This year for Christmas Linda, Peyton and I drove to Birmingham Alabama from Big Creek to spend two nights with Bric and his family. The little grandboys were so cute and we all had a picture perfect Christmas, including likely the cutest puppy you have ever seen in your life. She is an eight week old blue merle great Dane, soft as velvet with an amazing personality and one crystal blue eye, named Flower. Bric prepared sushi the first night we arrived and it was excellent. All the food in fact was fantastic, Bric has become a first rate cook. Janette is so sweet to us when we are there and so patient, considering that we are the "in-laws." She is a perfect match for Bric and I think he is perfect for her also. If only Peyton could find the perfect girl and who knows maybe he has or he will. Time will tell. There is real comfort for a parent knowing that someone loves and values their child as much as they do.
My story however does not really include Bric, Janette and the grandboys. It is very short, to the point and it concerns our trip back to Georgia. We left the morning of the 27th and had an uneventful trip. When we were near the Six Flags exit we stopped for gasoline. Peyton went into the station for a potty break and I started to pump the gas into the car. As I stood there holding on to the nozzle feeling the chilly gasoline race through the metal into the tank of the car I noticed a dark figure coming towards me across the parking lot. Never would I claim to be psychic in any way but I have for the entirety of my life had certain feelings about things that are about to happen and on occasion, they do happen the way I thought they would. Usually I ignore the feelings because right or wrong they do not amount to anything. A man in jeans and dark jacket walked obliquely towards me. As he drew closer I could hear him mumbling. From what I could understand he was having a conversation with himself and I did my best not to pay any attention to him. After a few seconds it became apparent that he was speaking to me in a rather low nonstop diatribe and said, "I am fifty years old and today is my birthday." He muttered speaking so fast I could almost not understand him. "All I want is one decent meal! I have four dollars in my pocket; all I need is five bucks and I can pay for my lunch at the "All You Can Eat Buffet" across the street!" he exclaimed. "I done been cussed out twice today and I ain't done nothing but ask for a dollar; if you got one mister I sure would appreciate is if you could help me out." The man continued rattling on at forty miles an hour, repeating himself talking so fast that I had to cup my hand around my ear to understand him. The wind was really blowing hard and it made understanding him very difficult, especially since he would not look directly at me and tended to speak down into his jacket. Once I lived in a really bad section of Atlanta in a low rent apartment and became slightly acquainted with a "junkie" or at least that's what another resident told me he was. He acted exactly like this stranger standing off to my side, hyper, shifting his feet, eyes darting around and rapidly talking. I was pretty wary as there was no one around that side of the station but me; Linda was in the car reading, I assumed. After a minute or two I had decided to give the man a few dollars but knew I had three twenties and a single one dollar bill. The twenties I was not willing to give him and the one dollar, even though that was all he was asking for seemed a little paltry.
The tank of the car was almost filled and I could hear the tight swirling sound of the gasoline in the neck of the gas tank becoming more constricted and racing faster. I thought as wound up as the man was he probably would misunderstand if I turned and walked into the station for change and who knew, maybe he would walk away, thinking I might complain to the management inside. He was clearly a desperate man in a desperate situation. In my life I have rarely been truly hungry but do remember what it felt like. I pushed the nozzle back into the slot where it came from and pulled the receipt out of the dispenser. The man took another step towards me. As I turned to the car I noticed that Linda had her arm sticking out of the window and between her fingers she held a ten dollar bill. Taking the bill from her hand I turned and walked towards the man. He at first started to back away. "I didn't ask for no ten," he exclaimed! "I just wanted a one, that's all I need! I can give you change if you want mister." I tried to speak in a calming voice and said, "Please, let me do this. It would be my pleasure to buy your lunch.” The man acted as though he might cry. I assured him that it would make me and my wife very happy if we could buy him a nice lunch the day after Christmas. He went on and on thanking me, seemingly on the verge of tears. "Thank you mister, thank you so much and God bless you and your family and Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you," the man insisted as he hurriedly left stepping between the speeding cars headed towards the “All You Can Eat Buffet” across the four lane highway.
Peyton came back and got into the car as the wind whipped around the two of us. He asked, "What was that all about?" I got into the warm car where Linda sat with a curious smile on her face. It occurred to me at that point how we had grown old together and had at long last, such similar minds .
We arrived back home at Big Creek after picking the dogs up at the kennel. Thoughts of the homeless man stayed with me and I wondered if he had indeed eaten his fill at the buffet down at the Six Flags exit. I don't really care what he did with the money but my encounter with him made me look at my lot in life and be a little more grateful with what I have and overlook the things I do not have. Sure, we have our share of problems and more will likely come our way. One thing I am hopeful about is that if there is any such thing as karma, perhaps one day after Christmas if I find myself standing by the roadside on a cold and windy day, homeless and hungry, maybe just maybe a stranger (who seems to have so much) will give me that desperately needed ten dollar bill and I too can have a meal at the "All You Can Eat Buffet."