Case Vignette #1: Daniel's Story
Whom we serve often want to tell us their life-story and share who they were before they crossed our paths requiring a Hand Up. And during our brief encounters they often produce momentos & photos that chronicle their life. They just want to let us know who they are and how they came to be now. Here you will see a few stories of some individuals we have served that we shall never forget.
Case Vignette #1: Daniel's Story
The ninety degree Alabama heat was unforgiving as Daniel pulled the heavily packed wagon up Main Street. He had cut right up the middle of downtown Enterprise. He had decided, and rightly so, staying off the bypass was the safest route for he and his traveling companion, a docile, pure bred pit bull. The dog was riding under a canopy Daniel had lovingly made for her to protect her from the heat and sun. When I saw him I knew I had to stop. (Jenny Jones and I happened to be chatting on the phone). Slowly I pulled up behind him, then slowly to his side, opened my passenger side window and motioned for him to come over. I asked if he was hungry, needed water or perhaps I could make a phone call on his behalf. Initially Daniel politely declined. Seeing the empty gallon milk jug I knew water would be a welcomed offering. I pressed about getting him water. He then reconsidered. “Food would be nice, Daniel finally admitted but there’s no one to call for me”. I told him my friend Jenny would come find him and I’d be back quickly. He said he would keep walking to Lowes - there was a small line of trees there that offered some shade. As I started to pull away I wondered if he would actually wait. Assuming he would not - I hesitated and I decided to inquire where he had come from and where he was heading.
Daniel's answer was pure and simple: from there to here and wherever the wind brings me next”.
Jenny was there chatting with him when I returned with the food. Not expecting the invite, Daniel asked if we would join him while he ate. He explained that eating by yourself is so lonely…he would enjoy the companionship. So right there Jenny laid out some towels and Daniel laid out his food. There was held an impromptu picnic on the strip of narrow grass on the fringes of Lowe's parking lot between the access road and the “for sale” trailers. And what an enjoyable visit it was! For the next hour he enjoyed our company and we his. We learned about his life. Daniel had walked as far north as Indiana and as far south to Florida. His feet had taken measured steps to New York City and then up the coast and back through Georgia. He never hitchhiked. It was because of the dog. As he ate he shared pieces of the hot chicken with the dog. The chicken was so hot as he tore pieces off the bone he carefully blew on each piece before he fed his dog. You could tell he cared for her very much. Oddly, he had named her, MAMA HAIRY KITTY KITTY DOG DOG. Somehow the name fit. (He had even taught her how to drink from the jug of water they both shared).
We learned Daniel’s grandfather had been an evangelical preacher in Lake Wales Florida. That bit of information peeked my interest. My maternal family are all from Auburndale. It is a small town the size of Lake Wales and also located in central Polk County Florida. For a moment I wondered if somehow his family and mine had ever crossed paths.
It was obvious Daniel had been very fond of his grandfather. And according to him, as his mother's father was taking his last breathes he was still preaching from his bed. It was clear Daniel had inherited the old man’s gift of gab. As Daniel became more comfortable with us his shyness dwindled. Slowly a humorous personality emerged and he began sharing the personal details of his life. It was apparent he had not spoken of them before. Nostalgia overcame him. (And you know neither Jenny or I were not hesitant to ask follow- up questions. Once Daniel had had a career. He had been a mason for thirty years. Tragically both of his siblings died in separate accidents. Then shortly after, his parents died together in a motorcycle accident. With no parents, siblings, wife, children or responsibilities, he abandoned Morrisville, Indiana and began walking south. It was not as if he had a map or an itinerary.
Behind his sparkling eyes and toothless smile was a man of staunch faith. Daniel felt the sky was his roof and the ground the floor of his home. It was God’s gift to him and to all of us. He said that the outlaw, Doc Holiday was his hero. Much like his father, an outlaw motorcyclist who drank heavily and was a mean drunk. Because of this Daniel had never drank, used drugs or smoked. “Those people who beg for money, they’re not homeless, they use the money to buy drugs and alcohol”. We asked him what he thought about transitional housing and the comfort stations HAND UP wants to sponsor. He liked the idea of the comfort station. Not so much housing. He liked the freedom of travel. Having the comfort station would be nice. A place to sit, cool down and have water.
Most interesting is Daniel pointedly said he wanted HIS story to be told. (And so I am telling it.) He feels strongly that we need to protect our children’s assets and save resources for them. That money was being spent by politicians that should be invested in our children. For a man with no more than a ninth grade education I suggested that he was well read. “No, he said, it just makes sense. Put all the criminals on an island and let then fend for themselves. Stop spending money on them to make them comfortable”. (Sure makes sense to me.)
Daniel proudly showed us how he had retrofitted the wagon to give MamaHairyKittyKittyDogDog shade. He also had made booties for her to protect her feet from hot asphalt. Every item on his wagon was important to him. Even the empty milk jug had a purpose. The jug, he explained, was his shower. He was courteous and genuine in his approach to the environment. The willingness to share the little he had was humanity at its finest. Daniel enjoyed the riches of happiness so many of us never find.
Our lunch was coming to an end and he asked Jenny which direction brought him where. He dismissed going towards east to Dothan. Either heading west on 84 or north on 167 intrigued him. Jenny suggested that 167 would be interesting – to Ozark and then Troy. Daniel agreed. Provided with some clean clothes and some comfort items we said our final goodbyes. Clothing now packed, MamaHairyKittyKittyDogDog riding shot gun, Daniel began walking north on 167. Suddenly a slight gust of wind blew the empty milk jug off his wagon and sent it rolling back towards 84 west. Daniel did a 360 and followed his airborne jug that kept rolling toward 84 west. Finally reaching the stalled milk jug he retrieved it – glanced back at 167 and continued walking where the wind had taken him.
Jenny and I shall never forget him.