Monday, November 3, 2014

A GARBAGE MAN'S GIFT



The smile on his handsome, cleanly shaved young face would have made a smiling Tom Cruise look dour. The young man in his early twenties, young enough to be my son, was wearing military gear and a mile wide grin.

His olive tee shirt was neatly tucked into army fatigues. Both items looked fresh and wrinkle free.  A sailor cap sat at a rakish angle and its stark white matched his spotless white sneakers.  The mixed service attire made me unsure if he were a veteran or just an Army Surplus shopper. He was not a new sight. He was one of our town's homeless.

I had seen him before in the city park across from my office as he picked up aluminum cans left there from a previous night of teenage fun. The smile was always present as was his fresh pressed appearance. He seemed to be over flowing with boundless energy and good will. My whole office noticed him each morning and envied, not his station in life, but how he was handling it.

Once my elderly little VW bug stalled right in the middle of the street close to the office. He spotted my problem and ran across the park to help me push it to the side of the road. He jiggled a wire or two, thumped the carburetor, smacked the starter and got me running again. I offered him money but he refused and just wished for me to have a great day. With a smile and a wave, he was gone. 

Then he was gone. I kind of missed his cheerful morning sprints through the park and thought he had moved on till one day we met again while I was working. This was during my meter reading days and I was working an affluent neighbor hood. 

I really did not like this route.  It was clean with no dogs but the yards were huge and the lawns were thick cut and spongy. The soft grass really worked our calves and was as much fun as loose sand to walk on. Progress was labored and slow.

It seemed the rich found electric meters offensive so they did their best to hide them behind large prickly shrubs or fenced off behind high, solid board fencing.

Their electric service was underground so there was no tell tale power line drop to let us know where the meters were. If it were your first time on the route, often you had to circle the large houses more than once looking for the well hidden meters. It was my first time and I hoped, the last. 

It was quite early in the route and I was feeling a bit grumpy about my day when I heard the garbage truck rumbling behind me. That same young man was hanging on the back of the truck and periodically jumped off to fetch and empty the garbage cans. I was pleased to see he was OK. 

The well-to-do seemed equally eager to hide the fact they stooped to having garbage as they were about using electricity. The garbage cans were hidden in fenced areas, sometimes in the same place as our meters, and often quite a way from the road side.

At most of the homes, the man had to walk up long drives, carry the full cans to the truck, empty them and return them to the hiding places. It seems only a few cans had wheels as the owners never had to move them. I am assuming these folks paid more for this special service. I know in less affluent areas that if the cans weren't roadside, they remained full. 
The young man did not walk however but bound off the truck and jogged cheerfully up and down the driveways with his ever present smile and flashing white sneakers.  I could not help but smile back as we passed on one of the driveways.

We stopped to talk for a second as he remembered my car troubles.  Now as some of you know, I am generally a glass half full person and am often annoyingly cheerful or can at least laugh about my circumstances.  But I do have my downer days and this was one of them.

I was about to make a snarky comment about how difficult these people were making our jobs when he said, "Isn't this just the best day ever?  The sky is a brilliant blue, the air crisp (rare in Florida) and look how the sun makes the dew sparkle on the grass."  So I looked. 

That same dew I had just been mentally moaning about making my feet wet suddenly took on a new light. I was now walking on jewelry instead of slopping through thick, wet grass. Slowly, my grumpy attitude changed, reaching up to join his happier one. I couldn't help it. His joy in life was infectious. 

We chatted a bit and discovered we were following the same basic route that day. Then he said with a grin as he dared me, "Bet I can beat you back to the entrance."

"You're on."  I said and suddenly the day became one of challenge and play, not work. 

We raced-- him down the long drives and me thorough spongy lawns.  We grinned as we passed each other and were watchful of the others progress. Oddly I felt full of energy and delight. The long difficult route became a fun, competitive one as I jogged from house to house.

Sometimes I was ahead and but most often he was which gave me incentive to pick up my pace. Luckily I didn't have to carry two garbage cans at a time for each trip or he would have destroyed me. Age and gender do count.   Around noon he beat me to the last house but not by much. 

I had finished that part of my route way ahead of schedule and surprisingly, with all that running, I wasn't tired at all but invigorated. 

We congratulated each other on a race well run and I thanked him for making my day so much fun. We both said we would love to do it again but that was the last I saw of him.  

I have no idea what happened to that young man but I hope--no I know--with that attitude, he continued through life surrounded by joy and peace. He was as successful in his way as Bill Gates could ever be.  Pretty sure he left behind a trail of people like me with an increased appreciation for day to day chores.

