He was a good man. He worked construction. He was tall, bone-skinny, had cropped silver hair. He kept spare cigarettes behind his ear—I’ll never forget that.
I didn’t know him long, and there’s a lot I don’t know about him. But I can tell you the things I know.
I met him when I was a young man. He owned a truck camper—sometimes he lived in it. He rooted for Alabama football. He had false teeth, though he never admitted it.
He smoked like a paper mill.
The first day I worked with him, my truck was blocking the driveway of a construction site. He needed to unload a trailer.
“Hey man,” he said, “Gimme your keys, I’ll move your truck for you.”
I tossed him my keyring. He was gone a long time. I never thought twice about it.
That night, I drove home and noticed my gas tank was full.
My gas tank was never full.
Something else I remember: once, on a lunch-break, we stopped at a Tom Thumb. There was a man, sitting on a bench. He had reddish-tan skin, a long beard, and a backpack. He held a cardboard sign.
“Where you headed?” asked my friend.
“My daughter’s in Miami,” he said. “I don’t have money for a bus ticket.”
The next morning my pal wasn’t at work. People asked where he was.
He called in at lunchtime.
“Tell everyone I’m sorry,” said my friend. “I got nine hours of driving left. I’m on my way back from Miami.”
Once, in the dead of summer, July I think it was, we stood in line at a fast-food joint. A Mexican woman and her child waited ahead of us.
My pal made conversation in Spanish. I had no idea what he was saying. The only word I recognized was “air conditioner.”
In a few minutes, my friend was beneath a rusty car hood repairing a busted coolant hose. A woman stood beside him, child on her hip.
After a few hours, and one trip to the hardware store, the woman had ice-cold air blowing through her vents.
You’ve never seen a happier mama.
I ran into a mutual friend yesterday. I haven’t seen the man in years. I asked where my old friend had gone.
“He was taking care of his elderly uncle in South Texas. You mean you haven’t heard?”
No, I haven’t.
He had a heart attack. I understand it was a poorly attended service.
So I’ve been thinking about him a lot. Only, I’m not thinking about him at all. I’m thinking about all the waitresses he over-tipped, the batteries he jump-started, air conditioners he fixed.
And the gas tanks he filled for teenage boys who had shallow pockets. I think about him because I wish I were more like him.
Long ago, I once asked my friend why he helped so many folks.
“Well,” he said. “Ain’t never thought about it. Guess making people feel good makes me feel good.”
Writing this felt pretty good, too, Roger.
I want to thank you for the gas.