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Christmas seems to come faster every year. And every year I say to myself, “Self, you don’t need to wait until Christmas Eve to start your shopping.” But Self never listens. So I usually end up fighting my way through some overcrowded Mall, hunting for leavings in stores that look like that well-stripped turkey carcass we threw to the dogs three days after Thanksgiving.
I swore this year would be different. So last Sunday afternoon after Church, I made my way over to Little Rock in hopes of getting the drop on the madness.
As I pulled up to the intersection where Shackleford Road meets I-430, I noticed a man standing in the median between the off ramp and the Cracker Barrel. He was dressed in jeans, an Elvis t-shirt, and one of those floppy red Santa hats with the fuzzy ball on the end.
This spot has become a regular hangout for homeless folks and panhandlers. Usually older men in tattered camouflage, broken by war and a few tough breaks too many, sitting there with cardboard signs with messages like, “Vietnam 1973. I just want to eat.”
Sometimes there is a scraggly guy with an old mutt in tow who always seems to do well with the passers-by. His makeshift sign always reads something to the effect, “I promise to spend every dime on beer and cigarettes.”
Yet, the guy in the Elvis shirt struck me as a bit different from the rest. He was playing an old flat top guitar and singing Christmas carols. (When I pulled up he happened to be doing his signature version of the King’s “Blue Christmas.”) But what struck me as odd was the fact that he was smiling.
I pulled over on the shoulder so I could get a better look at his placard. His handwritten sign said, “All proceeds go to Tyson. 9 years old. Leukemia patient. Sweet boy.”
I rolled my window down. “Excuse me,” I said. “Is Tyson your boy?”
The man stopped strumming and walked over to my truck.
“Naw. He’s the son of one of the members at my Church. They are having a tough go of it. I have some time on Sunday afternoons, so I’ve been coming over and pickin’ and singin’ to raise a few bucks to help them out. Sometimes a few ladies from the choir come out with me and back me up. Name’s Martin, by the way.”
He stuck his hand through my passenger’s side window and I shook it.
“Are you having any luck?” I asked.
“You wouldn’t believe it.” said Martin. “We’ve been coming here for about three weeks and we’ve already raised nearly $4,000 dollars. I give everybody a card from the Church so they can call and make sure I am legit. Amy, our secretary, has been hanging around the office on Sunday afternoons in between services to field the calls that come through. But she said the phone has only rung once. People have been so generous.”
I am not in the habit of carrying much cash around these days. Even if I carried all my money as cash it probably wouldn’t be enough to choke a gnat. But “Tyson. 9 years old. Leukemia patient. Sweet boy.” and the selflessness of Martin got to me. So I found an ATM and did what I could.
While I didn’t get to do any Christmas shopping that evening, I think Self will understand. Plus, there’s always next week. Or next year. And I pray little Tyson is around to enjoy many more Christmases of his own.