Monday, January 6, 2014

Sergeant Finley - Day 1 - 33

Finally, I was on my way to find my friend who saved my life by leading me to Christ as a young lad. Of course, he had helped me in more ways, as well. It was from him that I had learned about defending myself and others. He helped me to  stay out of harm's way. I owed the man more than I could ever repay. We had lost touch after my family left my hometown eleven years earlier; I had never forgotten him. I had a very strong feeling that now he needed me.

By the way, my name is Zebulon O'Hanlon, and back then, in 1967, I was a 22 year old Vietnam veteran, newly returned from the war. People would most likely have described me as an Irisher with flaming red hair and a curiosity about people that would have put a cat under the stove, hiding in shame, cause I would have outdone it in my inquisitiveness. 

Anyhow, there I was on a bus headed south from my old hometown in Pennsylvania. Oh, yeah, people called me Zeb, among other things. 

Looking around me, across the aisle, I noticed a kid sitting beside what was obviously his Ma. He looked to be about five and he was kicking the seat in front of him. Apparently he had nothing to keep him occupied and he was bored to the point that he was reaching out for attention. His mother had a magazine, apparently tuning him out, and pretty soon, something was bound to happen. 

I watched silently, waiting to see what would take place. It didn't take long. An old man, in the seat whose back was receiving the punishment, stood up and turned around. 

Looking over the back of the seat, he said, "Madam! Would 
you kindly control the actions of your unruly brat!"

She looked up, surprised at the outburst, and then apologized to the senior. "I'm so sorry, sir! I didn't realize he was bothering anyone. We had to leave in a hurry, and I forgot to bring any toys with me." 

"Humph! Well, keep his feet off my seat back, if you will, please!" So saying, he sat back down again, after giving one last glare at the little boy.

I decided to see if I could perhaps help her. 

"Ma'am. There is an empty seat next to me. Could I perhaps entertain your son for a while? Maybe he would like to talk to me, as I have nothing to do right now, except think..."

"Well...I don't know..." She looked at closely, as if trying to decide my trustworthiness, then looked back at the magazine she was reading. "Well, I guess it wouldn't hurt anything...Billy, would you like to sit over there a while and talk to the nice man? Sir, what is your name?"

"Zeb O'Hanlon, ma'am." 

Billy looked me over, much more closely than his mother had, and decided that it might be fun to talk to me. After all, it had to be more fun than watching his mother read her magazine. 

Her quick agreement to let him sit with a total stranger, did not seem to say much for her caring for him. I wondered what kind of treatment he got at home.

Billy hopped across the aisle and bounced into the seat next to me. Looking up at me with eyes as rich as cinnamon, the first words out of his mouth did not surprise me so very much.

"Mister Zebulon, why does your hair look like it is on fire?"

I realized the sunlight was shining through the window on my red hair, because I could feel its warmth through the panes of glass.

Smiling at his frank curiosity, I replied that was the color God chose to make it when He made me. 

"Oh! Well, I know about him. He belongs to my Mom!"

"Really? Why do you say that?" 

"Well, every time she gets mad, she says, 'Oh, my god'. So I figure he must belong to her."

"Hmm. I see. Well, I view my God somewhat differently than your mother does. I talk to mine and thank Him for the things he does for me, and sometimes ask Him for help if I get into a bad problem. Tell me, Billy, are you going to visit family?"

"I dunno where we're goin', I never do. We jist up and leave, mostly when my Mom gets a call, or somebody starts bangin' on the door. Sometimes I don't even get a chance to get dressed, cause it's usually in the night time. Right now, I'm hungry. You got any food on ya, mister?"

"Well, Billy, it just so happens I do. A friend packed a lunch for me, but I'll be glad to share it with you."

He watched eagerly as I took the sandwiches and apple out of the kitbag I carried with me. I handed him a sandwich and asked if he thought his Mom would like one. 

"I dunno, she might. Ma! Would you like one a his sammiches?" He fairly shouted the question.

She gazed longingly at the sandwich. 

"Well, I'd better not. After all, it might be all you have to eat and I wouldn't want to rob you."

"Nonsense!" I replied gallantly. "I had a good breakfast this morning, and that will do me until tonight. Please take it. I insist!"

"Well, if you're sure..." She smiled prettily at me. 

After a few more minutes, Billy settled down next to me and was soon sleeping. As he slept, I thought about all the things he had told me, without realizing what he was revealing. I munched on the apple, and before I knew it, I was dozing as well. After the excitement of yesterday, I was more tired than I realized. The humming of the tires of the bus and the sound of the motor seemed to invite sleep. I must have slept for several hours, because when I awakened, Billy and his mother were gone. 

I wondered about them, and where they might have gone. Would they ever stop running? I knew that is what they were doing. It didn't take a genius to figure that one out; I certainly knew I didn't qualify as one. Looking across the aisle, I saw she had left the magazine, so I reached over and picked it up. I was interested to see what the contents were. 

It was a Red Book Magazine, filled with articles about beauty and holding on to your man. There was also some fiction, along with questions and answers from Margaret Mead. I spent a while flipping through it, then tossed it back over to the seat where she had left it. 

Another couple of hours and it was my stop. The driver stopped the bus, and several people got off along with me. He got our suitcases out of the carrier under the bus, and placed them on the sidewalk. I thanked him for the good ride, and he said, "Just part of the job." and smiled at me.

Picking up my duffel bag, I looked around at the drug store where he stopped. It looked like it had a sandwich bar, but I decided to stretch my legs before eating anything. I went into the drug store for directions, though. 

Actually, I stood awhile, gazing around the town square. It was not a large town, the town of Bankton, and little did I realize I would spend so very many years in this place, till I knew it like the back of my hand. 

Entering the drug store, I glanced around. I noticed not very many people were in here. Only a couple of the passengers and the bus driver. He had used the facilities, bought a cup of coffee and was getting ready to go. Apparently, this was a regular rest stop along the way for buses. It seemed a pleasant enough place, I remember thinking.

Once again, the driver nodded to me, then left to get back on his bus. I watched through the glass front of the store as it pulled away. I heard the hiss of the diesel and saw the smoke belching from the exhaust. 

I decided it might be good to have a newspaper. I reached into my pants pockets for a nickel and purchased one of the local papers. I would have to find a place to live. There might be ads in it as well for eateries. I went over to the bar and ordered a coffee while I looked over the newspaper. 

Ah, there was a news writeup about problems with integration of the local schools. It seemed that on the whole, it was going fairly smoothly, but there were some who were still objecting to the procedure. On both sides of the fence, it seemed. 

Flipping through the paper, I noticed it had an ad for several jobs. One of them really caught my eye...they were looking for trainees to become policemen. Now, that was what had been on my mind for some time. I sat back and thought about what that could be like...

I would need references, of course, but first I had to apply. Then I remembered I was here to find my friend. First things first, I told myself. I had to stay focused. Pulling out my wallet, from the inner pocket of my coat, I opened it to look at the address once again on the scrap of paper they had given me at the station. I started to get up to walk over and ask for directions, when suddenly, I noticed something. 

My wallet no longer felt thick with the three hundred dollars I had hidden inside it. It was gone! 

What?? How?? I began searching through my coat, my pants pockets, my jacket pockets. It wasn't there! I had no money except for the pocket change in my pants pockets. 

I felt sick. What was I going to do? Where had it gone? Now what?

Billy! Had he lifted my cash while I was asleep? Surely not...I simply couldn't believe it, I would not believe he could have done such a thing. No, it had to be someone else. 

As I thought back over the events of the day, I remembered the fellow who had accidentally bumped into me before I got on the bus. Perhaps it was he who had stolen my money. I remembered he had seemingly brushed off my coat, checking to see if he had spilled any of his coffee on me. When I was growing up my Grandda had told me about how people would pull that very trick at the county fairs. I had simply forgotten about it until now. 

Well, regardless, there I was with no money in a strange town and no job prospects and no place to spend the night. 

But first, I needed to find my friend, Sergeant Finley. I looked at the address, and taking it over to the clerk, I asked him for directions. 

He took the scrap of paper and looked at it closely. 

"Hmmm. This is over in a section of town you might want to avoid."

"Why would I want to avoid it? It is the last known address of a friend of mine. What kind of place is it?"

"Only riff-raff live in that part of town.You're a nice, clean-cut looking fellow, and I don't think you'd fit in over there. If your friend is living over there and not in trouble, he is likely really down on his luck. I'd stay away from there, young feller!"

"I've come a long way to find him. Please, won't you tell me where it is and how to get there?"

"Well, okay... just don't say I didn't warn ya. Ya go down main street as far as it goes and then cross the railroad tracks when you come to 'em and just keep walking. Then ask anybody you see about this here address. They'll maybe point ya in the right direction, but hold onto your money when you go over there, cause you'll no doubt get robbed first thing anybody gets a chance."

I began laughing like an idiot when he told me that. 

"What's so funny? Was it something I said?"
 

