© Copyright 2022 by Kathryn Payne-Olson
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Last winter, our park acquired a homeless man who discretely took up as little space as he could on park benches at night. He didn’t bother me. I was curious about him and my dog wanted to lick his face so bad that it was downright embarrassing. I pulled my retractable leash back time and time again but he wanted to love this man. Finally, I started saying, “Hello” and I eventually said, “You know, my dog is a very good judge of character.” It took him several encounters before he looked up and allowed even the slightest eye contact. I learned that he had actually been a minor league baseball player, didn’t manage his money well and was just a little down on his luck. He had lived with his sister who decided to move away without notice.
Coincidentally, my youngest son was struggling with baseball and my husband was deployed. The next day I went to Walmart where he said he worked to verify his story. The manager smiled and said John was his best employee and he refused to be anyone’s charity, ever.
The next time I saw him, I asked if I could hire him to help my son with his batting. Every afternoon we went out to the field and they practiced batting. On game days, I would catch him watching from afar. He never came and sat on the benches with the rest of the crowd. He somehow didn’t think he was worthy. This saddened me and I went over and invited him to come closer and cheer for my son.
Another day, I was greeted at my front door by two policemen. They said a neighbor had reported a homeless man talking to my youngest son and he was concerned for my son’s safety. I responded, “Oh, that’s John, he’s our friend and my son’s baseball trainer and there’s no need to be concerned.” The policemen smiled and one said, “Thank you Ma’am for seeing him just as he is.”
I thought of John often and wished he would let me help him. Did I mention he wouldn’t accept payment for helping my son? So one night, it was so cold, I went to bed worrying about him. I got up at 5am, made him coffee in a thermos and warmed up a bagel. I thought I could lay it next to him and surprise him when he woke up. To my surprise, he wasn’t there. I thought maybe he had moved to another bench, to a dugout or near the public restrooms to get warmer. I walked all through the neighborhood looking for him. That’s when a group of kittens came out of the woods and gathered around me with hungry meows. I ran home as fast as I could and gathered food for them but when I returned, they were gone. I walked around calling, “Here kitty-kitty.” That’s when the tiniest woman I’ve ever seen emerged from the woods.
She was quite fairy-like to be honest. She casually asked, “Are you looking for my cats?” The sun hadn’t come up yet and I was baffled by the sight of her, the absence of the kittens and the question. I stammered out, “I saw some kittens earlier and they were meowing at me so I thought I would come feed them.” She explained they were not kittens after all and in fact, were just really tiny cats. She said they had all been captured and neutered, were eight years old and she had been feeding them all their lives; they were feral. She explained that when she can’t make it, she sends substitutes to feed the tiny cats and that’s why they approached me. No one else is out that time of day, so they assumed I was a substitute. She invited me into the woods to see where she feeds them. I learned a great deal about feral cats that morning. I couldn’t understand how they could have survived the “Snowmageddon'' we had experienced a couple of years back.
As she educated me, I looked down in shock to see several racoons surrounding us. I was slightly startled and frightened as I didn’t want rabies. As if not to offend the raccoons, I quietly muttered through my teeth, “Uhm, racoooooons…” She gently kicked one away with the side of her shoe and giggled, “Wait your turn, silly, you know the rules.” I was baffled. What was happening? As the sun started to wake up and I could see a little more clearly, I saw yet some other creatures moving in the circumference. They seemed brownish, reddish; what were they? I couldn’t quite make them out. I asked her what was going on out here in the woods. She said those were the foxes that come around third in line to see what’s left over.
This was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had. Most people don’t believe me that this ever happened but I don’t care. I challenge them to come with me any given morning at 5am so I can prove it, yet no one ever takes me up on it. I know it happened and so do the kittens, the raccoons, the foxes and the fairy-like lady who is kind enough to do this every morning. I also like to think the experience was a peculiar little gift to me for my kindness in thinking of John. IF not for John, I wouldn’t have risen at 5am to meet those feral kittens, the racoons, beautiful foxes and the sweet animal-loving lady. I wouldn’t have learned about feral cats and I wouldn’t have this unbelievable story to tell. I wouldn’t be able to revel in my personal joy of knowing it really did happen to me.
I never saw or heard from John again. I can’t help but look for him at bus stops or park benches and am grateful I don’t actually see him because I believe he is back on his feet somewhere living the life he deserves. I like to think that I was a small stepping stone not only in that direction but also of him realizing that he is worthy of every good thing.
Kathryn Payne-Olson born in 1968, grew up in Panama City, Florida. She has lived in Dallas, TX, Seattle, WA, Monterey, CA, Abidgan, Cote D'Ivoire, Los Angeles, CA, Alexandria VA (twice) Stuttgart, Germany, and Maputo, Mozambique. She has so many life experiences derived from these travels and has just begun to write about them. She has written various magazine articles but is currently focusing on non-fiction. Her first published book is called "A Dog, a Frog and a Flounder" It's a story about growing up in the panhandle of Florida and dealing with psychological abuse and forced racism. Her second book is “In a Mozambique Minute” 3 years of crazy experiences in Africa)
books will be 3. Raising a Twice Exceptional Child (her family's
experience, hoping to
help others) 4. Childhood Leukemia (her family's experience, hoping
to help others).
Kathryn has published multiple articles in various magazines. Those links can be found on her Goodreads Profile, her LinkedIn profile or her website www:kathrynpayneolson.com