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James R. Stout

A Thanksgiving Story by James R. Stout

     When I was in my mid-20’s I worked for a major bus line. There were really only two such companies in America at that time. I had graduated from college 3 years earlier and my job was to travel from town to town to the major hubs and oversee marketing and advertising in the hubs. It wasn’t exactly a glamourous job and it didn’t appear to hold much in the way of a bright future, but it was a stepping stone to better things for a marketing career. The incident that I’m about to tell you happened in November of 1972. 

     I had gotten to know many of the workers at the hub in one of the largest cities in Texas. It was a time when Houston had a booming economy. People still rode the bus a lot in those days. We were a little worried about the effects of a certain airline that was flying for peanuts. They were starting to hurt our business because they were offering flights between major cities within Texas for as little as $15 one-way. We just couldn’t compete with that price and get our passengers to their destination in nearly the time that an airline could. But, we were starting to make new routes to the places that the airlines couldn’t go. Well, to tell the truth we had already been going to those towns, but we were now accentuating the towns in our marketing campaigns.
     I had become friends with a man in the Houston hub that had a position called “service worker”. It was a thankless job for the most part and I was very glad that I wasn’t stuck in such a job. But you would never have thought that Manny Padilla was unhappy. I honestly don’t believe he was capable of being truly unhappy. He was perhaps one of the most friendly and positive people I’ve ever met. Manny was older than me by about 7 or 8 years. He was married to a wonderful woman named Juana which translated means “God’s gift” and they had 4 kids ages 1 to 9. Manny didn’t make much money in his job. But he was glad to have the job. It mainly entailed the cleaning of the inside and outside of the buses when they were in the hub which could be hard work and sometimes gross given some of the messes left behind in the restrooms on the buses. But Manny was a cheerful worker and he took pride in his work. He wanted to do his part in making sure our customers travelled in clean and pleasant environments.
     This particular day was the day before Thanksgiving of that year. There were a lot of travelers taking to the roads via our bus line headed to visit relatives and loved ones for the holiday. Our last bus out that day would leave at 7:45 p.m. I was wanting to get home to my parent’s house about an hour north of Houston, but there were things that needed to be done to make sure we were ready for the next day of business. Manny would be getting off work at 9 p.m. given he would need to clean some of the buses to make sure that they were ready for service. The lobby of the station would be open until about 9 p.m. to give travelers a place to wait for pick-up by loved ones. By about 8:45 there was only one person left sitting in the lobby. Manny and I were talking just inside the lobby when Manny took notice of the elderly gentleman sitting alone in a corner of the lobby.
I watched as Manny walked over to the man. I thought that Manny was going to let the old gentleman know it was almost closing time, but that’s not what happened.
“Excuse me, sir.” Manny said to the old man. “Can I help you?”
     The old man was dressed in a worn suit that probably had been bought off the rack a decade before. It was badly in need of cleaning and pressing. He wore an equally battered hat, wrinkled but clean shirt, and a pair of worn at the heels Brogans. His fingers were gnarled and bent from arthritis and he was in need of a shave given the gray stubble on his face was a week past its last cutting. He had thinning white hair and bushy white eyebrows. Despite his age and station in life his eyes were clear and bright, and I was immediately struck by the feeling of joy that his eyes seemed to exude. 
     “Well, young fella, I should be fine here tonight. It’s warm and safe and I’ve certainly spent the night in worse situations”, the old man replied.
I knew what was coming next. I almost cringed at the thought of being the one to tell the old man the bad news. But, Manny broke it to the old man in a kind way. If there is such a thing.
     “Sir, I’m most sorry, but you cannot spend the night in the station. We will be closing in a few minutes and the place must be cleared of any customers. Is there somebody that I can call for you?” Manny asked.
     The old man, who had not yet introduced himself, pursed his lips and you could see that he was concerned about this news. But he didn’t argue or get belligerent or anything of that nature. He just sighed and rubbed his chin with his arthritic hand contemplating his situation. Finally, he spoke.
     “I see. That does sort of present a problem. You wouldn’t happen to know if there’s a YMCA or shelter nearby would you? He asked.
I could see Manny’s mind working in overdrive. Not meaning to appear to be mocking the old man, Manny rubbed his chin with his considerably younger and better conditioned hands while he considered the question.
     “Well, sir. By the way, my name is Manny Padilla.” He said.
     “Ahh, yes. Pardon me for not introducing myself. People call me Dewey or Dew for short.” 
     “Mr. Dewey, let me ask you a question.” Manny said. “Do you have anyone that we can call for you?”
     “It’s Dewey Michaels, but Dew will, a-hem, do.” He said with a chuckle. “No sir, I have no family and all of my friends have gone on to be with the Lord. I’m afraid I’m just a wayfaring stranger these days.”
     Manny scrunched up his face and I for just a moment our eyes met. I knew what was coming next because I knew Manny. 
     “Mr. Dew, how would you like to come and spend the night with my family and share Thanksgiving dinner with us tomorrow. I can bring you back to the station on Friday morning and I feel certain that I can get you a ticket to just about any place that you might wish to go.”
     Dewey Michaels looked at Manny with what I would call way more than gratitude. I was afraid that he would decline the offer though in lieu of pride, but much to my surprise he said,

