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James R. Stout

A Different World

            It was in the spring of 1946. My Dad was footloose and had three weeks to kill before his new job began. He was only 23-years-old, yet he had already seen service in the U.S. Marines during WW2, and it was a time when boys were men by that age. A friend of his was going out to live with his sister in California and work on the ranch that she and her husband owned. He asked Dad if he would like to go and Dad said he was up for an adventure. When the time came for them to leave in his friend’s 1941 Ford a third person was added to the entourage. A mutual friend had been invited to come out and stay with an aunt and uncle for a while and help with their dry goods store while his uncle recovered from a broken leg. Now, I could go into all the events that they encountered on that road trip and perhaps I will in a later post, but for now I wanted to tell you about Dad’s trip back home.

            Dad had stayed a couple of days at the friend’s sister’s ranch and then it was time for him to get back to Houston to start that new job. Dad didn’t have much money at the time and the cost of a train ticket or bus ticket was out of the question. But it was a different world then. Dad had his clothes and other possibles in his old Marine duffel bag. He started walking. He had decided he would get from Northern California to Houston, Texas by way of his thumb. It wasn’t uncommon at the time and safety just wasn’t a concern. Like I said, it was a different world.

            Dad hadn’t gotten more than a couple of miles down the road when a brand new 1946 Plymouth Business Coupe slowed down and the driver, a man in his 40’s, asked Dad if he wanted a ride. Dad was more than happy to take him up on the offer. As they drove down the highway introductions were made, and general conversation ensued. The owner of the car explained that he was a sales representative for the Chrysler Corporation, and he was on his way to Atlanta, Georgia to introduce the upcoming models to dealers at a regional convention. By this time, Dad had explained that he was on his way to Houston.

            When they stopped for lunch at a roadside café the gentleman made a proposal to Dad. He said that if Dad would help with the driving, then he could get Dad to Dallas. It was going to take about 3 days of driving to get there. This was a time when the speed limit was 45-55 mph and cars mostly didn’t have the ability to go the speeds of today’s cars. Dad agreed and thought to himself “how lucky can you get?”. So, for the next three days they drove. Dad talked about some of the sights that they saw on the way. They drove through Arizona and he saw the Saguaro cactus that seemed to go on forever to the south of the highway. He said that they took a highway in Northern West Texas that partly followed the old Butterfield Stagecoach route. They stopped once to check out the ruins of an old stagecoach station.

            By the time they got to Dallas, Dad was about out of money. He knew he didn’t have enough for a bus ticket to Houston. He would have to thumb his way down Old 75 that final 300 miles. As they got into Dallas the businessman pulled over to the side of the road.

            “Jack”, he said. “I really appreciate you helping with the driving and being such a good traveling companion. I’m sorry that I can’t get you all the way to Houston, but I have to be in Atlanta in two days. But I want to help you out.”

            “Well, I sure appreciate you getting me this far.” Dad replied.

            “Here’s what I’m going to do for you, son. I’m going to take you to the Greyhound Bus Station. I’ll buy you a ticket to Houston and to help you along the way, here’s $20 for food and such.” He said as he handed Dad a $20-dollar bill.

            Dad didn’t know what to say. He started to say no out of pride, but what the man said next changed his mind.

           “I lost my son two years ago and he’s buried over in France. He was killed in the Normandy Invasion. You remind me of my boy and if you’ll let me do this for you, then it sure would make me feel good.”

           Dad shook the man’s hand and agreed to accept the kind gift. They got to the Greyhound station and Dad went in with the man to get the ticket. A few minutes later Dad stood outside the station entrance with his duffel bag in hand and waved goodbye to a man that he would never see again. A man who had lost his son in the war but had a chance to enjoy a few days with his son vicariously through someone who reminded him that son.

           Dad was back in Houston the next day and would start his new job two days later. It was indeed a different world then. Dad didn’t recall the man’s name when he related this story to me decades later. But he certainly remembered the man and the moment in time when he was young, and America was kinder gentler place to live.

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