Was that a big thing in relation to world peace or amazing inventions? For Patti's small world, yes it was, for it has lasted for almost 40 years. 

Should we all be like him?  I doubt it, for sadly there is also a definite need for the driven and intense. No, not all should be like that delightful young man but we could use a bunch more to give our attitudes a boost. Only the determined, dark side inhabitants could avoid being positively effected by him.  

I would have been smart to have remembered his attitude a few posts ago when I contemplated becoming a buzzard. I still am unable to apply his approach to the big stuff but it works wonderfully on the daily drudgeries and for remembering to not look, but to see.

Being aware of the positives of a job and not dwelling on the negatives was his gift. It even works for vacuuming---well most of the time.

Yesterday morning as Callie and I stepped  out onto the morning dew, I again thought of him. Live long and prosper my friend, it has been many years but I still remember you, am grateful, and wish you only the best.

Were you ever fortunate enough to meet such a person? Maybe it was even my guy that I somehow suspect traveled a lot. I'm thinking he was kind of the Johnny Appleseed of good cheer.  Perhaps it was someone like him who opened wide your dusty appreciation vaults?  I hope you were as lucky as I was.

27 comments :

  1. Oh Patti, this is such a wonderful story, and a gift for my Monday morning, too. You wrote it just right, and yes, I am hoping that the young man (who is probably not young any more) found all he desired in life. He certainly made a difference in the lives of at least two people, you and me. And yes, there have been a few like that in my life; you have brought the memories to life again. :-)

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  2. you always have the best stories to tell. you also have the attitude about life in general.......xoxo Oma Linda

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  3. Make that 3 people!
    A great story! I certainly hope his life continued to be "successful". I have found that "success" means something different for each of us. Thanks for this peek into a successful life.

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  4. I am feeling quite bad as I think about cursing the heavy dew when I stepped out this morning. It was a great story and I wondered if the young man kept himself so well groomed or if he had a significant other.

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  5. Terrific story well told. Made me smile. Now cut it out, I'm supposed to be cranky!

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  6. Such a great story. Just 4-days ago, I decided I need to get back into my glass half full mindset. It is a roller coaster of ups and downs to maintain it.

    Back in my restaurant days, I waited on a lady that practically lit up the place with her "glow". I don't remember what she said but just being near her felt like a privilege. I have met few people with that type of aura.

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  7. What a lovely memory to cheer those ugh! days.

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  8. I found myself wishing that the young man would find your blog today and read this.

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  9. Not only is this a delightful story, it is marvelously well written. Hats off to Patti.
    At first I thought I only met grouchy people but this is not so. Dale who works on the lawnmovers at the R& R pump place is always up-beat as he does, what I think, is a tedious job.

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  10. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful story. Both you and the young man in the story are special people.

    I needed to read this today. I was having a pity party, this story made me realize I am blessed.

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  11. What a neat post, Patti. Amazing how someone's positive attitude toward life can make a difference in someone else's life... Love it!!!! I have a friend in Texas who always smiles and is always looking at the bright side of life even through physical problems with her legs/feet... She just has a way of making people around her smile!!!!

    Hope that young man went on to have a wonderful life and I hope he influenced many other people like you, along his way...

    Hugs,
    Betsy

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  12. Such a great story, Patti! Makes me wish we could all find the people who made a difference in our lives and thank them… all these years later.

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  13. I 'm on the lookout for people like this - there are probably more than we realize. Surely the optimists rule the world, they just aren't newspeople or politicians. Good one Patti - it left me smiling and remembering.

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  14. I worked for a time with a young man like this and it was a joy. Wish there were more like them.

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  15. Djan,
    Thank you so much and I am so glad you also have had such delightful people in your life. They do leave a mark don't they?

    Linda W,
    Thank you for thinking so and any I have absorbed, I owe to the people like him who crossed my path.

    turquoisemoon,
    I hope so also but am pretty sure his life remained a winner with maybe a bit more comfort.

    Grannie Annie,
    I don't believe he did. A friend I knew was a worker at the shelter he was using and at that time, he was alone. I am pretty sure he is not alone today and hope he found a like soul. If not, pretty sure he changed her for the better.

    joeh,
    Aw thanks Cranky and I'm so glad he made you smile. I would never tell anyone but I really think you are not nearly the purely cranky sort you claim to be. I sense a rather soft center past that crusty exterior.

