Lon Smith, M.A., M.P.A.
Kansas Aviation Museum
When I was 19 and driving to college one day, there was a woman hitchhiking on the side of the road. It was raining hard and she was drenched, so I stopped. As it turned out, she was also going to the same university for classes as I, about ten miles away. I asked if she attended at this time every day and she acknowledged that she did. So I told her that, for just a bit of gas money, I would be happy to pick her up and give her a ride each day to and from the school. This went on for some time; a few months. Of course I learned a fair amount about her and her very troubled, twelve-year-old, 8th-grade son. She had moved around the country living a radically delinquent lifestyle and dragging her poor son along though fifteen or so different schools. They had no furniture, sleeping on the floor of a small, studio apartment. He rarely had any food to eat, so I started bringing bags of groceries over to him.
One day I stopped by to pick up his mom but she didn’t come out as she usually did so I went to the door. The young man answered and explained that she had been in a serious automobile accident with some friends and would be in the hospital for several months. I asked what he was going to do and he coldly answered that he “…would get by.” I told him to gather his things and that he would be coming to stay with our family. I had recently moved back to my parents house myself to save some money; being a starving student. So I showed up that afternoon with this young man in tow and announced to my parents that he would be staying with us for few months. Fortunately, my parents’ view on helping people in need is similar to my own, so we prepped the spare bedroom and set him up as a member of our family.
We had our challenges. I went to the hospital and his mother signed a temporary waiver of custody so that we could take care of his health and educational needs. I had to take him to and pick him up from school every day because our home was outside the district limits for his school and we didn’t want him to change in the middle of the year. He was constantly in trouble. I and my parents got calls almost daily announcing that he would be in detention after school for some petty infraction: fighting, cursing and the like. But we set ground rules and enforced them diligently and we noticed improvement over the time he was with us. He came to understand that with good behavior came rewards that he appreciated.
He was with us for about five months as I recall and then went back with his mother. He didn’t want to go and told me so, but the law was on her side. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from him telling me that he and his mother were in Colorado and on their way to Seattle to stay with her sister. After that I didn’t hear from him until about ten years ago. He contacted my folks who were still living in my hometown and then got my number from them. He called to thank me and them for letting him stay with us. He stated that because of the example he experienced, he came to understand that people could live a different way. He went on to tell me that he had reached adulthood, went to college and had a successful career along with a wonderful wife and children there in Seattle. A couple of years later I was in Seattle on business and had the opportunity to meet them briefly. It is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and taught me as much about living as it did him. I am grateful for having the opportunity to help others when I am able. My father, who is now deceased, had a small wall hanging in his office that now adorns my office wall. He lived by this as do I. It says:
“To laugh often and much: to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children: to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson