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Thank You! God Bless You!

By LeRoy Chatfield

At the age of 82-years, I do not expect to have any more once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Think about it.

In my 82 years I have had some once-in-a-life time experiences – a handful, dozens,  hundreds?  – I can’t say for sure,  but now at such an advanced age why should I even expect  one more? 

Well, I suppose dying  could be one more.  True enough, that would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience but because I expect to die,  I do not count it as one.  When I write “once-in-a-lifetime experience” I mean there is no reason to expect it to happen.  Why would you?  You are walking along, minding your own business, not getting in anyone’s way, doing only what you have done many thousands of times before – I mean you are just passing the time,  living out your life of old age.

True enough,  an elderly person could plan ahead to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience – something like a bungee jump, or parachuting out of a plane, or even taking a trip to outer space but I have to say again,  I am not talking about that kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience either.  I am talking about something that happens to you out of the blue! There is no rhyme or reason for it to happen.  You did not plan or expect it, You were just living your old age and boom! It happened! Just like that! You know for a fact right then and there!  this was a once-in-a- lifetime experience!  It will never happen again! In fact, you come to  cherish it because it is so unique and so unexpected.  It  will never happen again!

On Christmas Day 2016, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

The family had gathered together in Oceanside CA for a Christmas week family reunion in celebration our 50th Wedding Anniversary – 1966 to 2016.  5 daughters, 5 sons-in-law, 10 grandchildren and the old folks –  and no family drama present.

The weather on Christmas Day was cold with  wind gusts of up to 20 miles an hour but I was determined to get out of the resort and take my daily walk – 5 miles today! I said.  I put on my fleece coat from Costco, wrapped my 5 foot scarf tight around my neck, jammed my Australian Outback hat down on my head to eye level, grabbed hold of my 6 foot  bamboo walking stick and took off by myself walking south along the ocean front with the wind whipping up my backside. At 2 miles by my estimation, I turned left, crossed the rail tracks up to the main street, Oceanside Ave, and turned left again to make my return to the harbor area. Now the wind was right in my face tearing me up and trying to whip the hat off my head and send it sailing god knows where. I put my head down and trudged forward.

Orange juice, I thought.  I need to find a place to buy a bottle of not-from-concentrate orange juice so I can have a glass when I get back to the condo. Two blocks down on the opposite side of the street,  I spotted a Circle K convenience store– you rarely see them anymore. What are the chances, I wondered? . Lucky day! They had one 12- oz bottle of Simply Orange left, the same kind I buy at home.  I paid the clerk, she handed me the bottle. I’m walking I said, do you have a plastic bag I could  carry it in? She hesitated, I don’t know,  I’ll see if I can find one. She looked under the counter area for a bit and found a grocery store-size plain plastic bag and gave it to me.

Off I went, straight into the wind on my way to the harbor. As I crossed the bridge over the San Luis River, the wind almost took my hat off but I grabbed it just in time, and held it tight.  Years ago, I bought  the hat in Santa Fe for $50 and have since  received many compliments about its look, especially from grocery store clerks.  A Smart and Final cashier once offered to buy it right off my head, right then and there. I just love that hat, she said.   I declined but that didn’t stop her: OK, promise me you  will sell to me when you are finished with it. I promised. 

Finally, I arrived at the harbor parking lot, just a quarter mile from our condo. I was dragging now –  tired, cold, wind-swept  and my pace had slowed  to a trudge but soon I would be home.  Suddenly a car stopped,  perhaps 10 yards or so away in the next aisle. The rear window rolled down and I saw a young Latino boy, probably 9 or 10 years old , stick his body half-way  out the window and begin waving at me. He was smiling and enthusiastically waving at me.  I looked at him smiling and waving, smiling and waving – he was motioning me to come over to the car.  I took a few steps and saw he was waving money and yelling at me to come over! What on earth? I walked up to the car window, he handed me a $5 dollar bill. Merry Christmas! he said. His father in the driver’s seat leaned back and with a big smile on his face  shouted: have  a Merry Christmas! and a Happy New Year!

I smiled, took the money, and shouted above the wind: Thank You! God Bless You! They smiled, waved, and sped off as fast as they had come.

Stunned! I realized what had just happened. This father was driving his young son around on Christmas Day to find homeless people to whom he could give money and no doubt teach him how important it was to be kind to those who were down on their luck and had no place to live. Hey Dad!  See that old homeless guy walking over there all bundled up, he has a stick and is carrying a plastic bag, let’s give him some money!

Walking across the harbor bridge to my condo in the resort on the other side, I thought about what had just happened.   Did I do the right thing? Under the circumstances what else should I have done? Short change the father’s Christmas lesson plan? They were both so pleased with what they had accomplished, who am I to contradict – no! no!, you don’t understand! You made a mistake! I am not homeless!

I looked at the beat-up $5 bill.  Now what?  You don’t belong to me, you belong to a homeless person . . . and then I thought about Charlie!  This Christmas donation for a homeless person belongs to Charlie! 

The day after we returned to Sacramento I drove over to the side of the Dollar Tree Store where Charlie spends his days in great animation  talking for hours  with people who are not visibly present and when he needs to take a break from the conversation  looks off into space for hours on end, sitting as still as a stone statue. Charlie was not as his usual post but I knew where to look for him – yes, there he was, sitting on the asphalt curb of the parking lot behind the Lutheran  Church.

Charlie, I said, a friend of mine asked me to give this to you and I said I would. I handed him the $5 bill. He nodded to me, reached out his hand is if  he had been expecting it and then flashed a big smile showing only a couple of teeth left in his mouth and said: thank you! You are welcome!

82-years old with a once-in- a- lifetime experience on Christmas Day, no less,  what’s next?





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