The drive from St. Simons Island in Georgia to Richmond was a rough one last week. The SUV I had picked up had 99,000 miles on it, and it had been badly abused. The oil hadn’t been changed in the last 12,000 miles, and the tires looked balled on the side edges. It had been ridden hard and put away wet.
My phone calls from the road made me discover that I would not be able to deliver the vehicle to the Auto Auction until Monday, January 2. They had already closed down for the New Year’s weekend, so I would be stuck for 3 days in Richmond. Yet this could be good news for me, as I still had not visited my old girlfriend Karen since she had moved to Richmond and opened her new Café there a few months ago. I kept on calling her cell phone, but every time it sent me directly to her voicemail.On Friday night, I stretched out in the back of the SUV and slept. I hadn’t been earning too much lately, so I decided to avoid paying for a motel room. I was afraid they might be full or priced at premium rates for the holiday season. But when I woke up Saturday, I was so stiff and cold that I felt I must get a motel room that night. I got onto the internet and looked up the name of Karen’s Café, and got driving directions there. I went there and found a sign in the window “Closed for the Holidays. Come back soon!” My heart sank. This would have been the first time I saw Karen without her old girlfriend Cheryl in the picture, and I thought I might even get a New Year’s kiss.
I found an old classic movie theater and spent the afternoon there. I just love old theaters. Afterwards, I went and found a motel room for $69. Once I was checked into Room 232, I went to a small local Diner just across the street. I ordered and ate, and then found myself deep in thought about 2011. There are always ups and downs on my job, but this year there had seemed to be more speed bumps in the road than usual. I had been robbed twice, chased by an angry driver on the Interstate highway, gotten into two accidents that sent me to the hospital, and a bad stomach disorder. Plus I had been cheated out of money by two bosses at my company. Then I thought about my friends Tom and Jenny, and the extreme generosity they showed to those three little girls they took into their home.
Just then, a small boy in dirty ragged clothes stepped up to my table and stared at me. He had a strong odor about him, but he was looking at me with a big smile on his face. I looked around the Diner to see if I could identify who he was with. With no warning, the boy threw his arms around my neck and gave me a quick hug. “You really look like you could use a hug.” I looked around more frantically now, because in this day and age you don’t want to have a strange kid touch you. It can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. “Mister, can I have your rolls?”
I looked at the basket of dinner rolls on the table. “Sure, help yourself.” The boy grabbed them up and ran out the door. I put plenty of cash down on the table to cover my bill, and hurried out to see where this little urchin was going. I stepped out the door and saw him disappear behind the Diner. I followed and found myself in an alley. I saw him 30 yards ahead, cutting between two buildings. My curiosity was stronger than my good common sense, and I went to see what he was up to.
When I stepped between the buildings, I was in a very tight space. There were several large boxes attached together, and a man jumped out with rage in his eyes. “What do you want, Mister! This is our home, you are invading our home! You are trespassing!”
“Whoa, whoa, hey I don’t mean any harm,” I said.
“Well what the hell do you want then? Trouble?”
“No sir, no trouble.”
The boy came out behind the man, and I pointed to him. “The boy came to my table at the Diner and gave me a hug, then took my rolls.”
The man turned angrily towards the boy. “Is this true? Did you steal his food?”
“No,” I explained, “It was fine for him to take the rolls. I told him he could. I was just worried about him hugging a stranger.”
A pale looking woman with stringy hair came out and stood next to the boy. “Hank is just that way, he loves people and likes to give hugs.”
The man shook his head. “It’s gonna get him into trouble someday.” He looked down at the boy. “Hank, you are only ten years old, there are bad people who will try to hurt you.”
I stuck out my hand in an offer of friendship. “Howdy, I’m Bill Thomas.”
The man stared at my hand, then offered his own to shake. “I’m Daniel White. My wife Emma, and my son Hank. I lost my job, and before long lost my car and my house.”
“I can relate.”
“Really? Can you?”
“Well, I don’t own a home or a car. I do have a job, but it requires me to drive all over the USA, and I rely on friend’s couches to sleep on at night.”
“Must be nice,” Daniel grumbled.
“Be polite, Daniel,” said Emma. “You can’t blame this man for what he has. God has blessed us and protected us. And Hank just brought home some supper.” Emma looked at me. “Bill, please forgive my husband. Sometimes he forgets to be thankful for the blessings we have each day.”
“Nice meeting y’all. Happy New Year,” I offered.
“Yeah, right,” muttered Daniel as he went back into his home made of boxes.
Emma shook her head. “Don’t pay attention to him, Bill. The holidays have been hard on us. You have a real nice New Years.”
Hank ran up and squeezed my hand. “Thanks for the supper, Mr. Bill.”
“No problem, Hank.” I went back to my motel room and took a long shower. It was 8pm, but I went ahead and got into bed. I turned on the TV, pretty much determined that I’d be asleep long before the ball dropped in Times Square. The TV just became white noise to me, because all I could think about was Daniel and his family. They were dirty and hungry, and it was going to be a very cold night. Not my problem, I can’t save the world. In fact, I often feel like I am barely surviving myself. And then I see Daniel’s family, and realize that I have it a lot better off than many people. I’ve certainly been blessed. I got out of bed and started going through my duffel bag and backpack. Digging around, I found all kinds of snacks that I’ve stored but never got around to eating. Cheese crackers, donuts, cookies, and all kinds of stuff. I decided to run over to the Mini-mart I had seen down the street for more supplies.
A half hour later, I was walking back down the alley. “Daniel?” I called. “It’s me, Bill Thomas.”
Emma stepped out. “Daniel is asleep, what can we do for you?”
I held out the key to my room. “Room 232 at the Red Roof Inn. It’s yours for the night. Two queen size beds, hot water for long showers that will warm you up on a cold night.”
“We can’t possibly accept.”
“Where I come from, you can’t turn it down, it'd be an insult to turn down a holiday gift. God wants me to do this for you. I also left a bunch of snack foods up there. Its not much, but…” I stopped because Emma was crying. “Please don’t cry.”
“Bill… you don’t know how much this means to my family.”
Daniel and Hank came out of the boxes. “Why are you giving us a room for the night? What’s your angle?”
“No angle. Just some brotherly love.” I tossed the key, and Daniel caught it.
I turned and walked away. “Hey!” barked Daniel. I stopped and turned around. “Thanks, Bill. Happy New Year to you.”
“Happy New Year to you.”
Hank came running up to me and grabbed me around the waist. He hugged me tightly. “God bless you, Mr. Bill.”
“Thanks, Hank. I needed a hug.” I went to the SUV and climbed in the back. I slept very well that night, dreaming positive thoughts for 2012 just ahead.