I had been watching this guy for, I guess, about two years. Almost every time my wife Alison went to Wal-Mart, he was there. And almost every time Alison goes to Wal-Mart, I stay in the van and park close to the front of the store. Saves us the trouble of finding a real parking place – and saves me the trouble of having to go in and pretend to enjoy something I personally loathe.
Nothing against the fine folks at Wal-Mart; it’s just that I am not a shopper, even for the bare necessities. I don’t even know what brand of shampoo we use. All I know is that it’s always there.
But back to the guy in the parking lot. The one who gathers the buggies from all over the lot, lines them up, and pushes them – 50 at a time sometimes – back up to the store. Talk about a thankless job. I don’t know what these guys get paid, but it should be above average. No matter what the weather, they must retrieve the buggies.
I have observed him in the hot mugginess of a Mississippi August as I sat in my air-conditioned van. I have watched him as my windshield wipers worked overtime during a hard April shower. And he has gained my respect as I sat inside my warm van on a cold January night when the wind cuts like a knife. The guy is a rock, I’ve thought many times. I don’t exactly know why this fellow and his work captured my attention the way they did. I suppose it was because I knew if I were out there, I would have quit a long time ago.
And I have worked hard manual labor before, my friends, so don’t think me a complete office wimp. Worked a summer while I was in college for a metal chair manufacturer. They put me to work stacking sets of five boxed metal chairs on wooden pallets. For eight hours a day. First day I almost died. Seriously. I went straight home and went to bed. It was then I knew what a mule’s life was about. Pain. Both mental and physical. It would have been emotional as well, but I was too tired for emotions. But I went back the next day. And then another. And finally the summer was over and I returned to college with a new appreciation for making a living with my head rather than my back.
Last December I decided that, after admiring the man in the Wal-Mart parking lot for two years, it was time I met him. One day when Alison came back to the van, I pointed him out to her and told her I wanted to do something for him for Christmas. She agreed it was a good idea, so we went over to the Christian bookstore and purchased a really nice Bible and a card. (Yeah, I broke down and went shopping.)
A couple of days later we were at Wal-Mart again and – as always – there he was. I had the gift with me, and Alison was inside the store, so I just walked up to him and said, “Excuse me, how are you?”
“Fine,” he said. “Can I help you?”
“My name’s Tim Wildmon and you are…?”
“Ed Jones,” he answered.*
“Say, are you kin to Brother Don Wildmon?”
“Well, yeah, Ed, I am. He’s my dad. Why?” (I never know what kind of reaction I’m going to get to this.)
“Oh, I listen to his radio station some. Really enjoy it.”
“So, you are a Christian?” I asked.
“Yes, I am,” Ed replied.
“Well, Ed, I come here a lot and I’ve been watching your work and I just wanted to say I appreciate what you do, and I want to give you a little something for Christmas.”
Ed unwrapped the box and opened it to find the Bible. A smile came to his face. He thanked me and said he needed a new one. He told me some about himself and where he went to church. I also told him to open the card later, that I had given him a little something to go to dinner on. We shook hands, I told him that God loved him, to have a merry Christmas, and back to work he went. And to the comfortable van went I.
That gave me a great feeling that day. Inside that Bible I gave Ed can be found a story of the greatest gift of all time. The gift God gave to Ed, to me, and to all who would receive by faith the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. Take time to read and reread the story.
(Editor's note: this blog first appeared on The Stand December 2016)