Thursday, July 31, 2014


It was the early 1970's. I don't remember the man's name. Maybe I never knew it.

My Dad didn't know it either, but he helped him.

Dad was downtown, driving home from his law practice one afternoon. I don't remember the time of year.

He was stopped at a red light while people crossed in front of his car. One was an elderly man with a cane. One of his legs was shorter than the other, and so he had a shoe with a platform bottom on that side to support him.

As he hobbled across the street, he tripped and fell, landing on his chest. The cane went flying, and he was unable to get back up. While he struggled to get to his feet the typical rush hour traffic began honking and yelling at him.

Dad got out, and helped the man up. The cane was gone, smashed by a car trying to beat the yellow light. He got the man to his feet, but without the cane he couldn't walk. So Dad put an arm around the elderly stranger, and got him to his car. He put him in the passenger seat, figuring then he'd find out where he lived and drive him home.

The man was scared, and badly shaken up. A stranger had just run out in front of traffic and yelling people to help him. And now my Dad learned he didn't speak a word of English - just Italian.

Nowadays maybe people would have left the man lying there, called police on their call phone, and driven around him. Or helped him to the edge of the curb and left him there for someone else to find. Or just not given a shit at all and continued honking at him.

But Dad brought him back to our house.

There was no cell phone. The first hint we had that anything was up was when Dad came in the carport door, supporting an elderly man I'd never seen before. He called my Mom, and as he explained what happened they got him to a chair at the kitchen table. Mom got him some water and a few band-aids for his bumps and scrapes.

Dad went to the phone. A friend of his was a doctor, whose father was an Italian immigrant. He reached him at his office as he was finishing up for the day, and the good doctor immediately called his father (who was fluent in both English and Italian) and they came to our house.

While the doctor checked him over, his father spoke to the man, and they quickly got his information. He didn't know the phone number of the building he lived at, but knew the address. It was a few miles from where he'd fallen, and he'd been on his way to the bus stop to go home when the accident happened.

The doctor's father drove the man home a short while later, though they stopped at the drugstore for a new cane.

I never saw the man again, but the memory is still there. A frail looking elderly man in a black suit, white shirt, and dark Homburg hat. The one shoe with the platform bottom. Sitting at the formica table in our yellow 70's kitchen.

I don't recall my Dad mentioning the events of that day again. I don't think I even remember him talking to me directly about it while it was going on. But I learned a lot that day that I hope I never forget.


rmm4361 said...

oh dear! eyes are leaking already this morning!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the heartwarming story Dr. Grumpy! We hear so much about people who cannot treat their fellow humans with compassion and it's nice to hear that it is out there. This was a nice way to start my morning.

Titan Mk6B said...

Perhaps he never spoke about it because in his mind this was nothing extraordinary.

My wife is a lot like this. At one time we lived near an intersection where there were a lot of traffic accidents. Most of the time there were no injuries but if so and being as she is a nurse the injured were tended to until emergency personnel could arrive. We lost a lot of blankets and sheets that way. If nobody was injured but their car was disabled they were invited into our house and made comfortable until everything was taken care of and they were able to return to their homes.

She never speaks of these times either because it is just the way she is.

Anonymous said...

Grumpy, most people can't stand me simply because of the profession I chose: the practice of law. Don't go ruining the impression people choose, and seem to want, to have of all us: that we are all a bunch of assholes. Instead of inspiring the with your story about your dad, you might just be ruining their day. :)

Mari-Ann said...

What a great story and one that I hope to remember the next time I am faced with a similar situation. I have done that sort of thing with numerous dogs but no people. Yet. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

My first partner couldn't stand that I would bring people home. Usually it was kids who came in from the suburbs then missed the final train home. If I could I would phone their parents, but that wasn't always possible.
I upgraded, my husband now doesn't mind. Usually the people I bring home I can at least communicate with (I know there was a reason I studied languages!), but one girl had me stumped.

I got off the last bus of the night, one block from my house. A bunch of laddish types got off as well, the sort that make a normal person quicken their steps.

They began to circle in on an Asian girl, who was crying and vomiting in the gutter. I intervened, got the girl up and started dragging her along with me (lucky she was a little thing). We put enough distance between us and the group, and that was when I realized I had a problem on my hands.

She didn't speak a word of English. She didn't have a wallet on her (could have been useful if I could find a local address), and I did not recognize the language. She was also drunk. Very very drunk. I had no idea what I was going to do with her at 1 in the morning!

So, I took her home, gave her water and a bucket and went to sleep myself. My husband saw her slip out the next morning.

She probably has no memory of how she got to my house that night. I often wonder what she thinks happened! I hope I didn't frighten her too badly, but I just had no idea what else to do with her!

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing :)

tbunni said...

So this explains how/why you chose a field of medicine that often deals with difficult cases. It requires patience and compassion, both of which were shown to you by example by your parents.

And don't worry, Dr Grumpy. For every asshole that makes the news, there is at least one quietly taking care of friends and strangers...

Damn, now my eyes have developed a leak, too.

Packer said...

Menschlichkeit. How is it that I know that concept ? My own father would whisper the word to me in ways others might not grasp, much as your father did to you. Simply, daily. Fathers do make a difference, let no father not understand that.

PGYx said...

This is how I thought the world worked when I was a kid in the early 80s. People helped me and I helped people (and animals) when the opportunity arose. I was an only child raised by a single mom who worked 3 jobs, so other adults gave me plenty of help & guidance.

Your story is heartwarming now, but years ago I would have just considered it normal life. When I was 12 I flipped my bike -- a passing mother & daughter walked me home to make sure I was ok. I have so many more examples of help from strangers.