 “Well, now if you’re sure and you’re sure that the missus won’t mind, then I would enjoy that very much.” Dewey replied.
I found myself being a tad on the negative side and I was immediately embarrassed of my thoughts. But they were there anyway. First, Manny didn’t know what kind of person Dewey was. Didn’t have a clue. Second, I knew that Manny and his family were living in already tight quarters. A small 2-bedroom house on the near northside of Downtown Houston. It was always neat and clean (Juana wouldn’t have it any other way!), but it was very small. The three older kids shared a bedroom while Manny, Juana, and the baby shared the other. I supposed that Dewey could sleep on the couch, but it was going to be crowded once Dewey’s mother, sister and her family, and Manny’s two brothers and their families were there for the dinner. But it was Manny’s wish to be helpful to the old man. 
I was just about to leave and head home when I walked over to Manny who was doing the same and I slipped him a $20 bill. I told him to make sure that Dewey had some money in his pocket when he got on a bus on Friday. Manny grinned from ear to ear and winked at me.
     “Will do, Dave. And you have a great Thanksgiving dinner!”
     I wished him the same and left the station. All the way to my parent’s house I thought about what an incredibly selfless thing that Manny was doing. It made me proud to call him friend. I would be leaving on Friday for San Antonio then to Austin, El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo, Ft. Worth, and Dallas, returning to Houston in about two weeks. I would have to wait to find out how things went.
     Two weeks came and went pretty quickly, and I once again made my way to the Houston station. I saw Manny as he exited a bus with a bag of trash in one hand and a broom in the other. I walked over, and we exchanged greetings. I had to ask him.
     “So, how did the visit with Dewey go on Thanksgiving?”
     “Oh, it was wonderful! He was a delight. He entertained the kids with stories of his youth and then when he saw my Dad’s old guitar leaning up against the wall in a corner he took it and you wouldn’t believe how amazing he was on that thing. He played flamingo style and I tell you I’ve never heard any better. Everyone was mesmerized by his ability. And he could sing too! Before it was over with several of the neighbors came over too and we all sat on the floor listening to him play. He told us about his time working in Spain as a young man and the civil war there and how he barely escaped over some big mountain range into France. Then he said that he was in France when Germany invaded, and he had to escape to England. He made his way back home to America and joined the Army Air Corps. He became a pilot and ended up flying missions into Germany during the war. He said he came home after the war and started a business, but then it was time to eat our dinner and I didn’t get to hear any more about his life.”
     “That’s incredibly cool, Manny. I guess he got off OK on that Friday?” I asked.
     “Oh, yes. And he said to be sure and tell you how much he appreciated the $20. I got him on a bus to Phoenix, Arizona where he said he thought he might have an old friend that he could stay with for a week or so. I still can’t get over how well he played the guitar with those arthritic hands. I can only imagine how well he played when he was younger!”

