I saw the guy walking along the sidewalk, back straight, firm step, but still a little out of place because no one in Houston walks unless they have to, and no one has to unless they don’t have a car, and no one lacks a car unless they are having difficulties.
So I slowed. “Where you going?”
I was met by bright eyes, an intelligent face, and an honest voice. “VA. Got some business at the clinic. Yourself?”
“We’re kinda here. Rode from LA and came to visit my dad.”
“Right on. I’m from Ventura.”
“Yeah. My dad lives in Chico, in fact.”
“What branch of the service were you in?”
“Navy. I was a seabee.”
“My dad was in the Navy, too. Served on the USS Thomaston, landing ship dock.”
“Right on. My dad was in the navy as well, grandfather was a submariner.”
“You had breakfast?”
“You good for cash?”
“I’m broke, man.”
I handed him ten and he took it matter-of-factly. “That is damn good of you.”
“It doesn’t come from me exactly.”
“I actually got into the Navy because somebody did me a favor once.”
“What was that?”
“My cousins were growers up in Humboldt County and I had gone up there to make a delivery for them. I got pulled over with 30 pounds of weed in the trunk of my car. I was 17.”
“That’s not good.”
“No, not back then it wasn’t. But you know what the judge did? Since I had a clean record and my 18th birthday was the next week he let me choose between juvy jail until I turned 21 or register with the selective service and enlist in the military.”
“Yes, indeed. You have a merry Christmas now and thank you.”
We rode on and about a mile later came to an intersection where a woman was standing next to her bike with a cardboard sign that said “Anything Helps, evicted, God bless.”
We waved her over and gave her ten. “Thank you! Oh, those are pretty bikes! I love to ride my bike!” She thumbed over at her steed.
It was biting weather because a cold front had blown in the night before but she was cheery and unfazed, the wind whistling through her thin cotton hoodie. “People are so kind to me!” she said. “The people who threw us out weren’t, though.” She laughed and ran back over to her street corner.
A few blocks up there was a man with a sign that said “Senior in need.” He was in his late 60s. I gave him ten, and he said this when I wished him a good day: “My day IS blessed because of YOU.”
We had left Sealy at 6:10 in the pitch black with a howling northwest wind at our side all the way to Houston. It never warmed up. Our hands and feet? Frozen solid. Even the bright sun on a clear morning shone cold.
But when that guy with a cardboard sign said he was blessed because of me, well, I can’t explain it, but those words warmed me up from the heart out. And I am lying here, warm still.