembered the letter.

Pulling out the envelope, tore it open, expecting a little more of a formal thank you, was surprised to find an old looking letter, that appeared to be a legal document with an embossed heading.

Dear Miss Betty Snyder

Some months ago, your name came up and going over your history here at school and your disappearance some of us decided it was time to send some prayers up for you. You have been mentioned in Masses and in our daily prayers. Only in recent days, were our prayers answered and we were able to find an address where you might be reached.  I, all of us are hoping this finds you in good health.

In your last year here at school, you received several awards. For best teamwork, most rebounds and best attitude. You made a big impact on the team and many teams to follow. You disappeared, before you could be awarded properly and we are just now finding you.

 We understand privacy and have done our best to keep it that way, until and if you chose to come and visit us.

The time you spent here continues to generate good qualities. Your record is still shining and is looked on by many of our students as a goal to shoot for.

God be with you,

Margaret Patriot, School Administrator

Betty did her design work and gradually became more comfortable with it. By now she had several months of schooling as well as on-the-job training. Dealing with customers was easy enough, although one man could be quite rude and very irritating. Nothing she could do ever seem to be right for him even though he would call back for another job after the first one was completed. She brought it up to him on the phone, one day, mentioning that his attitude could be a little bit better. His reply was that he’d like to have things done well and if that was too much for, she should get somebody else to do her job. Said his name was Rick Dryden and she needed to remember that.

One day this Rick Dryden showed up at the reception desk, asking to see the designer of his latest project. Didn’t have a lot of time and he wasn’t about to accept, “she would call him later”. He had important things to discuss and they needed to be discussed now, like it or not.

Betty was contacted and advised as to who was wanting to see her.

“The man is quite rude and he won’t take no for an answer. It’s totally up to you whether you want to talk to him or not. If it were me, I would have no trouble making that decision”.

Betty had no trouble making the decision but unlike the receptionist, she wanted to see this person. She had a few things to say to him.

Betty said, “it is not a problem, that’s fine, can you have someone walk him back to my office”?

Betty was ready for this. She had quite a few things to say. Hearing the footsteps coming down the hall Betty looked up and who should this Rick Dryden be, but the same man who constantly tried telling her what to do, at the basketball games. Both of them just stared. Betty started in telling him, once again, what she thought of his attitude. Rick stood there, continuing to stare.  When she was done, he said, “I can’t believe it is you. You look so, so different and I had no idea”. Rick reached in his pocket and pulled out a card, handing it to her without saying another word.

Taking the card and looking at Rick, she said, “what’s this?”

Opening the card, she read,

I wanted to take this opportunity to apologize for my attitude. I have been under considerable strain the past year but I know, that is no excuse. You, on the other hand, have done a terrific job, designing for me and making my work much easier. You have been a professional and I have not. I Hope you will accept my apology, have lunch with me and allow me to explain a few things.

With all my respect,

 Rick Dryden

Rick just stood there looking kind of sheepish, while Betty just sat at her desk, looking at the letter. Finally, Rick, picking up his brief case, said, “I just had no idea, again, I am sorry” turning and walking down the hall.

Betty called after him, “tomorrow, here”

Rick stopped, turning around, “what did you say?”

“Can you pick me up here, tomorrow at twelve forty-five?”

After a slight pause, and a big smile, ”I, I, Sure. That will work out great.”

The next day, he was there, right on time, driving an older pickup truck. I do have a car but the girls are using it and I know you are used to something much better than this or my eight-year-old car, but I hope it will due. I have a place in mind where you are not likely to see any of your people.

Betty had said nothing, either about his truck or the kind of restaurant.  

They arrived at the back of a small place, off of the main drag. Walking in, she could see, most of the people were either gone or leaving. This had been the reason for choosing this time of day, knowing most would be going back to work and it would be quicker and easier to get service. The place looked like it had ben there a long time and there were a lot of corners needing a little better cleaning but it had all the sounds, smells and smiles of a place you were glad to be.

The waitress came carrying two glasses of water,

“Hi, I have never seen you in here before. Rick usually only brings his clients in in the morning when he’s hung over and grouchy. Be careful of him, He’s wanted in six states for murder and stealing lunches, from little kids.”

Betty laughed and said, “Don’t bring any steak knives and I will keep an eye on my purse”.

“I’m sorry” Rick said. “I knew you wouldn’t usually go to a place like this and you might not want to be seen with a guy like me, and well, there it is.”