Anonymous said...

Lovely story, Dr. Grumpy. I am reminded of something Pete Seeger said: "The world will be solved by millions of small things.”

--Queen Anne's Lace

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful world we once lived in. What happened? And how can we fix it?

bobbie said...

No wonder you are such a compassionate doctor ~ you inherited it.
Thanks for sharing the beautiful story.

BobF said...

Was going to comment halfway through that you'd never forget it, but then you already said it when I got to the end.

Doc, things like that are still happening, but they are buried under all the negative garbage. You'd think in this day of modern communication we'd hear more of it, but as you know, not so. The bad news drowns it out via electrons the same way it did over the fence or wash line. It DOES still happen, however.

Anonymous said...

In the 70s, I was coming back from VN, where I worked as a military contractor. At the airport. an Indonisian student, was trying to contact his cousin who was suppose to pick him up.

Unfortunately, his cousin was out of town and he did not know what to do. My parents, who were picking me up, immediately said he could stay with us until his cousin got back to town. He stayed with us for three days.

I went back overseas, but the student wrote to my parents for a few years. His parents sent my folks a good luck Chinese Symbol.

As a side line, my mother sent him a heavy sweater for Christmas, since the student was not use to the cold.

My parents were that kind of people. Always extending themselves to people and to stray cats and dogs.

Heidi said...

We are out there - the helpers of those in need, it's the right thing to do and usually we don't think twice about doing it. It's just right. As mentioned in several of the comments, it happens all the time, those little (and sometimes big) acts of kindness that usually seem to go unnoticed. But it is noticed, big time. That man will never forget what your father did, and neither will you. There are good, decent people all over the place. We're just usually covered up by thoughtless idiots who honk and run over canes.

Josh said...

This reminds me of something my father did once. It is a Jewish tradition that you invite a stranger to your Passover seder. But this is one of those traditions that is "in the books" but very few people know someone who has actually done it.

Well, my dad is one of them. We had a big family seder at a local synagogue for the 50 odd (local) members of the family. While waiting for things to start my father was hanging around the synagogue entrance and started talking to this gentleman who had wandered in. Turns out the guy has a son who was dieing at Boston Children's Hospital. He came to the synagogue looking for a service and some comfort. There is no service or anyone else around at this time but my father invites him down to our family seder. The guy comes down, spends a few hours with us, and leaves, hopefully feeling a bit better.

I never knew the guys name, barely even knew it had happened but I try to remember that it did and hope that I can have an impact on other people's lives in such a positive way.

Anonymous said...

It sounds as if you've got it just right on the RECALL button. Just know when to push it, is the tricky part.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I was cleaning out the papers on my desk trying to find the schedule at the mental hospital for when my son comes home and I ran across a slip of paper listing a phone number of my godfather, Uncle Maurice. Before updating my address book, I called him chancing the gruff fellow wouldn't mind a random call out of the blue (and hoping he was at a place that he could chat a few minutes). I hadn't talked with him for years. Despite the fact that my son had passed along a laptop computer years ago, they (we) rarely communicated via e-mail. My mother is blind and frail, and one of the comments my uncle made was, "Though I like computers, I hate the computer age. People automatically assume that everyone keeps up-to-date with what's going on, except for those without access." This statement serves, also, to remind me that computers don't solve necessary human interactions.

One of the best things to happen to my husband in my neighborhood was when someone gave us a dog, and he HAD to walk that sweet babounski at least 4-6 times a day. In so doing, we met so many good people in our neighborhood and the few blocks beyond. (The tiny old woman kitty-corner to us with the little mutt had tea with Albert Einstein when her husband and Mr Einstein were at Princeton.) But, this was only the people with dogs... . Not the cat people. On the other hand, at least 50% of the neighbors reside with dogs.

CathiefromCanada said...

My mother was at the bus stop downtown one day when a woman with a young child started to cry, she said she had left her purse on a bus and had no money to get home and she couldn't think of anything to do except to check on every bus that came to the bus stop to see if her purse had been found.
My mom immediately gave her $20 for a cab, and made sure she had a key to get into her house.
Later that day the woman and her husband came over to my Mom and Dad's house to return the $20 -- the husband was overcome with gratitude that a total stranger would help his family, and he gave my mom a "praying hands" figurine.
A year later, when my mom was dying of cancer, that figurine was one reminder for her that her life had been meaningful, that she had made a difference.
She died almost 40 years ago, and I still miss her.

DB said...

Many people these days are too afraid of being taken advantage of.

I have a policy of helping anyone who seems to need it. I'm sure I've been taken advantage of once or twice, but also sure that the majority of people truly needed and appreciated assistance.
Many, many, people have also helped me - lifting me up when I fall, giving me a glass of water and a chair when I'm faint, carrying my shopping.

Give kindness. The recipients will be kind to others in turn, and the world will be better for it.

Choose to believe that the majority of people are kind and generous and eager to help one another. Treat them accordingly, with courtesy, kindness and love, and you will not be disappointed.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

David said...

First person this reminded me of is my father. Thanks

Craig R. said...

Fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, eh?

Sounds like your dad was simply a good person.

Sometimes we do it by working in soup kitchens, or volunteers at nursing homes,
sometimes by simply helping the lost stranger find their person. As long as we do it.

My optimism says that this happens, but that the
jerks are just more visible and louder.

We can rationalize it through Rousseau's "social compact," or through our religions'
commandments on how to treat people, or, as my better half (a non-believer)
says, "It's just the right thing to do."

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