"Oh, nothing much," I replied. "Maybe, some day I will explain it to you. However, don't worry about me losing my money. That won't happen, I can assure you. Thank you so very much for helping me, sir. I appreciate it." 

So saying, I picked up my duffel bag, and slung it over my shoulder, and left the drug store, whistling. I knew that God would be safeguarding me. He apparently had a purpose in my loss of money. Perhaps so I could depend upon Him to really take care of me.



The day was cold, although the sun was shining brightly, and I pulled my coat closer about me as I walked. I realized I really needed a haircut, because my red curls were creeping out from under my Yankee's cap. My hair was the bane of my existence and kept me from being as anonymous as I would like sometimes. Little did I realize that in the future, it would be important for me to be able to melt into the background. 

As I continued my walk across the town of Bankton, I noticed a real friendliness of people passing me. They would nod to me, and smile as though they already knew me. I had been too long in Vietnam. They also cast curious glances in my direction, as though wondering what was my destination. This was, after all, a small town in Tennessee, and where people were always said to be friendly. At least, that is what I had always heard.

As I neared the end of North Main, I saw the railroad tracks to my right. North Main curved and became South Main, with the railroad crossing at the division. 

Hmmm. Interesting, I thought. A division of the North and the South? Were they still fighting a civil war? Perhaps.

Crossing the tracks, I noticed the difference immediately. Factories occupied a large area of the south side. There were also "company houses", apparently belonging to the factories and occupied by the factory workers. I discovered later that the workers had to pay fairly high prices for the rent, keeping them in debt to the company. No wonder they had trouble getting ahead financially. 

I walked along until I found some kids hanging around a grocery store. One of them had a boom box radio and they were playing it loud. It was playing a song I was not familiar with, with a really loud rhythm. 

"Hey, boys! Could you help me please? I'm looking for an address that I was told was around here somewhere."

They looked up at me, and one of them pointed at me and began giggling. 

"Sure, Curlylocks, what it it?"

I simply smiled at his youthful stupidity, and showed him the address. 

Upon seeing it, he became serious and said, "Why you lookin' for it?"

"Well, it's the last known address of a friend of mine. I need to find him, you see."

"Oh, um, er, I, er, well..."

"What? What is it you're trying to say?"

"Well, just that my folks and I used to live on that street and we lost our house, along with a lot of others that were there."

"How? What happened?"

One of the other boys, who was black, spoke up and said, "Mister, our whole row of houses burnt up. We think maybe the fire was set a purpose, on account of us bein' black and all. Lots a people don't like us."

"You really think someone would do that?" 

"Oh, yeah, they would, since we started integratin' inta the schools a few years ago. They don't want us gettin' no educatin' like they get. Tryin' to burn us out."

"But, don't white people live over here, too?" I asked them, looking at the boy who first spoke to me.

"Well, yeah, but I live farther on down in the white section.  Jimmy Joe here is one of my friends. We been friends for a long time, since my dad works at one of the factories over here." The first boy who spoke to me replied. 

"Jimmy Joe,  do either of you know a man named Jackson Finley? He is the one I am searching for."

"Sure, he and his wife lived in one of the houses that burned."

"What happened to him? Where did he go?" 

"It was actually his house that caught on fire first, they said, and then it spread to the others."

"But why? Does that mean that someone was trying to burn him out? Why would they do that? And he was white. Why was he living in colored housing? No offense, boys. I'm just trying to understand."

"It was his wife, mister."

"What was? I don't get it?" 

"He was a white man, married to a black woman. That jist don't go down so good, here in the south." 

"Ah...well, what happened to him? Where did they go? Can you tell me that?"

The boys stood looking at each other, kicking at pebbles in the road outside the grocery store, none of them wanting to speak up. 

"We, uh, we don't know where he is, Mister. He got burnt pretty bad tryin' to get his missus out. She was dead, I think, and they took him away."

"Who took him away? The amubulance, the police, who?"

"Maybe the ambulance." 

"Where is the nearest hospital? Where would they have taken him?" 

I was beside myself with worry, hoping to find him still alive. 

Knowing I had to check first at the hospital, I asked the boys about the location of the closest one. 

"It's about ten blocks away from here; you need to cross back over the tracks and go north two blocks, then turn left onto Central Boulevard. Go eight blocks and it will be on your right. You can't miss it. I hope you find your friend." These words came from Jimmy Joe.

"Thank you! Now I really need to go. I appreciate all your help. God bless you all."

Then I took off at a fast clip, anxious to see if I could find Finley. 

Not having any place to leave my duffel bag, I was still lugging it along with me. It slowed me down very little, though, in my eagerness to search out my friend.

I made short work of the distance. Before long, I was at the information desk of Bankton General Hospital. 

Standing there, trying to catch my breath, I suddenly realized my throat was parched and dry. When the Pink Lady working at the desk looked up at me I discovered nothing but a croak was coming from my throat.

Apparently, she understood my predicament and pointed to a nearby water fountain. 

Hurrying over to it, I bent over and got a huge draught of the water. Oh, my! It tasted wonderful! 

Soon I was back at the desk, thanking her and asking about Jackson Finley. 

"A burn victim, you say? How long ago was that?" 

"I'm not sure, a few weeks maybe..."

"Hmmm..Oh, was he from the fire over in the south side?"

"Well, yes, he was." 

"Er.. ah.. he probably was taken to the other hospital across town. You will need to check over there. We don't take indigent patients into the hospital. I'm sorry."

"Can you please tell me how to get to the other hospital? How far away is it? Can I walk from here?"

"Well, I suppose you could, but it would be better to take a city bus from the bus stop out front. They pass right by this facility. The driver will tell you where to get off the bus." 

"Thank you, ma'am. I appreciate your help."

"You're welcome. I'm sorry about your friend. I hope you find him." 

Nodding to her, I left the hospital, feeling a bit discouraged. This was turning out to be more difficult than I had ever

As I walked through the hospital entryway to outdoors, the realizations that the day was growing late, that I possessed very little money, that I knew no one to speak of, and that I had no job to earn money, hit me squarely in the face. I was one of the many homeless. Now what was I to do, where was I to go? Not only was I without funds, I was beginning to be hungry, as well as needing bathroom facilities.

Immediately, I returned to the hospital and unobtrusively looked around until I saw a sign that said "Men's" and entering the restroom, made use of it. Upon reentering the lobby once again, I saw the receptionist was putting on her coat in preparation for leaving for the day. I decided to push my luck and ask for help in finding a place to stay temporarily.

"Ma'am, could I ask you something else, please?"

I dared to ask because she was an older lady in her late sixties or early seventies, and had a very kind face.

"Oh, are you still here, young man? I thought you were anxious to locate your friend? What do you want?"

Explaining my plight to her, I told her about how much Jackson Finley meant in my life. I told her how I had been robbed of all my money, and I just needed a place to stay a few nights until I could find a job, even if the work was only dish washing or some other menial task.

"I think I may have an answer for you. You go to this address I'm going to give you, and ask the man who answers the door if you can work at cleaning his building for him. Tell him I sent you. I am writing a note to him and signing it. The place is located six blocks from here. Turn right when you leave this hospital and just keep going for three blocks. Then turn left and go three more. You will have arrived. Good luck!  Oh, what is your name?"

"Zebulon O'Hanlon, ma'am. And thank you. God bless you!"

"God bless you, too. I hope to see you again, soon!"

I wondered where she was sending me, if she expected to see me again.

It was beginning to get dark, and here I was, once again, on my way somewhere, destination practically unknown. How did I even know I could actually trust the elderly lady? I simply had to take it on faith. 

When I turned to walk the final three blocks, I was going uphill. It was a hill I would later learn was called Jaybird Hill. At the top, lighting the sky was a sign that said, "Wayfarer's MIssion." It was a mission for the homeless! She was sending me to a homeless shelter... "Well", I thought, "as the saying goes, any port in a storm." 

It certainly looked welcoming to me. It looked like people were lining up outside to go in for the night, so I took a place in line, forgetting about the note in my pocket. 

Looking around, I noticed that people of all ages were there. Many of them looked like they were in their early twenties, perhaps veterans like myself. I noticed a teenage boy, all alone, and I smiled at him. He just gave me a glare in return that seemed to say, "Just leave me alone."

Later I would discover he was a runaway, named Joe. Unbeknownst to both of us, he would become important in the lives of many people. Isn't it funny, not ha ha, how God can take us and use us for His glory, when we least expect it? Little Joe would wind up leading people to the Lord, and helping them in more ways than he ever dreamed. Right now, Joe, like many of us, was just trying to survive.

Soon, the doors opened and we were allowed to come inside. Then I remembered the note in my pocket, and looked around for someone in charge. I saw an elderly gentleman who seemed to be directing the homeless to what they were to do, and so I went over to him, handing him the note.

"Ah, hello, young man. You don't quite look like you belong here. You're clean, look well fed; but I see you're carrying your suitcase. Let's see what we have here." 

