Prichard, Alabama—I’m pumping gas. This is a bad part of town. The kind of place you see on the evening news, where they string yellow tape on people’s porches.
Here, locals often speak to news cameras, saying: “He seemed like such a nice man, pumping gas, minding his business, then WHAM!”
I should’ve waited to buy gas somewhere else.
I see a man pushing a shopping cart full of tin cans. After him: two women in leopard-print Spandex, probably on their way to Bible study.
When I pay at the pump, I hear a voice. It’s a man. He makes a beeline for me, hollering, “Hey boss!” He’s old, wearing a backpack and an Army ball-cap. His eyes are bloodshot.
He says, “Help a veteran out, man. I’m a veteran. I swear. You wanna see my veteran card?”
I shake his hand and introduce myself. He misunderstands me when I tell him my name and calls me “John.”
This man’s breath is strong enough to kill mosquitoes.
I reach for my wallet. All I have is a ten and a Target gift card. I hand them over.
It’s not much, but he thanks me and says, “John, I’m gonna use this to buy food, John, I promise.”
I wish he’d quit calling me that.
Anyway, modern wisdom says it’s unwise to give money to men like this. And maybe that’s true. But, I come from a long line of men who do stupid things with cash.
My great grandaddy, for instance, was a card-playing gambler and a whiskey sipper.
My father was frivolous in a different way. Once, I rode to Franklin with Daddy. He picked up a hitchhiker. We rode some two hundred miles while that young man talked Daddy’s ear off. He was filthy, and smelled like a substance commonly found in cattle pastures.
My daddy just listened.
We pulled into a truck stop. Daddy bought him lunch, then gave the kid the contents of his wallet.
The boy started crying. He hugged Daddy and said, “God bless you, sir. I’m gonna use this for food. I swear.”
“Don’t care how you spend it,” said Daddy. “Long as you buy American.”
A patriot, my father.
I asked Daddy why he gave money away like that.
“I didn’t GIVE nothing,” he said. “I BOUGHT something. That kid God-blessed me. You realize how much God-bless-yous are worth these days?”
I guess I’m still learning.
Anyway, my homeless veteran doesn’t hug me. No magic. No light from heaven.
But I do get a salute. He says, “God bless you, John.”
Then he rides away.
And just before I write this, I say a prayer for a stranger—who could be a veteran—who mistakenly calls me John.
Which as it happens, was my father’s name.
God bless you, sir.
Josh - February 16, 2017 2:11 pm
Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return… – Luke 6:35
There’s an old pastor here in Monroe County, Alabama that everyone knows. The faded Press-Register box at the end of his driveway is know as the Community Bank because of the years of plain, white envelopes being left for someone in need. He speaks often of giving without expecting to receive anything; be a blessing while not wanting a blessing of your own or pat on the back or repayment of any sort.
Aimie Whiddon - February 16, 2017 2:14 pm
I love your emails! Your honest, blunt, and I love your stories! Thank you, for brightening my day. As any good southern woman would say…. God bless you.
Linda - February 16, 2017 2:14 pm
God bless you Sean! I feel blessed to read your words everyday.
Karen Erwin-Brown - February 16, 2017 3:25 pm
Tears again. I have two fresh boxes of kleenex. Gotta buy some stock in them if I keep reading your words.
Kim Pearson - February 16, 2017 4:17 pm
Sean, you must be the most kind hearted man on the planet…or at least in south Alabama/nw Florida.
DrotunNandry - February 16, 2017 4:29 pm
Please send me $500.00 for a cup of coffee (I swear). Thank you and God bless you, Sean.
Carol DeLater - February 16, 2017 5:52 pm
That’s what I like about visiting here. You get a great story…a lesson learned. And even if the comment is telling you how foolish you are for believing a panhandler, it’s done nicely. Yup, there ARE skeptics, but I would rather walk away with a happy heart and the hope that I did a good deed than walk away for someone who is truly in need…because no matter how they use what I give…they ARE in need of something and maybe I put them in a better place.
Keep it up, friend. You always put Me in a good place.
Cherryl Shiver - February 17, 2017 12:31 pm
God Bless You,….with real feelings from the deepest part of my heart. People are short on handing them out here lately,…makes me realize I need to do lots more of it, with sharing and caring feelings, I have so much to be Blessed for. Goodness knows He has watched over and Blessed me more than what I am worth, again I say, you can’t beat having a praying Momma.
Sherry Williams - February 17, 2017 1:13 pm
This post put chills on my neck….I think your daddy’s spirit and the spirit of his hitchhiker all came together to bless you that day. What a blessing your writings are to me. SOOO glad I found your posts! Have a most wonderful day!
Ronda - March 10, 2017 7:02 pm
I Love you John of , I mean Sean of the South!!. Truly enjoy reading your wonderful heartwarming stories. They help me believe in people. Thank you
Charaleen Wright - April 5, 2019 4:06 am