Over lunch, Rick told Betty about losing his wife to cancer, a little more than a year ago and two of the girls, playing on the basketball team, where his daughters. Trying to keep up with them and do a good job at his work, trying to have time to mourn the loss of his wife, and trying to be the best father he could for his two daughters, was very difficult.

Rick said, “I don’t know if you’ve ever had any hard times in your life, and it shouldn’t be a reason to take it out on somebody else, but it seems like, I became a person even I didn’t like very much. I knew it was no way to be but I just couldn’t seem to change. It was like being in a hole that I just could not climb out of. Do you have any idea what that is like? That is really not a question but I guess what I’m saying, I couldn’t expect anyone else to understand and I had no reason to be the way I was.”

Betty sat there looking into his eyes. Even though she had heard from this guy for the last year, she really had only just met him. Why did she want to say anything to him? Rick started again to say something and Betty put her hand up, stopping his conversation. Continuing to look straight into his eyes, she said,

 “I have been a homeless person living on the streets for many years, two years of that time was spent in prison.”

Rick looked down at his plate, poking at the food scraps left there.  “I guess you are making fun of me, maybe you don’t believe my story, and maybe,,,,, and maybe you think I’m” he paused looking up at her. Betty just sat there still and still looking him in the eyes.

Rick, chuckling, and then,” you’re not serious,,,,,,,,,,. are you?” Betty’s face not changing, he said “you are serious!”

Both of them looking at each other for a long time, breaking off into the kind of a giggle and eventually to a hearty laugh and from that, the laugh died off to a more serious mood, as they both grabbed for the napkins to wipe their eyes.

Once more Rick, trying to say something,” but you are so beautiful, I mean clean, well you’re smart and your great with the girls and they all love you and you don’t look anything like you would be able to survive and” he stopped, hoping he hadn’t said too much, saying “I’m so sorry”.

Both started to feel a little uncomfortable, Betty said, “I need to get back to work. I have quite a load waiting on my desk. Would it be possible to do this again tomorrow and could you come to my office around noon? I will arrange the location?

Rick agreed, saying, “I am already looking forward to that.”

Rick showed up the next day. The receptionist, called Betty and she asked to have him come back to her office. Arriving there, Betty pointed to a chair and said, “would you please take off your shoes and put on these rubber boots. It’s a little damp where we are going” Puling on the boots, Rick stood up and announced “I am ready when You are.”

You’re not quite ready, please take off your suit coat, hang it over there and put on this long jacket. You will appreciate it later. I have to change and will only be a minute” Betty disappeared as Rick was changing into the used but worthy jacket and sat back down wondering what all this was about.

Shortly Betty returned but not the same person. She had on coveralls covering an old stained and well-worn looking shirt, boots that looked like she had walked the entire Appalachian trail in them, a hat with her hair pulled up and covered, and she had removed all her makeup.

Rick was stunned, and staring, “If that is supposed to make you less attractive, it’s not working”.

Betty flushed, “no, that was not the point, and thank you. Now if you will follow me.”

They walked out the front door, Rick starting to head toward the parking lot.

“Sorry Rick, but for now I have the steering wheel”.

Rick looking around could see no reason or place other than the parking lot to go for lunch.

Turning he walked with betty in the other direction around the side of the building to not much more than a grassy area and the next building. Still he said nothing and walked with Betty to the back of the building and around that corner to a sight that clearly surprised him.

Walking out a bit, to get a better view, “I have seen pictures of this but had no idea it was here. Why is it so hidden? Holy Smackerel!, this is even more incredible in real life, who designed, what landscaping company did all of this. This is all so fantastic, and to be hidden at the back of your building. I have seen pictures of, the before and after but nothing about the process or the construction” I am so glad you brought me here.”

Some distance away, was a picnic table with a large cardboard box.

“Come with me”, Betty said, walking over to the table and opening the box. She pulled out a table cloth, handing it to Rick. Together they spread out the cloth and continued to take the rest of the contents out of the box. They sat, Betty starting a prayer with both finishing it. This was all such a surprise, the clothes, Betty’s change, the picnic, they ate but said very little.

When they were finished eating, Betty grabbed two bottles of water, handing one to Rick. Pulling out a plastic bag of cookies and two brownies, she said, “lets go for a walk”.

They started on one end of the building on a narrow path covered in some places with wood chips, bricks, in some areas and stone in others. Strolling slowly and looking over various flowers, vines, brush and more, they came to a rough old bench about half way.

Betty pointed, indicating they sit. She opened the bag, offering it to Rick.