Adjusting his glasses, he lifted his eyebrows and peered at the note. Then he smiled at me as he refolded it, and put it into his pocket. 

"Need work, eh? Miss Sarah is always sending people to me in need. She knows that is my line of business, taking care of those in need. Let me introduce myself, Zebulon; my name is Andrew Black, but people called me Pastor Andy. I pastor here at the mission. I can't pay you anything, but I may be able to offer you a room in back in return for helping me here, and also three meals a day. Now tell me how you wound up here."

Apparently, Pastor Andy had enough experience with people during his many years of service for God, that he could size up people quite well, thus his ready offer for me. 

Taking me back into his office, he invited me to be seated and I related all of my story to him, going back to my father's drinking and subsequent death.

He leaned forward during the telling of my story, then leaned back and removed his eyeglasses, rubbing his eyes wearily, when I had finished. 

"You would not believe how many times I have heard the same kind of story from runaways. It is to your mother's credit that she kept you all together and raised you well, with the help of your grandfather. She is to be commended." He smiled at me.

"This Sergeant Jackson Finley that you are searching for - do you have any other information than the fact that he was burned in a house fire and sent to the hospital?"

"No, sir, just that he had been living on the south side with his wife in one of those company houses. He may have been working at one of the factories. I don't know. The boys I talked to said they thought the fire was set on purpose to burn him out, because he was a white man married to a black woman. They wouldn't take him at the Bankford General because he probably had no insurance. I think they may have treated him for the pain and then sent him on to the other hospital."

Pastor Andy looked at me, and seemed to come to a decision.

"Well, why don't we get you settled in and I know you must be hungry. Just bring your duffel bag and come with me."

The room he took me to was small, and away from where the others who slept in the mission at night were afforded rest. It wasn't much bigger than a closet, but large enough for one person, and clean. I soon learned that those sleeping here at night were turned out the next morning to fend for themselves until the evening meals. Funding was too low to provide more for them. 

 I removed a toboggan from my duffel bag and left my Yankee's cap in it's place. We left my belongings there; as we left, he gave me a key to lock my room. I realized my story must have touched him deeply in order for him to trust me so much. In fact, I felt he could be testing me to see if I lived up to his trust. I would not let him down, I knew. 

Entering the large room that was filled with tables and chairs, I saw that the serving line had moved quite a bit, but was still near the doorway to the outside. Once again, I spotted the boy named Joe and he was looking as though he was headed for trouble. He seemed to be antagonizing another, older homeless old man, who was standing in front of him. 

Pastor Andy went over to speak to Joe. 

"What's the matter, Nardocci? Why are you bothering Sam here?" 

"He cut line! Throw him out! He's always cutting in front of people."

"Now, Joe, you know he don't understand. You'll get your supper. You quit jumping all over him. Look, you're about to get served. Pick up your tray and utensils now, and get your food. No more trouble, you hear? Else you'll get tossed out. It's cold out there tonight. Be a good fellow, eh?"

Pastor Andy came back to me and confided that Sam had been turned out of a mental hospital. They are just emptying them out, Zeb. We have lots of war vets that have no place to go as well.

"Who funds this mission, Pastor Andy?"

"The churches in this area give what they can to help us out. We get a little from the state, but not much. We just kind of scrape along, the best that we can. I preach a sermon on Sunday, when we provide breakfast for them. That is the only day of the week that we serve breakfast. It's all we can afford."

"Tell me some more about this young fellow named Joe."

"Well, I believe he is a runaway. Can't be more than fifteen or sixteen, maybe not even that old. From bruises that I saw when he first started showing up, I think he survived a lot of beatings. One of his arms is at kind of an odd angle. I think maybe it had been broken and healed crooked. If something doesn't happen, he'll become a real hoodlum."

"What is it you would like for me to do around here, sir?"

"Well, there is quite a bit to be cleaned each day when the over-nighters leave. The sleeping area needs to be fumigated a bit, and beds need to be smoothed up a bit. Sweeping to be done is a need. Once in a while windows need to be cleaned. You know, just general cleaning. The ones who serve supper always wipe down the tables. Here, let's get us some supper now."

We sat down to a supper of soup beans, cornbread and fried potatoes, with a small slice of cake and a cup of coffee. We thanked God for our meal and then tucked into the meal.

I knew the days ahead were going to prove quite interesting.

I remember sleeping fitfully that first night in the Wayfarer's Mission. I realize that much was on my mind about my new situation - wondering if I could find my friend - how long I would be able to stay in the mission - questioning my own mission to find my friend. Why did God bring me to this place? I seemed no nearer to Jackson Finley here than I had the day before. Then, about three a.m., I simply turned the matter over to the One in charge, and went to sleep. 

I was awakened by a knock on the door at about 6 a.m. Looking out of the small window of the little room, I saw it was still dark. 

"Yes?" I answered the knock. 

"Time to get up, lad. You can help me roust the sleepers and get them on their way. Many of them get out early to dumpster dive. Sometimes they can find food in various places. I wish we could afford to feed them, but that is quite impossible at this time. Maybe some day in the future."

Eager to begin my search once again, I arose and dressed. The room was cold, and I shivered as I clothed myself. I quickly used the bathroom facilities of the small apartment. Then I joined Pastor Andy in the large sleeping area used by the homeless, and helped him to awaken the sleepers and get them out of the building. 

I noticed that most of them had bags or some kind of containers to keep their meager belongings safe from others. I eventually learned that was the cause of many of the arguments among them. Charges of stealing were abundant. Those found guilty of stealing others' possessions were not allowed to come back into the shelter.

After they were all out, we went about spraying fumigants in the sleeping area. Lice were plentiful, and there was no way to keep them out. The shelter had no room for showers for the homeless at that time. It was a pitiful way to exist and my heart went out to them. 

Following the fumigation and straightening of the cots, I swept the floors in the whole mission building. 

I wondered then about breakfast. Where did the pastor eat breakfast?

Going into Pastor Andy's office, I asked him about breakfast.

"I was just getting ready to take you to the kitchen. We can fix us up some breakfast in there. Are you any good at cooking?"

I laughed. "Well, I can cook tolerable well. All of us kids had to learn to cook some."

"Tell me some more about your family. You didn't share very much last night, in fact, almost nothing at all about them."

I related to him the story of how we got from our home town to the little town in Kentucky where our grandparents lived on a farm. Then told him that most of them were still living there. I shared with him some more of my years in Vietnam.

"I simply must find Jackson Finley. I know he needs my help; I know God is directing my path to find him. It feels imperative that I find him soon."

By this time we had just about finished eating our breakfast, and I inquired about the location of the hospital I wanted to go to. It was the next step in finding my friend. 

"Do you have any money, young man?" 

"Well, no, I don't, and I know I must find a paying job. If I could stay here and help you at night and in the mornings, then work during the day at some kind of paying job, I know I can make it."

"Why don't I take you to the hospital so you can check on your friend, then you can see if you're on the right track. I have an old jalopy and I'll take you." 

"Oh, you are too kind! Thank you, so very much!"

As he drove, I asked about the helper whose place I was taking, and what had happened to him.

"Well, Zeb, you are the first I have needed. You see, my doctor advised me that I should get someone in to help me. I'm sure that he was just looking out for me. My health is beginning to decline. Sometimes I have heavy boxes to lift and move around, when supplies come in. They are usually delivered early in the mornings on the weekends. Miss Sarah knew what the Doc had told me. She was so impressed by you, she felt you were just what the ordered, as they say."

"Hmmm. So you and Miss Sarah are good friends, I gather. Some romance going here?" I teased good-naturedly. 

He looked at me, as if trying to gauge my seriousness. When he saw the grin on my face, he broke into a chuckle.

"No, lad, nothing like that. We do go back a long way, but we are just good friends. It's a long story, and perhaps one day, I'll share it with you when we both have the time.

It didn't take a wizard to see his reluctance to share that particular story with a relative stranger. So I held my tongue and.curiosity for the time being.

Within minutes, we arrived at the Bankton Presbyterian Hospital. My hopes were high, and the two of us went immediately to the admissions desk. 

The receptionist greeted Pastor Andy warmly. Without a doubt, he was well-known there. 

"What can we do for you, Pastor? Are you visiting a patient here?"

"No, Ms. Angela, this young man is searching for a friend of his, one Jackson Finley, who was badly burned in a house fire a few weeks ago. Can you tell us if he was a patient here? Perhaps he still might be?"

"Hmmm,  let me see; well, he's not here now. If he was and was discharged, you'll need to go down to records to find that information. Records office is down this hall to your right. When you reach the end of that hall, turn right again. It will be on your left then. Good luck, young man! Goodbye. Pastor Andy."

As we walked at a moderate pace down the hallway, I noticed Pastor Andy slowing down. I slowed down as well, watching him. He took a small vial from his pocket, removed a tiny pill from it, and placed it under his tongue. Why was he doing that, I wondered. 

"Is that medicine? Are you feeling ill? Do you need to rest?"

