[From my journal]
On the first night of my first road trip – I like to take annual road trips hitchhiking along the West Coast – I made it as far as Wilsonville, a little town just south of
As we began to make our way towards coffee and relative comfort, a man approached us. He was older, maybe in his fifties or sixties, and his greasy clothes hung loosely from his body. An oversized thrift store coat hung on his slouched shoulders, baggy jeans covered worn sneakers, and his knitted cap pushed down a mat of long grey tangled hair. There was no part to differentiate his hair from his beard, which hung from his face like a curtain of tree moss.
“You boys are travelin?” he asked. “It’s gettin late an yull be needin a place ta sleep… I got a squat jus over that-a-way. I don’t stay there no more. Ya can have it ta yerselves.” His breath smelled of stale beer, and his teeth were sparse and yellow and brown in color.
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, unsure of how to react.
Luke, my partner on the trip, grinned. “Hey, that sounds great!”
The man, who introduced himself as Edward J. Harris, led us across a mist veiled field to a little grove of fir trees about fifty yards off the freeway ramp.
“I figgur I’m about the only homeless man in Wilsonville,” he said. “The cops all know me, but they mostly leave me alone, cause I mostly keep outta sight.”
He swept his arm out at the scene of the squat. “There she is,” he said. “It ain’t a house, but it keeps the rain offa yer head and the wind offa yer face. It’s purdy comfy, actually, an it’s got a view.”
The building he was gesturing at had tarps for a roof and for three walls. It was open at the front, and the floor was made of pallets covered with a dumpstered carpet. It had a big telephone cable spool for a table, a couch and a recliner chair, and a burn barrel out front to keep warm by on cold nights. A plastic skeleton was nailed to a tree just in front of the little shelter.
“I call im Morty,” Edward said. “He keeps me compny.”
My eyes were wide open, and I smiled a little. It was a wonderful little place! It was tidy, clean, and well built. I relaxed a bit as it began to dawn on me that this fellow was offering us something really special.
He started a fire in the burn barrel. “The Fire Department’s come a couple times ta make me put er out. But if ya keep it burnin real low, no-one’ll bother ya none.”
After a good bed of hot coals had developed in the barrel, Edward joined us at his makeshift table, and began sharing his story with us. He loved his mama. She was an invalid, and when Edward’s stepfather died he moved in to help care for her. The shelter was now a place for him to get away, to obtain a little solitude for contemplation and to read the Gospels. He loved Jesus and the scriptures, and told us of how his life had gotten better since he started reading the Bible.
After talking for a while, Luke and I laid out our bedrolls. Edward bid us goodnight and walked out into the fog and the darkness.
I laid my head down on my rolled up jacket and thanked God for this blessing of kindness from such an unexpected place. Then I fell quickly to sleep.