Rick took out a brownie asking her, “can you tell me anything about this place”.

She took out a cookie, took a bite and said without hesitation, “I did it!”

Rick sat there, eating his brownie and looking at the garden. What was she going to say next? Who was this person and what was all this charade about?

Once again Betty said, “I did it. I designed it, or at least God gave me the design. I cleaned up all the old trash and built this beautiful garden”.

“You will have a hard time finding that information anywhere and only a couple of people here know or have that much information. I am telling you, for a reason. I don’t like to toot my own horn and have very little use for people who brag about their accomplishments, but I had to tell you to get to my next point.”

“This garden made me what I am today and I believe it is an example of what it is going to take, to help many of the homeless and marginalized who are living just like I was and see no hope in sight”.’

“Instead of throwing out the junk, I used as much as I could. You will see an old mirror that looks great, only because you never see one in a garden or at least a nice garden and it is located to serve a purpose. Most of the junk and unwanted stuff I took out, I reused as mulch. If you put mulch above the soil it doesn’t work well for new plants. It has to break down first. Putting it below the soil, that is mixing it with the good, will give it a use and actually help the good soil grow the plants. Old grass sticks leaves and limbs have all been buried. While it is rotting, it is being used. It will hold water and also drain well if it gets too much water. Not only saving energy to move the mulch, but not having to store it somewhere until it changes to what we consider useable. Nothing happens overnight. It took me several weeks, working early, and until pretty late some nights.  

People like me or at least, the person I was, need some of the same things this garden needed. Borders, a place to go and not just to rot or be stored. We need a place to feel a little useful and we need to be around good soil. We need to be around good people who will just be there setting an example and not trying to change us. There are a lot of shelters and places out there, I could have gone to but help is another thing. There are plenty of good reasons, not to go to a shelter, even in the worst weather. Many of the people running them are so busy taking credit for the great work they are doing, they fail to see all those falling behind.

We capture the rain coming off this large building and funnel it down the center of this garden in a pipe full of holes, which allows a small portion to escape all along the way. If we dumped a large amount in one place, it would ruin the plants. So, it is with the street people. If we just give them a lot of things, money, clothes, food, they are not prepared to manage we ruin them as well as waste a lot.

When I came here, besides, basic food, older clothes and a simple place to stay, I was given a very small wage. As I showed them, I could take care of things, save, clean my clothes, not waste food, they started giving me a little more. Eventually they paid me a bonus, plus a good wage based on the length of days since I started. If I would have been paid even a minimum wage from the start, it would have been more than what I could safely handle and I would probably have left the first week.

Maybe the most important part of all this, I cared about this garden. I was here for it, not to work it to death but to try and see what it would take to make it better. You could say I learned more from it than I gave it. That is what the people here did for me.”

Betty paused for a few minutes and then saying, “I know it all sounds too simple, that that is all we need to do for all the street people, but think about it. A lot of times, you see them helping when a car is stalled or someone is lifting a large package. You will see them hold a door or some other little choirs that they are not going to be rewarded for, but there feeling some worth.”

“Rick said, I feel like I have just been going to class with a beautiful person I want to merry in an hour. I want to agree with anything you say. I have never had the chance or maybe just taken the time to look at these people very close. In all fairness, why haven’t the street people told us this?  Ok, of course, that might be a silly question but what I am trying to say, I expect many people don’t see it your way because it has never been explained to them very well. This is all so much to take in and I am in no position to even discuss it, for fear of saying the wrong thing”.

Betty said, “If you were standing next to a pile of rescue buoys, and seen a hundred people out in the water floundering while several others were trying to get a big, beautiful, rescue boat launched, you would start throwing. The rescue buoys might not reach any of the people in the water but who knows. If your little effort saved even one, wouldn’t it be worth it?”

“Now, it is my turn to get back to work”, Rick said. “I really do have some things to finish and tonight there is a dinner at church, the girls need to be at, and I am supposed to be with them.  These two days have been a lot to take in. Even though my wife has been gone for over a year, I am still in love with her. Meeting you and spending this time together has been almost like a date. I feel like I am cheating. I would like to see you again, but not right now. I believe we both have a lot to take in and we need some time, so, let’s just say I am not going to give you the opportunity to turn me down. I’m pretty sure I am going to regret saying all of this, the minute I leave.”

Betty agreed that it was not the right time for them to be thinking of being anything but friends and letting God and time do the work.

Leaving off here, I don’t think this is the end and am anxious to see where it will go.