"No, no, I'll just rest here against the wall for a minute and then I'll be fine. The old ticker is just wanting to act up a bit."

"No, I'm going to find you a chair." 

Seeing an office door nearby, I opened it, and to the amazement of the lady at the desk, I picked up a chair and carried it out her office door. 

Immediately, she followed me shouting, "Stop, thief! You can't take that!"

When she had followed me out into the hallway, she saw immediately my purpose in taking the chair. Rushing over to Pastor Andy, as I had him sit down, she knelt before him and felt his wrist. 

I could see she had some medical training, even though she was obviously some kind of secretary. 

Looking up at me, she said, "He needs to be in a hospital bed. His pulse is thready at best." 

Turning to him, she said, "Don't you go one step further! I'm calling the ER for someone to come with a wheelchair. You, mister, are not going anywhere except to see a doctor." 

"Young man, you see he doesn't move from that chair, you hear me?!!"

"Yes, ma'am, I do. I promise, he won't go anywhere till you say so."

"Now, listen, Zeb, I don't think there's any need to get so alarmed! I told you, I saw the doctor and he just told me that I got some trouble with my ticker, but it would most likely be okay if I didn't overdo. I don't reckon I've overdone it today. Driving you over here didn't take any effort. That gal don't know what she's talking about. I'm just fine. We oughta go ahead and check out that information you're looking for."

At that time, the lady came back and stood with us. 

"They'll be here with a wheelchair in just about a minute. Young man, has he been trying to talk you into going on where ever it was you were headed?"

"Yes, ma'am, I'm afraid he has. I wasn't going to, though. My name is Zebulon O'Hanlon, ma'am. I'm helping him out at the Mission, and he was bringing me over to the office of records to look for a friend of mine. I didn't catch your name, though. I'm afraid I was in too much of a hurry."

Looking at her name tag on her blouse, I saw it was Jenny. Jenny looked to be somewhere in her fifties, greying hair pulled back almost carelessly behind her ears, giving her a motherly look.

She was bending over Pastor Andy and taking his pulse again. Looking up at me, she shook her head in a negative manner. Now I was really concerned. His pulse should have gotten stronger after resting a few minutes.

Then we saw a young man rolling a wheelchair toward us, coming at a fast clip.

"Oh, hey, Pastor Andy, are you feeling a bit under the weather? Let's get you into this chair and down to ER. Easy, now, just let me do the work here."

"I don't know why all this fuss is being made! I tell you, I'm just fine! I don't need this here wheelchair."

He struggled to arise from the chair, but the young man had quickly strapped him into the chair. Off they went down the hallway. My visit to the records office would just have to wait.

Turning to Jenny, I thanked her for her help and ran after the two who had just left, forgetting all about the chair in the hallway.

After about five minutes, I came to the emergency room, but didn't see my friend. Apparently, they had already placed him in one of the cubicles.

"Can I help you, young man?" asked the woman behind the desk.

"Yes, I'm looking for the man who was just wheeled in here," I explained. "Where is he? May I see him?"

"Are you a relative?"

"No ma'am, just a friend. I came here with him this morning."

"I'm sorry, they are working with him right now. Maybe later, if he is allowed to have visitors. If you'd care to wait, you may sit over there."

"Thank you, Ma'am."

Well, I sat down in one of the metal chairs and settled down for what I figured would be a long wait, praying earnestly for the old man who had already proven to be a wonderful friend.

It turned out, though, that the wait was very short, with an unexpected outcome.

I heard a commotion indicating a flurry of activity in one of the emergency room cubicles, a lot of moving around.Then, within minutes, a nurse came out with a doctor and several technicians (I found out later who they were), and all but the doctor left. He walked over to the desk to apparently ask if anyone was present who knew the patient he had been with. She nodded in my direction.

He walked over to me and sat down next to me. 

"Are you a friend of Pastor Brown?"

"Yes, how is he?"

"I'm sorry to say, he didn't make it. He suffered a heart attack while here. His heart was just too weak. We tried resuscitation and it just didn't work. We have a new procedure where we can sometimes shock the heart into restarting. We tried that and it didn't work either. I'm so sorry for your loss. The nurse will be over to get any information you can give her."

Standing up, he patted me on the shoulder, and left. 

I was floored by the news. I had fully expected Pastor Andy to recover... and now, what was I to do? I felt no sorrow on his part, I knew he was in Heaven now. I did feel sorrow in losing him as a friend. I had looked forward to hearing his stories and getting to know him better; in hearing his advice and seeing his sunny smile over the days to come. Such a gentle, caring old man - I knew I would miss him greatly, along with those he cared for at the mission.

The mission! Would it stay open, now with him gone? Who was going to operate it? It was barely operational now, with Pastor Andy, but with him no longer there, would they close it down?

What about all the people that would show up for supper this evening and to sleep there? Who should I contact? I had no numbers to call. Now what? I had more questions than answers - I knew that for sure. 

Did Pastor Andy have any relatives anywhere that could be contacted?

I turned to the nurse at the desk. "Who are you going to contact about Pastor Brown?"

She looked at me as though I were speaking a foreign language. 

"I thought perhaps you could tell me, young man; you came here with him. I need a name to notify."

"Wait, what about his billfold? Perhaps he had some kind of information in that? Could you go into the room and get it for me?" I asked her.

"Why don't we get someone to go with you, and you can bring it back out here," she replied, motioning to a young man in whites.

"Eddie, come over here in a minute, please." After he came over, she indicated he should go into the cubicle with me and retrieve the belongings of Pastor Andy Brown.

Eddie and I entered the cubicle and I looked on the features so very relaxed and peaceful, feeling anew a sense of loss of such a good friend. 

We went through his pockets respectfully, and Eddie handed me the items from the pockets on his side of the body. There was very little to carry back to the desk. 

The items fit into one of my large hands. There were a set of keys, a billfold, a pocket knife, some coins, and a St. Christopher's Medal. Although I had seen several soldiers who carried the medal, I wondered at its significance, and the fact that Pastor Andy carried one. It was something for me to ponder. 

At the nurses' desk, with all three of us in attendance, I opened the billfold, and found a few dollars, not much, and a phone number with a state of Tennessee heading. That apparently was who we needed to call first with news of Pastor Andy's passing. 

There was also a folder such as goes into a billfold, with photographs in its windows. It contained a photo of a much younger Andy Brown and a very pretty woman. We assumed she must have been his wife. There were several other photos, among which were pictures of a family of five; a photo of a little boy with a younger girl; and in the very last section, there was a contact number in the event of his death. 

It seemed he was well-prepared for his passing on. All the pertinent information that was necessary, was right there in one place. The nurse took the items and placed them all in a medium sized mailing envelope and said they would make the necessary phone calls. 

That seemed to be that, I thought. Many days later, I found myself continuing to think about Andy Brown and the people in the photos. I realized that we often have brief encounters with people who have a profound effect on our lives, without their realizing it. 

Heading down to the Records office once again, I hoped I would find some helpful information about my friend, Jackson Finley. 

After about five minutes I found myself passing the office of the lady named Jenny, who had helped us. I gently opened the door to her office and she looked up from her typing. 

"How is Pastor Andy? Is he doing okay now?"

Ruefully, I shook my head in a negative manner. "He passed away within minutes of the time we got him there, I'm sorry to say. He was a fine man, and I feel blessed to have known him, even for a brief time. I'm sure the homeless ones who came to his shelter each night are going to miss him, too."

"What about the Mission? Is it going to close down, now? What will all those people do?"

"I don't know what we will do. Right now, I am one of the homeless, as well, with no money and no prospects. But I am sure God will direct my path, and will help me. Right now, I have to head to the Records department. Thank you for the help while ago!" 

Shaking her hand, I turned and left the office, softly closing the door behind me.

A few more steps brought me to the Records office. Breathing a silent prayer, I opened the door and entered.

As I approached the desk, I observed there seemed to be no one there, until I could see behind it. Squatting in front of a filing cabinet, an elderly lady was rifling through the lower drawer, seemingly searching for a file folder. She had apparently not heard the door open, or my approach to the desk. 

Clearing my throat, I said, "Ahem, Madam."

She jumped and immediately sat on the floor, very evidently flustered by my voice. Her legs splayed out in front of her, she was noticeably embarrassed. She looked up at me with chagrin. 

"Now, look what you caused me to do, young man! Third time this week someone has startled me into such a position. I do declare! Well, don't just stand there! Come around and help an old lady up, why don't you?"

Oh, oh! I hoped this didn't bode ill for me in getting the information I wanted from her. You never want to upset the apple cart before you get the apples, you know. 

Rushing around to her, I gently helped her to her feet, profusely apologizing all the while.

"Oh, that's okay. No harm done, I reckon, young man. Now what can I do for you? In here to pay a bill, maybe?"

"Er, uh, no ma'am. I'm looking for someone."

"You are, eh? Well, as you can see, ain't nobody here but us two chickens. Ha ha."

Uh, oh! I could see she was a real comedian. This could be fun, or it could turn out to be frustrating for me.

