Last night between midnight and 1am, I could not sleep. I decided to get up out of bed, get dressed and drive around to check on our families vacant lots and rental properties around Brownsville Olmito and Rancho Viejo. I usually do this 3 to 4 times a week. Tonight, was different… for it was well after midnight, a little cold, very windy and beginning to rain. Nonetheless I decided to head out. For some reason, I chose to take my recently deceased fathers GMC pickup truck out for the night drive. On the visor of his truck (as well as all of my other vehicles) I keep a laminated copy of his photograph that is embedded onto one of the many laminated prayer cards given to us by the funeral home. I pulled it off the visor and looked at it as I started up his pickup. I said “Hi Dad, I’m taking your truck out for a drive tonight, I really mis you….
I just love my dad’s truck… When I get in it, it smells like him, it feels like him and all of his old tools and some of his personal items are still kept there just like he left them.
As I’m driving around, I decided to stop at one of our vacant properties where I spotted some recently dumped trash that’s someone decided to dispose of. As I begin to pick it up, I noticed a man wearing dirty, wet ragged clothes, slowly walking down the sidewalk across the street from me with a noticeable limp. It was very dark, very windy, fairly cold with with a light rain and extremely quiet… other than the sound of the blowing wind. I continued to pickup the trash pitching it into the bed of my dads pickup, not noticing that the man had decided to cross the street and walk towards me. From a safe distance he calls out to me and asks if he could come closer… I said yes, come close, ….he then asked if I needed help picking up the trash. I had a bright flashlight in my hand and I was shinning it in his direction as he spoke. His face was bearded and wrinkled and his eyes looked dry and tired. I told him that it wasn’t much trash and that I would be done soon. He replied, “in spanish”, sorry I don’t need or want anything from you sir I just wanted to help you. So I asked him for name and he said “Oscar”…. then I asked him where he lived, he replied he was homeless and occasionally slept outside a church a few miles away. He went on to tell me that he slept behind the cement statue of the Virgin Mary on the grounds of a local Catholic church that I will not name…. This, he said, was where he felt safe at night.
As he helped me pick up the trash he reaches into his pocket and offers me one of four or five broken, stale looking cookies he had in small wrinkled plastic bag. I thanked him and noticed that the small plastic bag had rosary prayer beads wrapped around it.
Five or ten minutes later we finished piching the last bit of rubbish into my dad’s truck and I said thank you, as he began to walk away. I hopped in my truck, and as I sat there watching him walk away I realized that I had not so much as bothered to ask him if he was thirsty or hungry. I pulled up to him as he walked down the street and ask him to stop and approach the truck. He very politely said; yes sir how can I help you? I asked are you hungry? He said yes sir, very much!… I then said look, hop in the truck and I’ll find someplace to get some food. He then walks back towards the bed of the truck and hops in the back! WTH! So I pulled off onto the sidewalk jumped out and asked him “what are you doing? ” I told you to get in my truck”… He then apologizes and says sir, I have been walking all day today from a place well outside of Brownsville, where I was taken to work clearing brush and was left there with no food or water by the person who was going to pay me to clean his property. I was there for 3 days and I am very dirty, I don’t think I smell very good, I feel embarrassed and I don’t want to dirty your nice new truck…
I don’t know exactly why, but I just felt angry when he said that… it just really bothered me. So I said to him listen, get yourself out of that truck bed and get into my truck, its raining. As he hopped in and shut the door he once again apologized for his smell. I firmly told him that there was no good reason to be apologizing to me and told him he should never ever feel embarrassed about his outer appearance especially if that outer appearance and smell was caused by hard work!
As we drove off, he ask me to turn on the interior dome lights of my truck because for some reason he felt it necessary to prove to me that he had in fact been working…he proceeded to open his closed fists exposing his hands… they were dirty, raw, dry, bloodied and heavily, heavily calloused. He said he’d been left working for 3 days for a man who was supposed to return to feed him and bring him water and blankets at an uninhabited ranch outside of Olmito. He had nothing but a machete to clear this sorry and ungrateful persons property, who by the way never returned, never brought him supplies, and never paid him. Oscar decided to leave AFTER he finished the job!
