On Wednesday, I had some coffee at Shari’s while I typed up my WIP and situated myself. I was setting out my goals for the day and the rest of the second week of school. During my visit here, I saw a older gentleman in a Vietnam Veteran hat sitting in another booth and took to watching him. Most veterans notice other veterans.
He looked despondent; a sad countenance about him as he kept putting his head down on the table throughout the course of drinking his coffee. He was, quite obviously, homeless. He had rough clothes on, a scarce shave and several bags on top of a suitcase with wheels. He was a large man, standing well over 6 foot tall but he was not sitting as a big, solid man would. He seemed to have been beaten down and was visibly shrinking into his skin as I watched.
At one point, I had convinced myself that I had the extra funds to pay for his coffee. It was only right – it was the thing I needed to do on this beautiful Wednesday in my life when things were looking up and there were very few worries. When I had finally got the nerve to go up to the counter and let the waitress know what I was going to do, he had already gone. An opportunity to bless someone else as I have been repeatedly blessed was gone.
I went back to my seat and finished what I was doing. I researched a recipe a friend had posted and got ready to go home and try it. I would stop at the store for only one ingredient I was missing. My goal was to surprise my friend with making the recipe he had admired. With all my things packed up, I set out the door. I didn’t even stay long enough to eat. I only spent money on coffee while typing in my blog and looking at pictures; I figured I could eat something at home while baking this new recipe.
As I climbed into my car, I was thankful for the vehicle I was driving. It might be a family joke; working only randomly and when it wanted to. However, it was still a vehicle to take me to a warm home and back out again. I started to drive home and saw the same man on the side of a gas station. He was wandering back and forth, with no apparent goal. Pulling over, I risked life and limb and asked, “Do you need a ride?”
A little shocked, he said, “Yes. I am trying to get to the local thrift store for new jeans and then over to the truck stop.”
After only a half of a moment, I said, “I need jeans for my boys. I’ll head to the thrift store today. Let’s go.”
He paused at the back of my vehicle for a moment as I watched him walk around the vehicle. He put his stuff in the back seat and then climbed in the front. Because I am not a stupid woman, I moved my small wallet with my little bit of money in it to my door pocket and started off. He was so large in such a small space. Normally, I think of Rendy as plenty roomy enough; with this man in the passenger seat, there was no room left to breathe!
We made casual conversation on the way to the thrift store. He had seen my license plate and asked who the veteran was, me or my husband. I replied that I was and did not correct him that I was a single mother. The conversation was pleasant and he was talkative.
On arrival at the thrift store, he made mention that, “At least I have a nice vehicle.” I started laughing and said, “Oh, no. It’s not. When it runs, it is great. It just doesn’t like to run.” He got a laugh out of that and we went in; him to look for jeans and me to look for pants for my boys. Whenever he moved to another section of the store, he made sure to let me know where he was going and would be “right back.”
I found one pair of jeans that might fit my younger son but quite a few cute shirts. I took them to the register and he was right behind me – this man that was easily twice my size in height and width! He had found one pair of jeans for himself. As we walked out, Jen called me. She was done what she was doing and wondering where I was and what I was doing. I asked her to grab a couple of the dollars I had sitting at home and meet up with me at another thrift store. I told my passenger that I knew of two other thrift stores that we could stop by before taking him to the truck stop and we set off.
We found nothing of any great worth at the two thrift stores and we had Jen shadowing us as we went on our errands. He seemed to enjoy the conversation and it quickly became a warm little friendship brewing. Each of us knew this budding friendship was a blip in the radar of our daily lives but the mutual military background had taught us well: enjoy the company while it lasts.
By this point, I was starving and I suggested we head over to the truck stop and get lunch. I offered to pay for lunch and he swore that he had already eaten at Shari’s. I didn’t want to call him a liar but I had never seen the waitress bring him any food. I let it go and just said I’d pay for coffee, then.
On arrival, he excused himself (most politely) to the bathroom for quite some time. It was during this time that I asked Jen to go sneak a $20 in his bags; they were still in the back of the Rendy. She came back and said, “It was hard. He has locks on all the zippers. I squeezed it into one tiny space, though.” She then asked, “How could you know he wouldn’t hurt you when you picked him up?”
I answered frankly and without reservation, “He’s a Vietnam Veteran. He’s the craziest son of a bitch you’ll ever meet. But, he’d never hurt a woman.” I then couched that with, “Ok, well, most of them wouldn’t.” She laughed and with not another word, we ordered our food and set to filling empty bellies.
He came back and drank his coffee, politely taking the onion rings I had no room for and then the lettuce, tomato and pickles left over from the making of my sandwich. At this point, I was certain he was lying about eating at Shari’s. I wasn’t about to call him on his lies, though. It’s his business and pride, not mine.
When we were all done and about to head out, it was decided that we’d take him to the Army Surplus Store and the truck stop next to it; a good 10 miles from town or so. Wandering around the Army Surplus Store was uneventful (but fun) and we dropped him at the truck stop with a handshake and a “Good luck!”
It was an afternoon wasted, by the standards of the things I needed to get done. However, it was an afternoon that, hopefully, brought a little smile to the face of one that is being destroyed by life and all of life’s choices gone wrong. He told many stories and I’m not sure exactly how many to believe. The point is, regardless, he needed a little human courtesy and it was given to him by Jen and I for one day.
I went home, made the recipe my friend was talking about on his Facebook and Jen delivered it to his job when she dropped the boys off at church. My friend thought it was the best thing ever and thanked me repeatedly. Although that was very warming to my heart, it can’t compare to the handshake from a Veteran down on his luck and needing someone to acknowledge him. Dare I say, his back was a little straighter when he walked away from our car?
Crazy as I may be for picking up a hitchhiker, I’m glad I did it.