Orphan Survival Stories Index |
RIGHT AND WRONG
I cannot count the times I ran away from the Children's Home Orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida. I know it had to be in the hundreds.
I was 11 years old in 1957. I remember feeling very alone as I walked along Park Avenue. I was hungry, cold and had nowhere to go.
"Hey, boy," yelled a heavyset man standing in the doorway of a machine shop.
"Yes, sir," I said.
"You want to make a couple of dollars?"
"I would like you to go down to the liquor store at the end of the block and get me a pint of whiskey. Can you do that for me?" he asked.
"I can do that for $2."
He walked back into the shop, took $20 out of the cash register and handed it to me. I stood looking at the large bill, as I had never held that much money before. That was all the money in the world as far as I was concerned.
I turned and started walking down the block to find the liquor store. As I looked back, I saw the man disappear out of the doorway. When I turned the corner, I started to run as fast as I could. In those few moments, I had decided to keep the $20 to feed myself. I did not intend to bring it back to him.
Within a few minutes, I was blocks away. I sat down on the city bus bench gasping for air. Sitting there, I looked at both sides of the $20.
"This will feed me for a long, long time. Maybe even buy me a place to live," I thought.
All of a sudden, a very strange feeling started to come over me. Even to this day, I am not sure what that feeling was. All I knew for sure was what I was doing would be hurting that man. I sat there for several minutes trying to make that feeling go away, but it would not.
Then I got up off the bench and started running back toward the small shop. When I reached the liquor store, I went inside and purchased a pint of whiskey. I put all the money in the paper sack with the bottle and returned to the machine shop.
"I was wondering why it took you so long," said the man as I walked in.
He took the money and the small bottle out of the brown paper sack and handed me $2. Looking down at the ground, I thanked him. He patted me on the shoulder and I walked out of his shop.
As I walked along Park Avenue, that same feeling came over me once again. It just would not go away. I turned around and walked back to the machine shop. Walking up to the man, I held out the $2 he had given me.
"I was going to take your whole $20 and was not going to come back," I confessed.
"But you did come back. That is what is important."
"But I still have that bad feeling," I said.
The man reached out, took the $20 from my hand and stuck it in his front pocket.
"I'm going to show you how to get rid of that feeling.”
All day long, I worked cleaning up his shop. Many times, I cut myself and my hands bled from the metal shavings I picked up off the floor. By the end of the day, I had numerous bandages from the tips of my fingers to my elbows. I watched him make hundreds of metal parts; pieces used in the space program for rockets. At 7 p.m., he called me into his little office.
"Let's see now. You have worked 10 hours. I will pay you $2.12 an hour for 10 hours work. That comes to $21.20."
I held out my hand as he counted the money. "Am I still a stealer?" I asked.
"NO! You are not a stealer, boy. Not by a long shot."
After leaving the machine shop, I stopped every block or so to see if that bad feeling would come back, but it never did!
Over the next 15 years, I have returned now and then to have lunch with Mr. Lewis in his little run down machine shop. I am so thankful that I met someone along the way; someone who took the time to teach me there was a right way and a wrong way to make $20.00.