"No, ma'am, I can see that for sure, but you sure do have a lot of folders in that filing cabinet. Do you happen to have one for a Jackson Finley in there?"

She stared at me with a gimlet glance and said, "Maybe I do, and maybe I don't? You have a right to know if I do? Are you kin to him, by any chance? Who are you?"

Of course, dear reader, you realize this all took place before the right to know laws were enacted and most generally was up to the institution to decide if a patient's information could be given out to anyone not kin to them.

"Well, ma'am, I am kin to him in a way. You see, Jackson Finley is my Christian brother and led me to Christ over a decade ago. My name is Zebulon O'Hanlon, and we lived in the same town up in Pennsylvania. We both left there and I have been looking for him. Please, can you help me? I believe he was a patient here several weeks ago."

"Well, let me look and see what I can find out then. You just get back around to the other side of the desk and I'll do a quick search. By all the rules, you're not really supposed to be on this side of the desk, you know."

"Now, let me see, you said his name was Jackson Finley? Oh, goodness, these files are all out of order! That new girl must have been messing around in them. These young whippersnappers don't even know their ABC's, it seems! What is this world coming to, anyway?"

She muttered on to herself as she flipped through the files, and I was beginning to wonder if she would find what we were searching for. She was soon removing a stack of files from the drawer and reorganizing them. 

After about twenty minutes, she put them back into the drawer, and then continued flipping through the next bunch. She seemed to be quite methodical in her search, but I was beginning to despair. However, it was amusing to watch her. 

Since I really had nowhere to be until I got my information, I just settled my elbows on the counter and continued observing.

"Ah, ha! Here we are! He had slipped down between two other folders, and I found him, finally."

Bringing the folder over to the counter, she opened it and perused it quickly. 

"Now, young Mr. Zebulon, what is it you wish to know that I can tell you? These records do belong to the hospital, you realize."

"It's O'Hanlon, ma'am. I'm trying to locate Jackson Finley. It is very important that I find him. He is an old friend of mine, and I feel an urgency to locate him. When I found out he had been injured in a fire, I realized he must be in real trouble. Can you tell me if anyone came to pick him up when he left, and who it was? Was he able to take care of himself? Did he check himself out, or did someone else?"

"Hmm. Let's see. He was here for three weeks. He was an indigent patient and we kept him as long as we could. Next of kin is listed as a sister, but doesn't give her name. It seems she came to pick him up. His condition was still listed as serious. That's all we have. I'm sorry."

"What about his doctor? Can I have his name so I can talk to him? Maybe he can tell me some more about him, or maybe his nurses can. Please?"

"Listen, young man, I can't have you bothering the doctors and nurses here. They have patients now that they have to care for."

"Thank you, Ma'am, for all your help. I understand." 

I turned and walked out the door, not knowing a lot more than I did when I came in, but that he was still alive when he left and that he was with a sister, whose last name I didn't know. However, I knew where I was headed next.

Quickly making my way to the emergency room, I decided to ask about Jackson Finley there. It stood to reason that since these nurses knew all the doctors, perhaps they would know which ones cared for my friend. 

As I headed for the desk, the nurse looked up and inquired if perhaps I was lost, going around in circles, since I had been in there not long before. 

Laughing, I soon remedied her perplexity. 

"No, ma'am, I'm searching for information. A friend of mine was brought in several weeks ago, with burns from a house fire, and I'm trying to locate him. I'm gathering all the information about him that I possibly can. I'd like to talk to his doctor and his nurses. Perhaps he talked to them and told them something, no, anything that would help me find him."

"Hmmmm. I don't know about that. The professionals working in our new burn unit are quite busy and work long hours. I don't think so, young man. I am sorry. You'll just have to go back to your editor and say it didn't work."

She gave me a rueful look, shaking her head, as if to say, "Where do these crazy people come up with their ideas to 
get in to talk to the doctors in our new unit?"

"You think I'm a reporter?"

"Well, aren't you? News Talk came by last week and we gave them the exclusive interview on our unit, and that was the only one we intend to give for the time being." 

"But, ma'am, I'm not a reporter! Please, I'm searching for my friend, Jackson Finley."

Looking at her with my heart in my eyes, I besought her help. 

"Wait a minute! Was he about sixty?"

I thought for a moment, and then replied in the affirmative. 

She smiled at me then.

Picking up the phone, she dialed a zero, then within seconds, said, "Mabel, connect me with the Burn Unit, please."

"I have a young man out here looking for a friend who was one of your patients a few weeks ago. Yes. A Jackson Finley.  You remember him? Our visitor out here in Emergency would like to speak with any of Mr. Finley's doctors or nurses. Can someone come out and speak to him for a few minutes? Nurse Atkins can? Thank you."

Turning to me, she smiled and told me a nurse Atkins would be out in a few minutes. I indicated I would go over and wait in one of the chairs along the wall. 

In about ten minutes, a diminutive young woman clad in whites came through the swinging doors, looking about, searching the room with her eyes. When I half-way stood up, she headed in my direction, a smile playing about her mouth.

I knew immediately, almost intuitively, that she was going to make a big difference in my life, though how, I had no idea. 

She walked briskly, in a no-nonsense manner right over to me, holding out her hand to shake mine.

"So...you are interested in knowing about Mr. Finley. May I ask why the interest in him?"

Once again, I explained about my search for him and why. 

"I owe him more than I can ever repay, and I feel he needs me right now, and I'm doing all I can to find him. What can you tell me about his stay in here?"

"How about if we go down to the cafeteria right now for a cup of coffee? I could really use a fifteen minute break." She smiled at me again, and it was like the sunshine breaking through on a cloudy day. I went with her feeling a song in my heart.

As we walked along on our way, companionably side by side, I could look down on her head, noticing she also had red hair, just not quite carroty looking as mine. Hers was a rich chestnut shade. A little nurse's cap sat perched atop her  head. 

Turning her face up toward me, she began to inquire how long I had been in Bankton. 

"This is my second day here."

"Oh? Do you have relatives here? How did you come to our hospital to ask about Jackson? Had you perhaps heard of our new Burn Unit?"

"No, ma'am, no relatives. I just kind of followed my instincts, and asked people questions, until I found my way here. All I actually had to begin with was an address for him. It's kind of a long story, but I'll be glad to relate it to you."

As I related the story to her, I could see a variety of expressions playing across her features, among them were amazement, sympathy, and humor.

"So you were robbed before you even left Pennsylvania, and were unaware of it until you arrived here? Oh, my!"

Watching her reactions to my story, I could see why she was such a good nurse. 

"You must find out from Nurse Grant in Emergency if she knows anything about the Mission, before you leave. Perhaps she can give you the number for the State Administration that was in Pastor Andy's billfold."

Thanks to her kind, but probative, questioning, I had spilled the whole story to her by the time we arrived in the cafeteria.

"Have a seat, Mr. O'Hanlon, and I'll get us a cup of coffee and a slice of Apple pie. No argument, now! My treat! Yours, next time. Okay?"

It was very humbling for me, but helped prepare me for events that would follow. It is always easier to be on the giving end of charity, than on a receiving end. 

After bowing my head to give thanks for the food and kindness of Nurse Atkins, I took a sip of the coffee, and a forkfull of the pie. Hmmmm, pure ambrosia, I thought. 

"Now, please tell me what you can about the Sergeant," I pled, laying my fork on the plate.

"The Sergeant? I thought with the way he behaved he must have been in the military some time."

"He was a policeman when I knew him. He led me to Christ and helped me in many ways. Did he have any visitors while he was a patient?"

"Well, yes, he did. She only came once or twice. She didn't stay long. I think I heard him call her Anne. I hate to say it, but I believe they must have had words, but mostly on her part."

"What can you tell me about Jackson while he was in there? Was he aware of where he was and why? How badly burned was he? Did you ever have any conversations with him?"

"Well, he was quite out of it when they first brought him in, and as you might imagine, in a huge amount of pain. Our new unit is one that is largely experimental. We are trying procedures that are untried before now. We use glucose in intravenous form to restore lost nutrients to the body. We also have baths to help in the healing and forming of new skin. Since it is largely experimental, we take patients that consent to the treatment, knowing they can't pay for them, you understand."

I realized she was basically calling her patients human guinea pigs. 

"And the treatments were successful?"

"Oh, yes, quite so."

She smiled at me.

"Enough so, that your Sergeant Finley was able to be discharged to re-enter the outside world within about six weeks."

"Now, what else can you tell me about him while he was in here? Did he say anything that might give me any clues about where he might go when he left? Did his sister, Anne, come to pick him up? Do you have a last name or address for her?  How long ago did he leave?"

"Visitors had to sign a register, so her last name should be on that. Please come with me and we'll look together. You know, I've never met a person who was any more encouraging to others as your friend, Jackson, seemed to be. We have two other burn victims in our unit, and he was always telling them how much The Lord loved them. He told them each day, and although they seemed to have trouble believing it, they never told him to leave them be."

