… which touched my heart
by Jeff Salter
This week at 4F1H, we’re winging it. Iris began on Monday talking about the weather and happened to mention having conversations with strangers. Jillian picked up a snip of that on Tuesday and wrote about a colleague who told her a beautiful and touching story. On Wednesday, Micki highlighted the gift of gab and engaging strangers. So I guess I’m picking up a snip from everybody’s posts so far this week.
But this was neither a stranger nor a colleague. This was an older man I saw nearly every morning at a diner across the street from where I worked for many years in Shreveport LA. Back then, about 2005, I knew only his first name … but now I can’t even recall that much. He and several other men (of varied ages) all ate breakfast together at about the same time every weekday … and always sat at a table in the back. Every morning, I sat in a booth nearby. We all knew each other’s first names because, when your order was ready, the cook would call you over to get it.
Joe the Greek
Let’s say his name was Joe. All I knew about him was that Joe was Greek (because he frequently mentioned it) and he worked in some capacity related to sales of restaurant or grocery supplies. Also that he was widely-known, well-liked, affable, and almost always upbeat. We all greeted each other – by first names – every morning … and sometimes exchanged other brief snips of conversation, typically quite superficial.
One day, it happened that the other guys cleared out and only Joe and I remained in that section of the diner — me at my booth and him at their regular table, some dozen feet away. I can’t recall if I stopped at his table or he stopped at my booth, but somehow we started talking. Actually conversing, as opposed to the comparatively superficial greetings or remarks which had characterized nearly all of our exchanges — before that morning … or since.
What Joe Told Me
I can’t remember what got him on this subject – indeed, he didn’t know either (as he acknowledged after it was over) – but he started talking about his childhood … which I believe was in the Shreveport area. It must have been shortly after World War II; he and his six brothers were orphaned in Greece and someone (presumably a relative) brought them all to America. I gathered things were already pretty meager in that family, so imagine suddenly having seven more hungry, growing boys to feed! In the context of this story, I believe Joe was about 11 … in other words, still a boy.
Joe began talking about a certain teacher of his who had taken an interest in him. Evidently, she had noticed that Joe’s clothes were threadbare and one day she took him “downtown” – I don’t recall where – and bought Joe two complete sets of clothes, a pair of shoes, and (I believe) a hat or cap.
He was saying how much he appreciated Miss [ _____ ] and that she’d cared enough about him to share her own meager budget to buy him presentable clothing … when Joe began crying softly. “I don’t know why I just thought of that,” said Joe, “Miss [ ____ ] has been gone for [many] years.”
I no longer remember any of my responses but I suppose I commented about how kind that teacher was and how she must have seen something special in Joe to have made such an investment.
After a while, Joe composed himself and said, “I don’t know why I told you that, Jeff.” [Remember, in those several years of greeting each other at the breakfast diner, this was probably the first time it was just the two of us … and therefore likely our first occasion to actually converse.]
Joe went on to say that he’d had an opportunity years afterward, to ask Miss [ ____ ] if she remembered that experience. She’d remembered clearly. And Joe had a chance, again, to tell her how much he appreciated what she’d done.
Well, that morning, Joe and I parted company. He went on his route (or whatever he did) and I walked across the street to my office in the library.
What I Told the Technician
That same day, it happened I had one of several MRIs scheduled, ordered by my new rheumatologist. As I recall, this particular one was either on my hands or feet, checking on the extent of my arthritis. That detail is only important so you understand that I had time to converse with the MRI technician … and I didn’t have to keep my mouth shut. Ha.
Well I told him that I’d heard a very meaningful story that morning and asked if I could share it with him. He said “sure” — and so I related everything that Joe had recounted about the day his teacher bought him – a poor orphan from Greece – two sets of clothes. Probably so Joe could feel a bit more confident at school. [Back in those post-war days, I can imagine Joe still had an accent and may have not yet mastered English.]
When I finished relating Joe’s story to the MRI technician, he seemed nearly as moved by it as I had been [of course, he didn’t see Joe’s tears]. I said, “I’m not quite sure why I told you that, except that it was fresh on my mind … and it seemed very special.”
The tech replied, “Does it mean so much to you because you’re a teacher too?”
“No,” I answered, “I’m not a teacher. But I’ve had many wonderful teachers over the years. And I don’t doubt some of them might have done the very same thing for me had I needed it.”
Great Stories Should Live Forever
MRIs are slow procedures: time-consuming to set up and calibrate, and lengthy to conduct. I suppose MRI Techs hear a lot of dreary chatter over the course of their daily procedures. But of all the stories that Tech has heard, I want to believe he went home that night and told his wife about the librarian with arthritis who told him about Joe the Greek orphan, whose teacher bought him two sets of clothes.
And if he did tell Joe’s story to someone, I hope that person told somebody else.
Looking back on it, I figure there must have been a special reason that Joe told me his story. Maybe because I needed to hear it. And maybe because I needed to relate it to somebody else. Perhaps that MRI Tech needed to hear it … or possibly the person he told it to.
I had forgotten Joe’s touching story until I read Jillian’s column on Tuesday. And stories like Joe’s are ones which should not be forgotten.
I hope some of YOU will tell Joe’s story to somebody else. Or at least send them a link to this blog.