I was accosted last week by a man wearing a long woolen coat, his face mostly concealed by a hood drawn tightly. Standing in the middle of a 7-11 parking lot on the “wrong” side of Abilene, Texas, I must admit that for a split second (that felt much, much longer) I was terrified by the bump obviously designed to make me drop the wallet I carried loosely in one hand.
Of course, the wanna be thief had no way of knowing that Rickey and Fredda Jones have built a life around the old proverb: “A fool and his money are soon parted.” That wallet was not going down without a fight!
And then, the hood slipped a tiny bit, and I saw the young face glaring at me. Suddenly, as if I had simply stepped from the classroom and into the halls of CHS, the scared Fredda evaporated, and I could actually feel the transformation as “Mrs. Jones” emerged, “You little expletive,” I thought to myself as I rolled off of the coat and made my way toward the store. “I’ve scared the literal hell out of hundreds of young punks who were bigger and tougher than you’re ever going to be.”
Now, if you know me, you know that a cup of coffee is often the mainstay of my diet, and by the time I had fussed over my cup, trying the various flavors until I found the hottest brew, I had actually forgotten parking lot incident…until I started out the door, that is. Sure enough, standing in front of my vehicle was “my” young man.
Not quite sure how to handle the situation, I started back into the store, started to tell the clerk, but by her actions and speech, she seemed not too far removed from the parking lot scene herself. The only other person in the store was the man who was regaling the clerk with stories of how poorly his son was doing in school, how upset his mom was over that fact, and how no matter what woman he moved in with, the outcome was always the same.
It seemed that I was the only adult in the house, and I was just going to have to handle my own problem so back out I went into the below 30 degree temp.
“It’s awfully cold to be standing out in this weather,” I said as I made my way around him and began to unlock the door.
“You got a couple dollars to spare,” the gruff voice came out of the hood.
I continued opening my door, putting my coffee in its holder in order to buy a bit of time to decide exactly what I was going to say. Of course, I could have simply hopped inside and sped off, but that didn’t seem exactly the thing to do at that point.
With a five dollar bill in my hand, I turned back to him. “What are you going to do with this five dollars that I’m going to give you?”
“I’m gonna buy some food.”
“Well, we’re at a store. You want me to go inside and buy you something right here?”
“Naw, I’m gonna go down to a BBQ restaurant and get me something to eat.”
“You’re a liar.”
For the first time the bravado slipped a bit as I continued.
“Let’s just cut to the chase. You and I know exactly where this bill is going, just like we both know why you’re standing out in this parking lot shaking and sniffing while your eyes water. Since I’m the only honest one here, I’m going to tell you that I don’t know if I should give you money or not, but I’m going to because the Bible says give when asked. Plus, I just received a phone call today from someone I love very much who has now been clean for 72 days…for the first time since he was years younger than you. If he can do it, you can do it.”
As I handed him the bill, I went on, “And now, it is you who will be judged as to how you spend this money that I worked very hard for so that I could hand it out to you. How old are you anyway?”
“Twenty-three,” he said, looking at me with slightly more respect in his eyes.
“Are you lying to me? You look younger.”
“No ma’am [now here was an improvement], I’m not lying. I’m twenty-three.”
“Then why don’t you have a job. You’re young, healthy, and extremely good looking. Why are you standing in a parking lot in freezing weather begging from old ladies like me. You do understand that you are a beggar right? So tell me, why don’t you have a job?”
Either the hood was messing with his hearing, or he didn’t have an answer just yet.
“A job. You know…it’s spelled J.O.B. It’s that thing that people do all of their lives so they don’t have to be a beggar like you. Or is it just easier to beg than it is to work?”
“Yes, ma’am, it’s easier; it’s a lot easier. People want you to slave for money,” he spit out. I’m not gonna be a slave for no one!” he said passionately, the word slave literally spewn from his mouth.”
“Well then, I guess you can enjoy the money that I slaved for and just so you know, when I was your age, I had been slaving for several years already. I’m 60 years old, and I still seem to be slaving, as you call it. Now, I have to go, but I want you to think about what I’ve said. I’m hoping that when you’re 60, I don’t pull in here and see that you’re still a beggar.”
We both smiled at the same time, and I thought to myself, “I could have liked this kid.”
As I pulled away, I waved, holding up my wallet for him to see as I pointed at it. I wanted the little expletive to understand that I had won the battle. Yes, he had my five, but I had everything else. “My” young man had the good grace to look a little sheepish as he smiled big and waved, and I was left to think….
“Had he been blessed with any kind of parents at all, that young man could have been anything he wanted to be in life. As it is, what he will be is dead in the next ten years, if not from his cocaine addiction, from everything else that goes along with it…that is if he’s not in prison first.” Suddenly, I shuddered, thinking of the atrocities behind prison bars that await a cute, young kid like him.
And then the tears came as I drove away. I started to turn around a hundred times, but what good would it have done? I don’t live in Abilene; I can’t bring an addict home to live with us. All I can do is pray for my would be thief who obviously affected my life way more than I did his.
Why, why, WHY don’t parents “raise” their babies? And no, this wasn’t a case of a great family with a big problem. This one was obvious…from the things I chose not to print here. Should you choose to pray for the Abilene boy, God will know exactly to whom you refer.