Tears filled my eyes. 

"That's my friend, all right!" I blinked away the tears. "I know he needs my help right now, and I must find him!"

We had arrived at the burn unit, and I followed Nurse Atkins in, feeling hope and trepidation at the same time.

Walking over to the counter, I waited while she removed the register from under the counter. 

"Here we are, let me see now." She flipped back a couple or three pages, scanning her fingers down the entries. "Ah, there it is!" She turned the book around to face me and pointed at a signature. 

Looking at the name inscribed on the page, I saw it was a tightly written signature, quite legible, with a slight backhand to it.

"Anne Stanton," I read aloud. I deduced from the slant on the writing that she was most likely left-handed. I remembered that Jackson Finley was also left-handed. It must be a family trait, I thought. 

"Can you tell me anything more about Ms. Stanton? Was she older or younger than Jackson? Was she wearing wedding rings? Did anyone ever come with her that you know of?"

Nurse Atkins looked at me in a surprised way, and said, "Yes, now that you mention it, I did notice that she had a wedding band on her hand when she signed the register. She seemed to be several years younger, but I can't say for sure. I think I remember seeing a man join her at the door when she left. I hope this helps you in your search for Jackson Finley, Mr. O'Hanlon."

"Thank you for all your help. Could I ask one more thing from you, please?"

"Yes, of course. What is it you need?"

"I need a sheet of paper and a pencil. I am going to go to the phone out in the emergency area and look in the phone book for all the Stantons in the area, so I can write down the names, addresses and numbers. Then I will begin the next part of my search for my friend."

"Don't forget to check at the desk for information about the Mission. Do you have any money at all?"

I felt my face turning scarlet, and just shook my head no. "That is okay, though. I will just make do. If you are offering money to me, I can't take money from you. Thank you, anyway."

"Here, you take this, and at least have supper and breakfast. You can repay me when you are able. I insist! No arguments, Zeb O'Hanlon! We are supposed to help each other along the way in our lives. Please don't rob me of the opportunity!"

"Thank you! I won't forget!" Taking the money and the sheet of paper and pencil from her, I headed back out the doors of the Burn Unit and headed once again for the emergency room. 

When I walked up to the counter in the ER, I asked about the answer the nurse had gotten from the state about the Wayfarer's Mission, whether they were going to keep it open or not. 

"I'm sorry, they said it will be sometime next week before they can get anyone out to open it back up again. I am to keep the keys until they can send someone to collect them. You don't have a place to stay, do you? Weren't you staying there with Pastor Andy?"

"You're right, but I will find something or some place, I'm sure. Thank you for caring. You have all be very kind. God bless you." 

I headed for the phone booth that was attached to the wall and found the phone book. It looked a little worse for the wear, but I was sure I could find what I needed in it. It looked as though it had been thumbed through by a thousand fingers. Perhaps it had. The little shelf in the phone booth didn't seem big enough to accommodate my search, but it would have to do. 

Quickly flipping through the residential listings, I found the Stanton's listings. There were twenty-two of them, so that gave me a lot of writing to do. Forty minutes later, I had finished my task. 

'What next?' I wondered. 'A map! That's it! I need a city map, but where can I get one of those?'

Walking over to the counter, I waited while she removed the register from under the counter. 

"Here we are, let me see now." She flipped back a couple or three pages, scanning her fingers down the entries. "Ah, there it is!" She turned the book around to face me and pointed at a signature. 

Looking at the name inscribed on the page, I saw it was a tightly written signature, quite legible, with a slight backhand to it.

"Anne Stanton," I read aloud. I deduced from the slant on the writing that she was most likely left-handed. I remembered that Jackson Finley was also left-handed. It must be a family trait, I thought. 

"Can you tell me anything more about Ms. Stanton? Was she older or younger than Jackson? Was she wearing wedding rings? Did anyone ever come with her that you know of?"

Nurse Atkins looked at me in a surprised way, and said, "Yes, now that you mention it, I did notice that she had a wedding band on her hand when she signed the register. She seemed to be several years younger, but I can't say for sure. I think I remember seeing a man join her at the door when she left. I hope this helps you in your search for Jackson Finley, Mr. O'Hanlon."

"Thank you for all your help. Could I ask one more thing from you, please?"

"Yes, of course. What is it you need?"

"I need a sheet of paper and a pencil. I am going to go to the phone out in the emergency area and look in the phone book for all the Stantons in the area, so I can write down the names, addresses and numbers. Then I will begin the next part of my search for my friend."

"Don't forget to check at the desk for information about the Mission. Do you have any money at all?"

I felt my face turning scarlet, and just shook my head no. "That is okay, though. I will just make do. If you are offering money to me, I can't take money from you. Thank you, anyway."

"Here, you take this, and at least have supper and breakfast. You can repay me when you are able. I insist! No arguments, Zeb O'Hanlon! We are supposed to help each other along the way in our lives. Please don't rob me of the opportunity!"

"Thank you! I won't forget!" Taking the money and the sheet of paper and pencil from her, I headed back out the doors of the Burn Unit and headed once again for the emergency room. 

When I walked up to the counter in the ER, I asked about the answer the nurse had gotten from the state about the Wayfarer's Mission, whether they were going to keep it open or not. 

"I'm sorry, they said it will be sometime next week before they can get anyone out to open it back up again. I am to keep the keys until they can send someone to collect them. You don't have a place to stay, do you? Weren't you staying there with Pastor Andy?"

"You're right, but I will find something or some place, I'm sure. Thank you for caring. You have all be very kind. God bless you." 

I headed for the phone booth that was attached to the wall and found the phone book. It looked a little worse for the wear, but I was sure I could find what I needed in it. It looked as though it had been thumbed through by a thousand fingers. Perhaps it had. The little shelf in the phone booth didn't seem big enough to accommodate my search, but it would have to do. 

Quickly flipping through the residential listings, I found the Stanton's listings. There were twenty-two of them, so that gave me a lot of writing to do. Forty minutes later, I had finished my task. 

'What next?' I wondered. 'A map! That's it! I need a city map, but where can I get one of those?'

Going back over to the ER desk, I asked for directions to the public library.

"It's just down the street about two blocks on your right. You can't miss it. Good luck in your search for your friend, Zeb!"

"Thank you! I truly appreciate everyone's helpfulness."

"You're more than welcome! Come back and see us when you can. Let us know how it all turns out."

"Will do."

So saying, I left and headed for the library, hoping to find assistance there.  Walking along, I took note of the weather. The clouds hung heavy and snow-laden. The air was crisp and getting colder. It made me wonder about those who would have no place to keep warm or rest their head for the night.

Looking back on that time even now, makes me realize that in the years between then and now, things have not changed a whole lot since. People still are wandering the streets, homeless and with little hope for their future.

I knew I was among those at that time with no place to lay my head, either. One difference was that I had a home and family in Kentucky that I could go back to. I didn't know how many had hopes of Heaven, but I could sure share that hope with them, as I lived among them.

Somehow, I was going to locate my friend and help him, no matter his present situation.

There was the library. I entered hopefully, looking around and taking in the aroma of the books. I felt immediately at home.

Someone approached me and tapped me on the shoulder...

"Young man," she whispered softly, "may I be of assistance to you?"

Turning, I looked down into some of the softest brown eyes I have ever seen. The smile on her face was kind, as well. She was fairly tall for a woman, but nowhere near my lofty height.

"Yes, ma'am," I whispered in return. "I'm looking for a map of Bankton. Would you happen to have one in here?"

"You're new in town, I gather, and need some directions."

"Well, yes, I need a lot of them, in fact."

"Come with me, sir. I have a very large map of our town."

Going with her to the circulation desk, I saw her flip open a large Atlas. I had not realized there was a national atlas of the cities of the United States, but there it was. She turned to a section near the back of the book, and there was Bankton. It shared the page with several other small cities. 

"Is there some way I can take this to a table and make a rough draft of it?" I inquired.

"Oh, we can do better than that, my young friend. Help me carry it to the machine in back and we will make a copy of that section. You will have to help me hold it in the proper position in order to get a facsimile of the portion we need." 

She placed a placard on the circulation desk that said, "I'll be back in a minute" and I proceeded to help her by carrying the large atlas for her. 

When we reached the back stacks, I saw the large machine that was going to do the copying for me. I had never seen one before. Looking at it curiously, I asked the librarian about it. 

Noticing her name tag for the first time, I saw that her name was Olivia. 

"Miss Olivia, tell me about this huge machine. Have you had it very long? How does it work?"

"Oh, I have very little idea how it works. There is some kind of material inside that makes an image show up on the special paper we use. It's kind of like a camera, I think. I just know it works, and right now, that is enough for me. 

I've been trying to find out by reading the manual, but that is okay. We've only had it for a few months. No doubt, in the years to come, it will be improved upon. I've seen a lot of changes take place in my years on this old earth.

Now let's see about making a copy of this map for you."

Little did we both realize that through the years, many changes would come about that would amaze people. 

