Omir the Storyteller

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Small Act Of Kindness


Remember back with me to the 1930s . . . for all I know, Americans may soon know this time as the First Great Depression. Times were very hard, work was scarce, and many an honest man was reduced to going from door to door, looking for any work he could find to get money and food. Sometimes the money took second place.

One such man was a fellow by the name of Stan. Stan was in his mid-twenties, had been a farmhand, but when the dust storms took out the farms in Kansas and Oklahoma he was forced out onto the road like many other men. Some, like the Joads of The Grapes Of Wrath, went west to California. Stan went east, toward Georgia and the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Along the way he picked up a banjo, a few songs and stories, and a mongrel dog he called Ole Bill. But the stories behind those events will have to wait for another time.

Stan and Ole Bill made their way to the farm country of southern Pennsylvania. Along the way Stan picked peaches and apples, harvested some tobacco, and did occasional odd jobs, but for the most part they just walked, At night, if he was lucky, Stan would make it to a hobo camp where he and Ole Bill could pick up a couple of songs and share in some mulligan stew. Often, though, he wasn't so lucky, and there were many days he would sleep outside and hope it didn't rain.

He made it to Pennsylvania just in time to miss the harvest, so he went to the old standby: knocking on doors to see if anyone wanted work in exchange for food for him and Ole Bill. The first two doors he knocked on stayed closed. The third was shut in his face. The fourth added the flourish of a shotgun and a threat to shoot the two of them if the owner of the shotgun ever saw them again.

Finally, at the fifth house, owned by a Mr. Jenks, Stan found a sympathetic ear. Jenks said he didn't have any work for Stan, but he knew times were hard and besides, he'd been the recipient of some kindness when he was down on his luck. Mrs. Jenks let Stan wash the dishes after a chicken dinner, and then Stan offered to play a few tunes while Ole Bill gnawed happily on a soup bone Mrs. Jenks had found "jus' layin' around."

They bedded down around eight P.M. Jenks got a couple of blankets from a cedar chest in the bedroom and led Stan and Ole Bill to the barn. "It ain't much," he said, "but it's clean and dry. Jus' keep that dog of yours tied up -- I don't want him to get into the livestock."

"I'm not too worried about Ole Bill," Stan said. "He's been with me for almost two years and never yet left my side." Still, to be safe, they found a piece of rope and tethered Ole Bill, giving him plenty of room to walk around. Stan covered himself with the blankets and the two of them were asleep within minutes.

In the middle of the night Stan woke suddenly to the sound of a flock of chickens squawking in agitation, and Ole Bill baying and barking like he had the Devil of all racoons treed. By a few slivers of moonlight filtering into the barn he could see the rope, still attached where Jenks had tied it, but Ole Bill had slipped out of it. For a moment Stan panicked. When he picked up Ole Bill somewhere in Arkansas, the dog had almost grown into maturity; he had no idea of the dog's history. Ole Bill had never shown any inclination to do anything more than some ritual butt-sniffing before, but he had no idea what Ole Bill had subsisted on before they started traveling together.

As he threw off the blankets and started toward the noise, Stan heard Jenks yell "Stay there!" and then, as he found his way to the henhouse, he saw Jenks in a nightshirt, holding a rifle in one hand and trying to balance it while holding a lantern in the other.

By the light of the moon and the lantern the two of them could see that Old Bill had a man trapped in a corner of the fence surrounding the chicken yard. Ole Bill was barking and growling at the man, and if the man so much as tried to move, Ole Bill would growl and bark louder and force his quarry back into the corner. Stan searched frantically around the yard, but he saw no blood, no feathers, no indication that Ole Bill had done any damage to Jenks' chickens.

Jenks sat the lantern on the ground and handed the rifle to Stan. "I hope you know how to use one of these," he said. "Hold him there until I get back." About an hour later Jenks appeared with the local sheriff. With Stan's help controllling Ole Bill the sheriff took charge of the intruder, who by now was begging to be locked up -- anything to get away from that dog.

"That dog of yours is entitled to a reward," the sheriff told Stan the next morning. "The fellow he cornered's confessed to four different thefts up and down Post Hill Road. The Jenks house surely woulda been the fifth if it hadn't been for Ole Bill."

Two days later Jenks introduced Stan to a friend of his who ran a local bakery. Stan went to work for the baker and picked up a few extra dollars playing the banjo at local dances. The next summer he married a girl that lived in the house where he'd been greeted with a shotgun. Years later, when he became mayor of that same small town and was known throughout the area as the owner of Ole Bill's Bakery, he would tell people about small acts of kindness, and how you never know how they'll be repaid, or by whom, or what will eventually result from them.


At 3:43 PM, Blogger FARfetched said...

Excellent, one of your best. Fighting back tears here.

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Omir the Storyteller said...

Thank you kindly! I'm glad you liked it.

Stories like this sometimes make me tear up too. To tell you the truth it's actually a little embarassing when it's a story I wrote. :)


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