It was five years ago when I met Wylie and a day that changed my life forever.
As the weatherman had predicted, it was a cold, blustery day. The wind howled between the buildings,
penetrating all layers of clothing I'd put on that morning. Chilled to the bone, I dug my gloves out of my coat
pocket and slipped them on. I pulled my collar up, covering my neck and headed for the building three blocks
away from my work.
As I struggled to walk against the wind, I glanced down one of the alleys. A man lay on the
ground in the fetal position. At first I thought he was dead, but noticed his body shivering. A little voice in my head
told me to just walk on by and hurry to my meeting, but my heart told me to stop and see if this man was all right.
I moved towards him. His face was pale, his lips blue. I shook him and he opened his eyes. "Come on. Get
up," I said, tugging at his frozen hands. He looked to be in his mid-seventies. Gray hairs tuck up from his head in all directions.
As I examined him, I saw that his clothes didn't look like they belonged on a homeless man. His shoes were leather and polished.
This man did not belong in an alley. He stood up and I looked into his eyes. They were pale blue and reminded me of the waters off
the coast of Barcelona, Spain, but those eyes were full of hurt and of pain. "Come with me. We're going to get you warmed up," I said.
I took his hands and rubbed them, trying to get the circulation flowing.
He followed me without saying a word; he just stared ahead. I wondered if perhaps he'd had a stroke, or if he had Alzheimer's. I
pushed the door open to a café and we went inside. Instantly we were both enveloped in the aroma of roasted coffee and sizzling
burgers with onions. I sat the man down in a booth and slipped in the seat across from him. He looked at me. "What's your name?"
"Wylie." No more said.
"Well, Wylie, would you like to tell me why you were lying in the alley?"
The waitress came to our table. "Give us two cups of tea and the daily special, whatever it is." She nodded and left. Wylie's
face was the epitome of despair and loneliness. Our tea came and I pushed Wylie's cup towards him. He dropped in his tea
bag and looked out the window. He seemed to be in good enough health. He was able to speak, walk, and sip tea. "Wylie, has
something tragic happened in your life recently?"
He turned and faced me. I saw tears trickle from the corners of his eyes, roll down his cheeks and drip onto the red and white
checked tablecloth. "My wife," he whispered.
"Your wife? Is she okay? Did she leave you?" I wanted so desperately to find out what was wrong.
"She died last week. We were married fifty-two years and she died. Now I am alone. I'd rather die in an alley than live one more
day without her," he mumbled.
I didn't know what to say. "I'm so sorry, Wylie. Do you have children?"
"Four of them, but they don't live here. They never had time for Helen or I. I'm alone, completely alone," Wylie said. He wiped the
tears away with his napkin.
"Sip your tea and warm your hands," I urged and he did. I listened while Wylie told me about his wife's sudden death, their early
years and the love they shared. My heart went out to this man and I was touched to the depths of my soul by his sadness.
The waitress brought us our food. "So, this is the daily special," he asked, trying to smile. Our plates were covered with onion rings,
French fries, fried clams and calamari. A slice of garlic bread lay across the side of the plate. She plopped a bottle of ketchup down
and two glasses of water and then disappeared to help other customers.
I tried not to laugh, but couldn't help it. "Well Wylie, eat up." He must have been starving because the plate of food was gone in
less than five minutes. "Have you eaten lately?" I asked. He told me he'd not eaten in three days. I had the waitress bring him another
plateful and then we topped off our meal with a big piece of pumpkin pie.
"Let me take you home," I said, waiting in line to pay the bill.
Wylie slipped twenty dollars into my hand. "It's on me," he said.
I felt his hands and they were normal temperature once again. His lips were pink and rosy and his cheeks had color in them again.
"My car is about a block away. I'll drive you home." When we opened the door to go out we were pelted with sleet and arctic winds.
We dashed towards the parking lot, passing the alley where I'd first seen Wylie. He stopped and stared. "Come on, Wylie. We'll
reminisce in the car, where it's warm and dry." It turned out that Wylie lived only a mile or two from my house. When we pulled into
his driveway, he did not want to go inside. "I'll go with you." He opened the door.
The first thing I noticed was that the house smelled like lavender. For the next two hours I sat on Wylie's couch. He showed me
pictures of Helen, took me into each room, which definitely had signs of a woman's touch. After a lot of arguing, Wylie gave me his
daughter's phone number. I called her while Wylie made us some more tea. She told me she'd be there by nine o'clock that night
and to watch out for her dad till she got there.
"Wylie, you're coming to my house. Tomorrow's Thanksgiving. I need some help getting things ready. It's the least you can do to pay
me back for the drive home," I smiled. He didn't argue and I drove the few blocks home. After making a couple of phone calls to my job
and husband, I sat Wylie down at the counter with a knife and several stalks of celery. "Chop!" I commanded.
My husband, Scott, came right home. He didn't ask any questions about who Wylie was or why he was there. He welcomed him
to our home and sat next to him, chopping onions and carrot sticks. He even joked with Wylie and got him to smile. Wylie had supper
with us that night. We stayed busy in the kitchen until late in the evening.
When the doorbell rang, Scott opened the door. "Dad," a middle-aged woman said. She rushed to her father and threw her arms
around him. He started crying and held her tight. After a few minutes she pulled herself away. Scott took Wylie into the living room
so us girls could talk. "I'm Beth. Thank you so much for helping Dad." She hugged me and I started crying myself. "When you called,
I was so distressed. I had no idea Dad was taking it so hard. Where did you find him?"
I sat Beth down on a barstool and told her the story. She was horrified and I could tell she was genuinely crushed to think of her father
being so distraught and that he felt that his family didn't love him or want to be near him. "Beth, you and your dad come here for
Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I insist."
She nodded and said thank you. "I'm taking Dad home to live with us. The kids will love having him around. I don't want him to be alone.
Thoughts of him collapsing from cold and hunger in an alley are just
too." She couldn't finish the sentence.
Beth was exhausted after her long drive. Wylie hadn't slept in days. Beth took him home and promised to be back the next day.
That Thanksgiving Day was the best I've ever had. We sang songs. We ate roasted chestnuts. Wylie cut the turkey and ate three
pieces of pumpkin pie. After our feast we sat in the living room patting our well-fed tummies. "We need to get going. It's a long drive
home," Beth said.
Wylie walked over to me. Tears puddle in his eyes. "Thank you." He pulled me to him and held me close. "You saved my life. I'm
going to be fine now. I'll always miss my Helen, but Beth and Steve and the kids want me there with them. Thank you with all my heart."
I wiped the tears away and Scott and I stood at the door, waving goodbye. When he shut it behind them, I could no longer keep the
tears from flowing. I cried until there were no more tears to cry. "You did a good thing, honey," Scott said. "You save that man's life."
"You'd have done it too," I assured him.
"I don't know if I would have or not, but you did. Now Wylie won't be lonely ever again." He kissed me tenderly and we went into the
kitchen to clean up.
Wylie and his family
have driven to our house every Thanksgiving since then, or we have gone to
theirs. A bond was formed in that dark, cold alley; a bond of eternal
friendship and love - a bond of Thanksgiving.
||Margo Fallis was born in Edinburgh, Scotland but now lives
in Atlanta, Georgia. She's been writing since she was ten years old.
She writes children's stories, short stories, her memoirs and
magazine articles. She's a mother of five and has seven grandkids
and a wonderful husband. Margo has learned that the experiences life
offers is the best place to get stories to write. You can email her
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