Orphan Survival Stories Index |
THE MOST HONEST MAN I EVER KNEW
Thinking back upon my younger days as a child in the orphanage, then later on to my teenage reform school days, a few jail days, and finally my adult days in prison; I have met many men, both good and bad. But of all those men, there is only one who really impressed me.
I met him one Wednesday afternoon when a strange woman came to the Duval County Juvenile Shelter and took me, a runaway boy from the Children's Home Society Orphanage, to their house for Thanksgiving Dinner. I didn't really want to go with her, but the Judge with the big head made me go anyway.
People who lived in regular houses were rather strange acting, and they were just too clean looking for me. I remember walking into that house and seeing an older, grey haired gentleman for the first time. He didn't say a word. He just looked at me and then walked into the dining room. Though we rarely spoke to one another, over the years I managed to get him to speak once in a while. I guess he was just a quiet type of fellow.
One time while out running the streets, I had no money, no food, and no job so I telephoned him. He immediately drove over and picked me up from a very bad part of town.
He began paying me to pick up scrap 2X4 pieces at a construction site, and I learned much more about him from the men who worked with him. At lunch we would sit on a concrete block, or a dirt pile and they would talk amongst themselves, often about him. They all thought he was the most wonderful, kind man they had ever known.
Though I continued to run the streets of Jacksonville, Florida for many years, he somehow would locate me to see if I needed anything. By the time I was sixteen, I began dropping by to visit with him. There were times I stayed with him for a few weeks, and maybe even a month from time to time.
When he was not home I answered the telephone and took messages for him. I was amazed at the amount of calls he received from people wanting him to build a Burger King, Huddle House Restaurant, Pizza Hut, or a McDonalds.
"Who really cares who builds anything?" I thought to myself as I wrote down his messages.
One day he asked me if I wanted to travel to Georgia for a few weeks, to help build a new Burger King Restaurant. Having nothing else to do except run the back streets, I agreed.
As I worked I watched him very closely. He never seemed to get upset, even when something major went wrong. He managed every aspect of the building construction, as well as the payroll. Every board, every screw, every nail, and every shingle was accounted for. Nothing was scrapped or thrown away that could be useful. I asked him one afternoon why everything was so important to him. He said that wasting materials on someone else’s dollar was the same as stealing from them.
On a Friday night we were heading back to Jacksonville for a weekend of rest. When we stopped for gas, he realized he had taken a box of nails and a hammer from the work site. We gassed up and then we got into his old truck and drove all the way back to Georgia, just to return the hammer and nails. On the way back to Jacksonville I asked him why he didn’t wait to return the hammer and nails on Monday when we returned to the job site.
He looked at me and said “If you want to be an honest person you have to work at it. Being bad is easy, but being honest is hard, and sometimes very difficult. I suppose I could have waited until Monday to return the property. However, I had to make a choice. I could be a thief for only thirty minutes or I could be a thief for the entire weekend. I chose the shortest amount of time. You have to remember Roger; it is not ‘who’ we are in this world but ‘what’ we are in this world that is important.”
It took me years to realize what he was really talking about. It wasn't about the hammer and the nails at all. It was all about ‘honesty.’ It was about being fair to others, and about what other people think of you as an individual. That each person could determine what they became based on the decisions that we ourselves made on a daily basis. I guess honesty was more important to him than taking a hammer, a nail, or an office stamp, even by accident.
I learned from him that being honest is something that requires very hard work. Honesty earns you respect. To him honesty and respect were more important than anything else.
I had always thought there were different degrees of honesty, and a person could only be as honest as the environment around them. I was an honest boy, or so I thought. I was good and I was honest, at least until I became hungry and had no money for food.
He was a man who was always neat and clean in appearance. He was always groomed to the tee, whether going to church or to work. He was not a man who was vain. He always took the time to groom himself because of his respect for others. “If others honor me by accepting me in their presence; I must always show my respect for them by being neat and clean,” he told me.
Near the end of his life I visited him at the hospital. As he lay in the hospital bed in a coma, he looked terrible. Out of respect for him, I closed my eyes as I spoke to him. I do not know if he could hear me or not. Almost in tears, I told him "he was the only man on this earth that I had allowed to have my honor. That I would give him my heart but the juvenile judge told me that I didn't have one."
When he died, I cried. It was one of the few times in my life that I have ever cried a tear for anyone.
Yes, I will forever remember the man I was honored to call my foster father. His name was George Victor Usher. He was truly the most honest man I ever met.
Roger Dean Kiser
Mr. George Victor Usher