 

     Time seemed to fly by over the next year. I saw Manny from time to time and then in December of 1973, a little more than a year after we met Dewey, I was offered a wonderful marketing job for a major retailer. It was a huge pay increase and I was exited to embark on a new adventure. On my last trip to the Houston station I wanted to say goodbye to Manny and take him out to lunch. We were just about to leave for our favorite Italian restaurant in downtown Houston when a man in a very expensive suit entered the lobby. You couldn’t help but notice him. He was out of place in a bus station. I looked past him into the parking lot and saw a shiny new Cadillac and figured it had to be his. We saw him walk up to the ticket counter and then the ticket agent pointed in our direction. The man thanked the agent and then headed our way. I couldn’t imagine what such a man as this would be wanting to talk to either of us about.
     The man walked up and extended his hand to Manny and introduced himself as Paul Windsor. He also shook my hand and amazingly he knew my name as well.
     “Gentleman, could I have a few minutes of your time? I promise it will be worthwhile.” He said.
Manny and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and both said “sure” at the same time. Mr. Windsor invited us to step outside and have a seat in his Cadillac. It was one of those stretch limos with two rear seats that faced each other. We had never before been in such a car before and were both wide-eyed at the luxury. Mr. Windsor began to speak after we were all seated and enjoying the warmth of the heated interior.
     “First, Mr. Padilla let me ask you a question. Do you recall meeting a man about a year ago named Dewey Michaels?”
     “Sure! He was great guy. A real sweet old man.” Manny replied.
     “Yes, yes he was that and so much more.” Mr. Windsor said.
     “How about you Mr. Quincy?” he asked me.
     “Sure. I remember him, and I too thought he was a really nice man. Has something happened to him?” I asked.
     “Yes, I’m afraid so, Mr. Quincy. But let me tell you a few things that you couldn’t possibly have known about Mr. Michaels. Following World War 2 he started a manufacturing business. It was a small operation at first, but then he proved to be a most inventive and intuitive businessman. He took that small business and within a decade it was one of the largest suppliers of parts for large machinery in the construction and demolition trade. He then branched out and started a tool company, an airline, a large theater chain, a candy company, and even a motorcycle company catering to both the American and European market. By 1960 he was a multi-billonaire.”
By this time, you could have shoveled a dump truck load of dirt into mine and Manny’s open mouths. We were flabbergasted. You would never have guessed that the kindly old man that we met was that successful. Mr. Windsor continued.
     “Then, in late 1968 tragedy struck in Mr. Michaels life. His wife, their son and his family, and several close friends had gone on ahead by plane to an island resort where they would all spend Thanksgiving together. Mr. Michaels was to follow the next day after clearing up some last-minute negotiations for the purchase of a coffee plantation. Sadly, the airplane carrying his family and friends developed engine trouble over the Gulf of Mexico and was lost at sea. There were no survivors. In a few short minutes Mr. Michaels lost his entire family and loved ones. He was devastated. He lost his heart for his businesses as well. He appointed trusted employees to helm each business and he decided to travel. But not the kind of travel you might think. He took with him very little. A change of clothes, a little cash, and a hope at finding something good in a world that now seemed beyond sad to him. Frankly, we were all very concerned for his safety and well-being, but he insisted and after all, he was literally the boss.”
     “Over the past three years he traveled by thumb, occasionally by public transportation such as the bus line where you two are employed, and by foot at times. He would check in with his office about once a month to make sure things were running smoothly. He still had a lot of employees worldwide that depended on their jobs”.
He stopped for a moment to gather his thoughts and then continued.
     “Now, to the part where you two come into the story. His spirit was restored by the kindness that Manny and his family showed him last Thanksgiving. He once again learned to smile. He once again found joy. The simple kindness of a stranger restored his faith and hope. He returned to us at corporate headquarters about 6 months ago. But he didn’t pick-up and start working for money and such. Instead, he started to give back to world, one person at a time according to their need, and he was indeed a changed man. Amazingly, his businesses grew and grew and grew beyond all expectations. He once again attended church and made sure that the coffers were filled in many different congregations from Baptist to Catholic to Methodist to all denominations. He did so anonymously and there was an underground whispering about an angel visiting this church and then that church and bestowing blessings. But in Mr. Michaels’ mind he was receiving the blessings. He was truly thankful to God for all the blessings he had known. There wasn’t an ounce of bitterness in him at the end over the loss of his family.”