    Sue,
    You nailed it. I too felt like it was a "privilege" to have had him in my life ever so briefly. They do stand out don't they? Hope what ever spilled out of your glass is soon replaced.

    smartcat,
    Yes it is. I haven't complained about dew on the grass since and there is always an up side to even the crappiest chore.

    Inger,
    I am sure he knows how he affected all the people he has met but yes, I wouldn't mind him knowing how his joy of life has traveled with me all these years.

    Manzi,
    Thank you so much, so glad you enjoyed his story. Isn't it just refreshing to meet someone like Dale has a solid and happy center? They give us a boost without trying.

    Miss Dazey,
    I am so glad the timing was good for you and you reached that wonderful realization. I attend those parties also on occasion but the food is awful and the company no fun.

    Betsy,
    I am so glad you have someone like that in your life. Someone who doesn't count the miseries but the blessings. You are a positive person also and I am sure others feel that way about you.

    robin,
    Thank you and too bad we don't realize it at the time to let them know but there is no way of telling when an encounter will stay with us. By the time we do, they are usually long gone. Hum, I have someone like that in my life right now--think I will give them a call.

    Barb
    You are right, they rarely get the proper press nor do they seek it. Guess it is up to us to make sure they are noticed. Glad I could bring a smile and jog a memory.

    Olga,
    They just make the day brighter don't they. Lucky for both of us to have had that experience.
    Don't suppose he was the same guy? Naw---unless he wore really white sneakers?

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  16. Great story, Patti. It sounds like he was an unusual and rare being---I wish there were more people like him...That just by being who he was---he could change your day! I hope he is still around and still is giving off such positive vibes! We sure do need more of him in this world, don't we?

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  17. Oh, sweet Patti I enjoyed reading this so much! As you know I have not only met someone much like this young man but was blessed to have him live with me for a time. I know another man much like these two that I don't see often but he always has positive things to say and never without a smile. We have a mutual friend who keeps me up on this man. After hearing this story I will most likely think of you and that young man every time I walk on wet grass. Hugs for you sweet friend and nose kisses for the fur babes.

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  18. I can't recall the last time I enjoyed a post this much. Absolutely wonderful, both in content and artistry.

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  19. What a super story and a wonderful memory! It's been a very long time since I have known anyone with that kind of spark and happy attitude. People think happiness is an easy attitude, but it's not. I'm glad you think of him from time to time- you are lucky to have someone like that in your past.

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  20. I have met a few people with some of those joy of life qualities but the one that shaped my life was my mom who found the bright side in spite of severe asthma.

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  21. Naomi,
    Thank you and yes, that is my hope also. Can you imagine him in health care? What a blessing he would be.

    Maggie,
    When I read your post I knew we have met similar fellows and lucky you got to keep him in your life for much longer. We were both lucky.

    Stephen,
    WOW, that is one amazing compliment and critique. Thank you so much.

    Terri,
    You are right. For most of us it is a conscious choice. For him, it was as natural as breathing.

    TB,
    When people like your Mom or that homeless man maintain positive,cheerful attitudes when all is not going well, you know they are blessed and so far ahead of the rest of us.

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  22. A wonderful tale, and a wonderful young man. Do you know his name or what became of him? Either way he is cherished in memory...

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  23. Dear Arkansas Patti, I do know someone whose attitude toward life always lifts my spirits. She was the dear friend of my cousin who died in 2011 from the complications of diabetes. Afterward, she and I became friends. She's 65 and I'm thirteen years older and so she's always happy to drive me to doctor appointments and to see the good in whatever we hear in the doctor's office. She helps me keep my life in perspective and is a great blessing in my life. Aren't we blessed/fortunate/lucky to have met such people--you the young man who embraced life with his smile and attitude and I who met a woman of great generosity and common sense, who is always centered. Peace.

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  24. There are so many wonderful people in the world :)

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  25. Sounds like a really cool guy. Yes there was a lady in our local supermarket that was always so cheerful and just embraced life. I only talked with her once, but her perky, warm manner will always stay with me.

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  26. Brighid,
    I never got his name, we just started talking like old friends. I am sure he is a success somewhere in his way.

    Dee,
    Isn't it always impressive when we find people with what appears little to be happy about, still are. They are ahead of us all.

    Keith,
    Thankfully yes.

    Joey,
    Those people in our lives that leave such a mark are blessings. With little effort, they manage to stay with us.

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  27. This is such an exquisite story, Patti. It's a lesson I need to remember. Have I met anyone like this young man? Yes, I guess I have and I have been so grateful for them.

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