If another reads this, my hope is they will begin to consider the poor and marginalized in a different way.


Will I be Homeless?


We have long since figured out, what we are doing for the homeless is either wrong or not enough and some would say too much.

More and more the word enabling, comes up. Is it about time we look closely at the idea of helping someone to the point of letting them think, going along as they are, is sufficient or, the best they can ever do? On the other hand, is it a wrong thing, helping them get to the next stepping stone across the wide river of survival?

Let us start out at some kind of beginning. Number one, anyone arguing, discussing, pondering or condemning must first put themselves in the shoes of those we are considering. That, a difficult thing at best.

Wake up! Yes, this could be you or a family member, parent, child or friend.

We live in a time when addictions can catch even the most cautious. Bankruptcy is happening to very wealthy people who thought they were in positions where it would never happen. Illnesses, both mental as well a physical are putting people on the street. Family and friends are not always there as we had expected. One has only to read a little news to see that could have been themselves. Not a simple matter to those who it has happened to.

For lack of better descriptions, I will refer to the various situations people are in as, being down or up.

All of us have had days when we just couldn’t do what we felt we needed to and so we may fall back to a pill, drink, food, gambling or other vice that is not productive. Not so bad because the next day we will be back in service and be able to make up for our miniscule set back.

The people who are down are set back so far it is almost impossible for them to even come up with a plan to move forward. Paperwork is lost or maybe was never collected. Drivers license, Birth records, Social security cards, medical records can not be kept in your pocket very long when you are on the street. Friends and family no longer want them, are able to help or in many cases the person in need is so far down they will refuse help from family, be it pride or some kind of selfishness.

A shelter

A shelter as we know it, sounds like the answer and to so many, that is the solution to the problem. People will say, I am contributing to a shelter so I am doing a good thing and their meaning is terrific. Unfortunately, a roof and food are not much further than where the marginalized person was before they came to the shelter.

These poor souls are usually able to find shelter in an old car, abounded building, some form of tent or homemade shelter be it cardboard and plastic and as for food, the dumpsters provide castoffs that are often clean, packaged and free for the taking.

Many, live in subsidized housings and are no longer considered homeless. Some of those places are hardly places we would consider spending our life in.

I know of several who have died and it was not for the lack of food or shelter.

If people are to move up and out of their low place, they need much more, or in a way, less. How costly is love or caring ?

Many of the “down” people I have met are willing to do a little to earn their way. Little chores which could eventually turn into larger accomplishments.

What is needed is a somewhat self-supportive, 24hour center or large place where several things can come together, in a way that will allow, invite and encourage those who are down, to mingle with those who are up and eventually mimic a lifestyle conducive to what society expects.  

A center should be located in an area where the homeless and marginalized will be accepted and harassment minimalized. Of course, rules are necessary but the rules must be thought through and applied accordingly. Those wanting to stay there should understand it is there home and be asked to be involved as much or as little as can be expected. To some, making a bed may require weeks or months of talking, while others may be able to run errands with a vehicle, paint a wall, cook a meal or more.

The center would have to be segregated, between those who comply with the rules and those who are learning the value of going along with the program or not used to helping each other.

A center should have a very large outside area for games, picnics as well as various kind of construction, landscaping, large storage containers, physical activities and an open-air chapel.

We are a throwaway society so there is no better time for “One man’s junk is another’s treasure”.

Salvaged items can be repaired, used in the shelter, sold at a summer sale, sent to the scrap yard, recycled in so many ways and all while teaching the poor, what they can do with a little. Furniture and appliances are thrown out all the time in the better neighborhoods. Many of these things can be repaired and recycled.

As it is, these same homeless people are served terrific donated and prepared meals, living in some pretty nice surroundings and are seeing the kind of life they might never be able to achieve on their own. We should be showing them a life style they could eventually achieve.

Between government surplus and private donations, I doubt if any ten centers could ever run out of unprepared food. Those in need, see us driving through a fast food place, in a nice vehicle and having a sandwich thrown through the window with an oversized drink and they feel that is where they should be. They see that as up.

If the same poor souls had the chance to help preparing a good meal, using up some of the unprepared free donations they might just see things a little different.

This is not for general discussion. As far as I know, most people are quite satisfied and in fact proud of what they have now in the way of shelters. I have talked with a few and head shaking is about all I have got back. As I said in the beginning, it is a big issue and so many are content to contribute to something being satisfied with their action, and walking away. I never want to damage that.

Thank you for your time,

WJR III October 6/2019