“Please, Ma’am. Take this seat.”
The old man stood up from a cast iron bench he was seated on and gestured for me to sit down.
At first I was startled. I had been Doing haircuts all day and just barely had the time to step outside for a cigarette before the evening rush.
He was balancing himself on a shopping cart now. His clothing was tattered, and dirty. His face told a sad story of where he had been. He looked up at me through cloudy eyes and smiled.
“Please, sweetheart. Be my guest, I’m all done here.” He said with a raspy voice.
It was mid December and 30 degrees outside. I shoved my face a bit further into the scarf around my neck and reluctantly sat down. The old man gave a satisfied look and started to walk away pushing his shopping cart.
“Wait!” I said, “aren’t you cold? It is freezing outside!”
The old man looked back at me curiously. “We’ll, sure I am sweetheart.” He laughed “But, I’m pretty used to it by now.” Then he winked at me and turned around. I ran inside and grabbed a jacket that was hanging in the break room of the salon. A Client had left it months before, and certainly wouldn’t miss it. I returned to the courtyard just in time to catch him.
“Wait!” I said again, the old man turned and looked a bit disappointed when he saw the blue coat draped over my arm.
“One of my clients forgot this a long time ago, if you don’t take it we will probably throw it away anyway.” I said, but before I could finish the old man was shaking his head in disapproval. He smiled at me and pressed his lips together.
“That’s okay dear, better not.” He said, still smiling humorously at my charity.
“Okay. Well, what about a haircut? I would love to cut your hair if you want, no charge. It will just give me something to do.”
-“Thanks. But, no thanks, doll. I kinda like it like this. Makes me feel adventurous.” He laughed light-heartedly. “Better get going.” He jokingly “I have a meeting with the President!” He took a bow and picked up a soda can from the ground. Then stuffed it into one of the trash bags in his shopping cart, and then he was gone.
I wasn’t really sure what had just happened. This man was certainly homeless, but wouldn’t take a single thing. It was nearly Christmas, and the thought of this sweet man spending his Christmas under a bridge, or in a shelter was too much.
I put it out of my mind.
A few weeks later I had a client come in who works for the Salvation Army. He just wanted a quick trim but I remembered the old man, and took a chance.
I told him of my encounter, described the old man and immediately my client began to know who I was talking about.
“I tried to offer him a coat, and he declined. I even offered him a free haircut, he wouldn’t take any help at all.” I said.
What was said next would change my life forever. You see, so many times we are quick to judge our fellow man. We see someone on a street corner begging for cash and in our minds we think why would I give you money? You will just buy booze with it. We never really use our imagination, what if that man or woman is an angel?
The man I met on that cold December day was an angel.
“Oh yea, John!” My client said exited, he turned to me with a look of admiration. “John has had a very hard life. lost his wife and daughter in a car wreck 8 years ago. A homeless man pulled his kid from the car, but it was too late. He kind of went off the deep end after that.”
By this time, I was almost in tears. My heart hurt for this sweet man I had known for less than 5 minutes.
“John, he don’t take hand outs from nobody. He collects cans and does what he can to save money.”
“We’ll, I don’t understand.” I said confused. “If he’s able to save money, why doesn’t he have a coat?”
“I think a better question would be, why doesn’t he have a home?” My client smiled up at me but continued talking. “See, John has saved enough money over the years to buy several houses if he wanted to.”
I saw John again a few times, walking around town, pushing that metal shopping card with the wiggly wheels. Every time I seen him, I broke down into tears. Because I remembered the last words my client said about John, the homeless man from Denton, Texas.
“John takes every penny of his money, and he donates it to the Salvation Army.