After a couple of tries, we succeeded in making a suitable, usable copy of the map of Bankton. 

"Now, young man, let's just return this Atlas to the circulation area and you can sit down with me and tell me why you want this map. I know you must have some kind of story to tell me. Perhaps I can help you even more. You must be searching for something or someone, and I know a lot of people. I can sense you are a kind person and I want to help you."

So we sat down at one of the empty tables in the library and we talked. She was very good at drawing out information. 

After hearing my story, she leaned back in her chair to look at me. 

"I know the Finleys," she whispered sadly. "They used to come in here all the time. I knew Jackson, Anne, Darby, all of them. Then Jackson fell in love with a young colored woman and the family's objections to the union drove a wedge between him and them. He left with the girl, and went north somewhere. That's where you met him?"

"Yes, eleven years ago. He was a policeman. He led me to faith in Christ."

"Oh, yes, I remember. He became a policeman here. He was a rookie when he met ...now, what was her name?...."

"Hmmm...Ah, yes, I remember now! It was Shirley! Anyway, Shirley was what would be considered very light in color, so that one could hardly know she was a colored woman, unless they just knew. You know what I mean."

I nodded my head yes. I was learning much more than I had realized I would. It made no difference to me. Jackson Finley was my friend, regardless of anything. 

"Just a minute. Let me find the newspaper clipping about the fire. I keep a file on the important events of the town. You wait right here! I'll be right back in a few minutes."

As I sat there, the doors to the library opened and a boy came in to apparently return a borrowed book and perhaps to get another. He walked over to me curiously.

"You bein' helped by Miss Livia?"

"Yes," I replied, smiling at him. "Does that mean she is always helping someone?"

"Uh - huh! Most often than not. She knows lots a' stuff." He scuffed his toe against the wooden floor. "She always knows where the good books are, too. This here was a good one."

He held up a book about the Hardy Boys. "I'm reading all of these, you know. They have all kinds of adventures, like I'm gonna have some day, maybe." 

I loved his enthusiasm. "I'll just bet you will!" I agreed. 

"See you later, maybe! I'm gonna find another one of these and check it out. Tell Miss Livvy I said, 'Howdy'." 

He headed to the stacks and soon was signing his name to the card of a new book to read. Miss Olivia came back in just in time to stamp his book with the date due. She patted him on the back and sent him on his way. 

"That boy can read a book in no time, and always returns them before they are due. His daddy took off for Canada, or parts unknown, to keep from fighting in Vietnam. Bless that little Jimmy's heart. Life can be so unfair sometimes. 

Now, let me see. Here is the clipping about the fire and how your friend got burned. Why don't you read it for yourself?"

Taking the clipping from her, I read it.

"Early this morning, a group of houses on South Main burned to the ground. It seems the fire began in the home of Jackson Finley and wife, Shirley, as they slept. The fire was apparently arson, and perhaps the work of someone who had a grudge. Jackson sustained burns over thirty-five percent of his body. The fire is being investigated by the fire department and the police. 

It is believed Jackson was burned trying to rescue Shirley Finley, because of where the burns on his body were located. He was taken to the Bankton General Hospital, and Shirley was taken to the city morgue. She was pronounced dead at the scene of the fire. More to follow later."

I looked up from the brief article with tears in my eyes. 

"Are there any follow-up articles on the fire?" I inquired hopefully.

"Not to speak of. It seems they dismiss crimes like this one with an 'Oh, well, what do you expect from these colored people? They are always fighting amongst themselves.' Things that happen in that neighborhood don't always get investigated."

"Nothing at all?"

"Nope."

"Well, listen, there is one more thing you might can help me with. Can you tell me where Anne lives, by any chance? Could you look at these addresses and maybe help me that way? She is the only clue to his whereabouts that I have right now."

"Okay, Zeb. Let me see the list of names and addresses. Perhaps I can help you there."

Taking the sheet of paper, she looked carefully at each name and address. 

"Ah, here we are. I remember now! What a wedding that was! All the cream of society was there. Jackson was just a teenager at the time. It was in the early 20's, I believe.
His sister, Anne,  was a beauty and marrying one of "The Stantons". Everybody who was 'anybody' was present. 

It is easy to understand why, when Jackson began seeing Shirley, the news got out eventually, and he was virtually a persona non grata in town, as well as she, so they left. Now you know the story, my young friend. I must say, it took much courage for them to return 'to the scene of the crime'; don't you agree?"

"Oh, yes, indeed, Miss Olivia!"

Leaning back in my chair, I realized that I now had plenty of information to continue my search. Looking my new friend in the those kind, soft brown eyes, I realized they had a twinkle in them. I knew the town of Bankton was quite fortunate in having such a character as she was, manning the town library. She was a treasure, indeed. 

She helped me locate on the map where Henry and Anne resided. That is where I was headed upon leaving Miss 
Olivia's presence. 

"May I hug you, Ma'am?" I inquired? 

"I won't permit you to leave until you do!" She laughed merrily. "Please come back to see me and also keep me up-to-date on your progress. Perhaps you can bring Jackson in to visit with me?"

"Of course! " I replied, not realizing how soon I would see her again.

I was soon on my way, hopefully, to see my long-lost friend before sundown. 

Taking map in hand, I followed the tiny arrows that Miss Olivia had drawn on it to the address marked with an "X". The wind was blowing once again, and I pulled my heavy coat closer to my body. 

The paper was fluttering in my hand and the wind almost pulled it away. This town was in the foothills of the mountains and it felt like snow might be on its way to Bankton. How the homeless would survive without a place to stay the night, I had no idea. There must be other refuges that they sought when the Wayfarer's Mission was closed. I knew, without a doubt, I was going to be finding out for myself, sooner than later. 

After about thirty minutes of walking against the wind, I found that I was in an apparently well-to section of town, certainly nothing like South Main had been. I checked the numbers on the door facings of these stately homes until I found what I was looking for. Carefully folding the map, I placed it in an inner pocket of my coat. 

My heart was beating so loudly I could hear it in my ears, and I stood there looking at the house. I was imagining my reunion with my friend, and tears filled my eyes. 

Standing for a moment on the sidewalk, I viewed the house. It was a large Colonial House with a wing on each side and a large porch that went all the way across and around to one side. 

Slowly mounting the steps to the porch, I looked about and my vision took in the rockers on it. Then I rang the doorbell and listened to the chimes that rang inside the house, and waited. 

The door slowly opened and an elderly man stood in the doorway, and just looked at me for a few seconds.

"Well? What do you want? We're not buying anything!" he told me gruffly. "Well! Speak up! Cat got your tongue?"

"Er..uh...I'm looking for Jackson Finley, sir," I stammered. 

"He's not here! Now be off with you!" he shouted, then muttered, "Riff, raff!" 

The door slammed in my face.

Stubbornly, I rang the doorbell again. 

The door remained closed, and I waited. I rang again, and waited. 

Finally, it was flung open again.

This time, it was opened by what had once no doubt been a beauty, but the passage of time had taken its toll, so that she was simply at present, a thin, lonely-looking elderly lady.

"Yes, young man? Why do you need to see Jackson? Who are you?"

"I'm a friend of his from several years ago. Please, may I come in? It is rather chilly out here, and my story will take a few minutes. I mean you no harm."

"Of course, come on in. I'm sorry to keep you outside for so long. My husband is ill, and is not always the most hospitable person, to be sure."

She led me into an entryway that had seen better days, but was still nicer than any home I had ever lived in. We went into the large room on the right of the entryway, and I noticed the walls had spaces where it looked as if paintings had once been hanging.

We walked over to a settee and she held her hand out to indicate I should be seated. Then taking a large chair near me, she leaned back and simply looked at me.

I wondered at the look she gave me. Was she waiting for me to begin my story, or was she just sizing me up?

Then, to my embarrassment, my stomach growled loudly. My face must have turned a flaming red, and I didn't know what to do. Should I apologize, I asked myself, or say nothing. 

She stood to her feet and beckoned me to follow her.

"Let's do go into the kitchen, young man. I could use something to eat. Perhaps we could have a sandwich. I took my husband upstairs to rest awhile. That is why it took me a few minutes to answer the doorbell."

I followed her through the long hallway, and into another that took off to the left. Finally, we came to the large dining room, went through it and into the kitchen. 

"We usually eat in our kitchen these days. Our days of large dinner parties has passed. Please have a seat, young man. You haven't told me your name yet."

She turned to me and looking me in the eye, asked, "How do you know my brother? What are you really after? Why are you bothering us?" 

Whoa! This woman seemed to be running first hot, then cold. 

I began speaking quickly, explaining how he had led me to Christ when I was only ten years old. Then how he had helped me to defend myself against bullies at school.

"He changed my whole life, Mrs. Stanton! I owe him so very much. I have been looking for him for days and I feel he is really somehow in need of my help now."

She was standing at the counter, pouring coffee and looking at me.

"And you came all this way just to find my brother? What makes you think you can find him here? How did you get my name and address, anyway?"

