A Selfless Thing
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Recently I was asked, "What is one of the most selfless things you have done in life?"
When asked this question one must first think
of the 'bragging factor', which I am not prone to. I have always believed that one should not shower accolades on themselves.
one thing that comes to mind is when as a young man I was affronted with the opportunity to serve the community in a special way.
I was custodian at an elementary school in the eastside of San Jose, California. While I was there, two important events occurred
which changed the area in a very special, but eventful way. A community opened within busing distance of the school called Tierra
Nuestra. It was for low income families and one of the first such communities in this particular area. First, we saw an influx of
African American children, and second, this was when the first waves of Vietnamese immigrants came to our shores.
I suddenly became
'Daddy' to several Af. Am. youths, because not one of them had a father living in the home! In fact, during my duties as breakfast
monitor in the cafeteria, some of the young men began calling me 'daddy'! I would answer each in turn by replying, "Good morning son!"
I was never without help picking up trash around the school as I made sure that these youths had plenty to eat. Later, I began taking
them fishing on the weekends in my little Chevy 2 Nova. Sometimes I would be able to get one of my daughters, Leanne and Lori Jo,
to accompany us on the excursions. This would be frowned upon in our society today, but at that time, the principal, Mr. Ayers, approved
whole-heartedly of the project. We had a wonderful outing as I knew a rancher in Almaden, California who had a 'farm pond' on his
property stocked with bluegill, large- mouth bass, and Crappie. I taught the young men how to, first, use a small hook with little
red earthworms in order to attract the very small bluegill which dominated the pond. After catching the small guys, we would then
use a larger hook baiting it with the live bluegill and throwing it out into the middle of the pond with a bobber attached. Soon,
there would be a 'whoosh' sound and then we knew that we had hooked a pretty good-sized Crappie or sometimes a large-mouthed bass.
The hard part was getting the fish into shore as there were many lily pads and other debris along the edges of the pond. Each young
man was taught how to fish!
Our outings suddenly came to an end because of a couple of reasons. Sometimes when I would pick up the
youths at around 5a.m. their mothers would still be standing outside with highball glasses in their hands, but remember, this was
a very impoverished and low-income area. I had a talk with Mr. Ayers about the counter-productivity of what I was trying to do. He
suggested to me that I just go slowly and see what occurred. He saw that these young men had done a turn-around in their studies since
having a person take some interest in them. I was continually showing them facts of nature, quizzing them with math questions, and
sometimes we would stop fishing and I would tell them stories of my childhood in the mountains of Virginia, and how difficult everything
was being raised in an impoverished, coal mining community in Appalachia. These young men would even 'stick up' for me if anyone came
down with negative comments about me. The biggest surprise was during the father/son dinner at the school. I bought 8 tickets and
when I arrived with 7 young African-American youths, some mouths were agape! I was in my glory as I did not have a son of my own.
Sometimes after fishing we would go to my house and my wife, Sharon, would prepare a wiener roast or hamburger barbecue for all the
young men. What finally brought our fishing to an end was the day that one of the young men could not go and we used a substitute,
Dwight M. Dwight was a rambunctious young man, who ended up fighting in Vietnam, but at this time was undisciplined and self-centered.
Around the pond was a rusty barbed wire fence and I had cautioned the youths to be extra careful while we were catching our own earthworms
to catch the bluegills. All of a sudden, Dwight cries out, "Snake, Snake" as he held an extra-large earthworm in his hand, sometimes
called a 'night crawler'! This caused instant panic with young men running all directions. Tony N. a dead ringer for a young Bill
Cosby, became entangled in the barb-wire fence. As a result his face was torn and bleeding, as was one of his forearms. I bandaged
him up as best I could, scooted the others into the Chevy 2, and headed back to the housing project! After a visit to the local hospital,
Tony was assured that he would live and become a very handsome man. After consulting with Mr. Ayers on Monday, it was decided that
I could continue helping the young men at school, but that fishing was not a good idea, considering that I was trying to do seven
at a time. I felt terrible, but, as things go sometimes, some of the young men were transferred to other localities and the others
seemed content to just be my helpers and see me on weekends at the housing community when my wife would send groceries to the more
needy families that I knew. One mother, Mrs. Jackson, had around a dozen children all told. The only one of the young men who visited
me after he grew up was, Tony N., who came to my office and looked me up to thank me for being his partner and being kind to the others
as they grew up. I knew him by the scar on his cheek! Our meeting was very emotional and heartwarming!
As far as the Vietnamese
immigrants, it was my duty to teach the young men how to use the urinals and the toilets as they had never been introduced to such
in their native land. They spoke no English and I spoke no Vietnamese! They would sometimes use the urinal wrongly. Teaching #1 and
#2 was the order of the day! This required a lot of patience and fortitude on my part, and I am not a very patient person especially
since n elementary school requires one to stay strictly on schedule. I used this opportunity to teach them, not only the use of the
bathrooms, but how important it was to keep them clean. These youths would not only pick up the trash of others but would remind the
other students to put the trash in the cans provided and not on the floors. This is how I became a teacher without having a degree
to teach! Teaching for one's benefit sometimes becomes a self-less thing!