I drove to the nearest Whataburger drive-thru and ask him what he would like to order. He looked at me, reaches into his pocket and pulls out 16 cents along with a second set of rosary beads. He says; I can’t order much because this is all I have….. Huh! I was Dumbfounded at his response… I silently thought to myself did he actually think I was going to make him pay for his meal?… I smiled and I stuck my head out the window and asked for a giant double meat, double cheese all the way whatasized super mega magnum combo with extra everything on it and an extra large Coke.
As they handed me his order I begin to pull away from the drive-thru window, he politely and excitedly asks me if he could please start eating in my truck before I dropped him off because he was very very hungry. Of course I said yes.
So he didn’t have to fumble around with his food as I drove, I decided to park in the Whataburger parking lot and let him eat comfortably. (by the way, I offered him the option to sit inside the restaurant and eat to which he politely declined because once again, he felt he was too dirty and smelly).
As hungry and anxious as he was to start eating, he takes the unopened packaged food and raises it up with both hands almost touching the trucks visor, he then closes his eyes and begins to pray and thank God (and me) for the food he was about to eat. He quickly opens the bag pulls out the burger and turns to me and asks me for a knife! So I opened my dad’s glove box and pulled out a small plastic knife. This man precedes to cut the hamburger in half… and just as I begin to think that he was a bit of a finicky eater, he turns and hands me half of his hamburger!
I just smiled at him and said thank you sir but I’ve already had supper… You eat it….
Well, I have never seen a man gobble down food as fast as he did… He must have taken 5 or 6 bytes and that double meat double cheese extra everything burger and jumbo fries were gone! He moaned with pleasure with every chew….I offered him a second burger to which he politely declined. As he finished up and was packing all the little trash tidbits into the bag, he asked my name and said he was going to now include me in his nightly prayers behind the statute where he slept. He then complimented me on my beautiful brand-new pickup truck. I begin to tell him about my father and mother and explained to him that the truck belonged to them.
I asked him where he was from and he replied that he was from a small community several miles outside of Matamoros Mexico. And he was here working at anything he could get to send money back to his ailing father across the border. As the conversation went on he commented; sir you must have some wonderful parents… and of course I agreed… I decided at that moment to pull out that laminated prayer card given to our family by the funeral home, and show to him.
It was then that the biggest surprise of my night was about to happen…
I hand him the prayer card with my father’s picture and obituary. And he sat there staring at it for 20/30 seconds squinting his eyes and moving it back and forth. I asked him if he needed glasses and he said yes, so I handed him mine and when he takes a second look, he quickly puts one of his hands over his nose and mouth… closes his eyes, begins to pray and begins to cry while making the sign of the cross on his chest. Well by this time I realized that he was a religious man, he seemed to be a good man, he seemed to be a humble man, and he was certainly an honest man…. I say that because earlier I purposely left two $5 bills, on the floorboard of the pickup truck right where he could see them (I planned on giving them to him anyways) while I went into the Whataburger restaurant to use the men’s room. When I came back he handed me the two $5 bills and said sir I think you dropped these….
Well, back too him praying and crying holding my fathers prayer card… I gave him a minute and asked him if he was okay, he said yes, I asked him why he was crying and to my HUGE surprise , he looks at me and says, Sir I know this man, I said who do you know? He said this man in this picture …your father….. I’ve met both your mother and father. What I asked? how do you know them? He says aren’t they the ones that own a pharmacy and Clinic with a doctor?…. And he names the doctor! I said yes, that’s correct for over 25 years my parents owned Price Village Pharmacy on Price Road …he said yes I know, I didn’t realize he had passed away….your parents are such good people. He proceeds to tell me that approximately 10 years before, his little girl had died…. he said she was born in Mexico with a degenerative disease and was also severely deformed at birth and required much medication that he could not only NOT afford, but was also not available in Mexico. He told me he desperately swam across the river to find work and to find this much needed medication for his little girl . He said sir, your mother and father both gave my then wife and I the medication we so desperately needed for my dying baby girl. We never forgot their extraordinary kindness and generosity, my now deceased wife and I always talked about how we were going repay them somehow, someday. And I cry because I now realize I can no longer re-pay him because your father has passed away…..
I explained to him that if my father were still alive he would not accept payment for what he did for him because my father and mother both are of the belief that when you TRULY, truly give… you are not to expect anything in return. And besides I told him, as far as I’m concerned…. you have already paid… tonight you helped me pick up someone else’s trash off of my father & mothers property…