I began to explain about having his address on South Main, and going there, only to find his house had been burned down. 

She looked closely at me to see if I knew the significance of the address. I must have shown some indication that I was aware, for she then turned slightly aside, looking down.

"Yes, do go on." 

She had been busily making a couple of sandwiches and handed a small plate holding one to me; taking the other sandwich plate and sitting opposite me.

"Just how did that lead you to me?"

"Well, ma'am, you see, I talked with some boys that were standing not far from the houses that burned and they told me what had happened, and that Jackson had been taken away in an ambulance; that his wife had died in the fire. Then I just kind of began searching and finally wound up in the Emergency Room at the Bankton General. From there it was just kind of a trail that I followed to you." 

"Hmmm. I see." 

"Anne, Anne! Where in tarnation are you, woman?" 

This came from upstairs. Apparently her husband had awakened and was heading down the stairs. 

"Excuse me, he's not well, and I need to go see what he needs. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Leaning back in my chair, I took a few minutes to reflect on her behavior. So far, she had not been forthcoming with answers, only questions. I could understand that she did not speak freely of her feelings or was perhaps not even willing to share any information about Jackson's whereabouts. However, I felt I could persuade her to tell me, if I had enough time to do so.

I wondered about her husband. What kind of illness had he? He certainly sounded as though he was not quite in his right mind. I know now that he would have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, a form of Dementia. It didn't become widely known by that name until years after my visit to the Stantons' home.

Anne returned to the kitchen in a few minutes, just as I was draining my coffee cup.

Picking up the coffee pot, she poured me another cup of coffee, and reached for the cookie jar. Opening it, she held it out to me. 

"Have a cookie with your coffee," she spoke, smiling a curious little smile.

"So...you would like to know where my brother is, would you?" 

"Well, yes ma'am. That is why I sought you out. Could you please tell me? Is he here, perhaps? Are you maybe preparing me for what he may look like now? Is he not able to get about?"

"Do you have a place to live, young man? Would you be able to care for him? Do you have a job yet?"

"I don't have a job, but I can get one. No, I don't have a place to live yet, but I'll find one. Please, tell me where he is." 

I had been turning the cookie round and round in my hands until it began crumbling, causing cookie crumbs to spread on the table in front of me. Looking down at the crumbs, I realized what I had done, and began apologizing. 

"Sorry, Mrs. Stanton. I didn't mean to make a mess. I'll clean it up." I began brushing the crumbs off into the plate.

"Never mind. I'm used to cleaning up messes. I'll take care of it. Perhaps you'd better go."

"But, ma'am! Where is Jackson? Is he here?"

"Oh, no, young man. Didn't I tell you? I sent him back to live among those people he loves so much better than he does his family. He's not here at all. Hasn't been for some time. Now, go! Don't come back, you hear? Don't come back, ever!"

"I'll pray for you all, Mrs. Stanton. Goodbye."

Taking my coat from the back of the kitchen chair, I left.

'Now what', I asked myself as I stood once again on the porch, with the cold wind whistling round the corners of the house. 

Walking down the steps, I reflected on the misery inside that house, and felt so very blessed to be me, even though I had no place to lay my head that night. I knew the Mission would be closed and that countless other people had no place to keep warm. Where to go?

I wandered the streets aimlessly, not knowing the town, yet praying I would find my way to some kind of shelter for the night. Thanks to Anne Stanton, I did have some food in my stomach, but morning would bring hunger anew. I had been a soldier, though, so hunger was no stranger to me. Survival was the thing right now. 

Others were out and about as I made my way along the streets. I looked into each person's face, looking, searching for my friend. Perhaps I would find him as I walked. 

Sometimes they looked back at me as if to say, "What are you looking at?" Then they would look away. Others would just duck their heads if they noticed my perusal. 

I soon realized I had made my way back to Main Street. I remembered the bus terminal and headed for it. Perhaps I could spend the night there on one of the benches. They had rest rooms as well, too. 

Little did I know there was an agent who kept the homeless from staying too long. He checked the rest rooms on a regular basis, and noticed who stayed resting on a bench without buying a ticket. He allowed me three hours and then turned me out again. 

By that time it was dark. I went back to wandering the streets, looking for a doorway to rest within. In the part of town where I found myself, there were several homeless who huddled together. 

Looking down an alleyway, I saw a large metal can with sparks shooting up from it. I headed for it, seeing there were some people gathered around it. They glanced at me suspiciously, seeing, I suppose, that I had on a nice heavy overcoat.

"Where'd you get that coat, buddy? Steal it offa some store rack? Give it here, I can use it!"

The fellow that spoke to me, was a big, beefy-looking individual, who looked like he could back up his demand.

"Sorry, friend! I'm not giving up my coat, just because you ask for it. I happen to need it as well." I was remembering my days of being bullied in elementary school, and was determined that it would not happen here and now.

It wasn't for nothing that the military service had made me strong. My muscles were well-developed, and I knew I could take the big one, but apparently, these three had worked together before to take down unsuspecting victims. 

While the big one made a frontal attack, the other two circled around behind me. Light and sparks from the fire flickered and made strange shadows on the walls of the buildings in the alleyway, as we fought and tussled. The coat I was trying to keep was hampering my free movement, and just as I thought I had the big guy, one of the others hit me with something heavy and I went down, unconscious. 

I came to my senses several hours later, stripped of my coat, and my shoes were missing as well. Moaning, I sat up and shivered almost uncontrollably. For a few moments, I didn't know where I was; then it came to me.. I had been robbed. The fire had gone out in the metal trash can and I was in the dark, in more ways than one. 

Making my way to the end of the alley, I stepped on the refuse and cut the bottoms of my feet on broken glass strewn across my path. Just as I exited the alleyway, a patrol car was cruising by. 

"Hey, you there! Get off the streets and go home and sleep it off!"

Running over to the car, I flagged down the officers. 

"Please, I need help! I've just been robbed of my coat and shoes by some men in the alleyway. I haven't been drinking, officers."

They looked me over. One of the officers leaned out the window and shone his flashlight on me. 

"Harry, I think he has been in a fight of some kind. He could be telling the truth.  First, let's see if he can walk a straight line. If not, we can take him and throw him in the drunk tank overnight, with the other boozers."

I realized that with the cuts on my feet, I couldn't walk a straight line if my life depended on it. At least if I were thrown in the jail overnight, I'd have a place to sleep. Maybe I could get some information, too, in the meantime. After all, what better place to get help in finding someone, than in a police station. 

So, I didn't even try to walk a straight line. I staggered around a bit and it wasn't long before I was in the back seat of the cruiser. I would check the bottoms of my feet for glass when I was safely in a cell. 

Off we went. They didn't even bother to book me, but just put me in the large cell with several other men and told me to sleep it off. They would charge me the next morning, they informed me.

As I slowly became aware of sounds around me, I realized I was lying in a bed, not sitting in a corner in the drunk tank. What was going on? What was I doing here in this place? Where was I anyway? 

The sounds reaching my ears seemed to be muted, as if they were plugged with cotton. 'What gives?' I thought. 'Where am I?' 

Slowly trying to sit up, I was aware of pain in my head and as I moved my feet, I realized they had something on them. Were they bandaged? I could feel the pain in them as I moved them in the bed. 

"There, there, Mr. O'Hanlon. Don't move about so much. You've suffered a concussion. You should lie still for a while longer."

Looking up in the dim light of the night light in the room, I saw the face of a nurse bending over me.

"What...what...how did I get here? How long have I been here?"

"About twenty-four hours, sir. They brought you here from the jail, unconscious and unresponsive. They found your identification in your empty billfold. When they realized your condition yesterday morning they immediately got help for you. A good thing they did, too. You were in a bad way. Now, you just lie back and rest. It won't be long until you can have some breakfast."

Before long, a doctor came to check on my progress. I inquired of him about how long I would be staying. 

"Oh, probably another twenty-four hours for observation. I also will write orders for the nurse to check your feet for infection. Apparently, that was quite dirty glass you must have stepped on. Nasty stuff, infections. I'll look in on you later, to check your progress." 

"Thank you, Doctor."

I lay back and thought about my predicament, yet, I knew I was blessed. I could be dead now, I realized to myself. I thanked God that He had taken such good care of me. 

Chuckling to myself, I remembered how my Da had called me hard-headed. Right at that moment, I was right glad for how right he was, although he had meant stubborn.

I remembered then that I no longer had a coat or shoes. Winter was still upon us, and I was now in a tighter situation than before. With my coat, my map disappeared.  But the map situation could be remedied. 

Wait a minute! I just happened to think that perhaps Anne and Jackson had other siblings, and perhaps he might have gone to another sibling for assistance when Anne turned him out.

My plan had certainly taken on a down-turn. Here I was, conjecturing with no real facts to go on. I had to go back as soon as I could to Miss Olivia for more information. 

I lay there wondering how I was going to get there, and how it was all going to come together. 

I drifted off to sleep. 









































(To be continued)