     Manny and I were both finding it hard to not cry at this point. We had no idea that Manny’s act of kindness and even my simple donation of $20 could have started such a turn around in Mr. Michaels’ life. Mr. Windsor continued.
     “About two months ago Mr. Michaels started to feel poorly. He was having a lot of pain in his abdomen. At first, he thought it might be an ulcer or something of that nature, but when it became nearly unbearable he sought the help of doctors. They did all kinds of tests and poked and prodded and through it all Mr. Michaels kept his joy. He still managed to smile. Finally, the bad news was delivered. He had pancreatic cancer. It was past any hope of treatment. He was told that he had perhaps 4 to 6 weeks to live. Mr. Michaels spent the next three weeks getting things finalized for his considerable estate. He had no family to leave it to. But he had some beloved employees and then he had you.”
Manny and I looked at each other in bewilderment. How was it possible that this man would think of Manny and I from only a day or so of time spent with him?
     Mr. Windsor looked at me and said, “Mr. Quincy, Mr. Michaels has left you a small amount of money from his estate. It’s not that much, but it should be enough to make sure you are debt free for now and can start your new job, a job at one of Mr. Michaels’ many businesses, with a bright future ahead. He left you $100,000 dollars to do with as you see fit. He hopes that you will spend or invest it wisely and he felt sure that you would. A great deal of investigation into your life was made prior to this bequeath. Mr. Padilla, Mr. Michaels wanted to make sure that you and your family have a better future than you might otherwise have had. He has set-up a college annuity for each of your children. They will be able to go to the best of schools, but it also depends on their dedication and hard work. He has also left you an inheritance of 1 Million dollars. He felt sure this would provide you with a new home large enough for your family, proper transportation, and the many things that you have gone without. Furthermore, he wanted you to start training at one of his businesses in a field that you feel called to and a place will be made for you and you will be welcomed with open arms.”
     Well, you could have knocked us over with a whisper. It was just unbelievable. We spent another hour talking to Mr. Windsor obtaining information on how to proceed and then he left us his private phone number with instructions to contact him at anytime with any questions. We watched as that limousine drove away and then despite how it might look to anyone watching, we gave each other a huge hug. Mr. Michaels had passed away two weeks prior and we were both sad that we would never get a chance to thank him for his incredible kindness and generosity. 
     That was all 45 years ago. Manny passed on a few months ago, but he worked for 40 years as the maintenance supervisor for one of Mr. Michaels’ businesses. He learned to fly, obtaining his pilot’s license and on many occasions, he flew me and my family along with his family for trips to places like Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, and once to Hawaii. All of his children graduated from college. One went on to become a surgeon, one became a minister, one has made a career in the United States Army having graduated from West Point and at this point holds the rank of Lt. Colonel, and then the baby has become an executive at a coffee company. I’m sure you can guess how that came about! Juana is still alive and lives in the same house that they bought in West Houston back in 1974. As for me, I got married in 1976 to a wonderful lady and we had two children. They have both made me very proud and have blessed us with 6 grandkids. 
     The businesses that Mr. Michaels owned have mostly flourished with some ups and downs along with the economy, but they have provided literally hundreds of thousands of families with jobs and lives. Every Thanksgiving for 44 years we got together as one big huge family with my family and Manny’s family. We have all had so much to be thankful for. When I think of the tragedy of Mr. Michaels’ loss of his family and how he dealt with that loss I am reminded of a great hymn. It’s called, “It Is Well With My Soul”. We should all remember to be thankful to God not only on Thanksgiving Day, but every day. No matter what comes our way we must remember the rich blessings that God has bestowed on us, even the ones that don’t seem to be blessings at first. So, go out and be thankful for what you have instead of being sad at what you don’t have. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Loved it Randy, keep it up please, beautiful story.

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