Just the Other Day: Delbert

The other morning, I stopped just outside Bozeman, Montana, at McDonald’s. I was only going to have coffee but Egg McMuffins were specially priced 2/$5. Although I am trying to cut down on eating out, I bought two, then found a table and sat down to write for a while.


A man, who appeared to be homeless, was at the table across from me was shuffling his things. He went through them again and again, meticulously rearranging them, occasionally stopping to take a sip of his coffee. I asked if he’d had breakfast and offered him one of my sandwiches. “Are you sure?” He asked, “I don’t want to take your breakfast.”


“Yes, I’m sure. I want you to have this.” I told him, extending the wrapped sandwich his way. He thanked me, took the sandwich, sat down and ate it with his coffee.


When he was done eating he came to my table, offering me three individually wrapped, antibacterial hand wipes. Explaining the benefits, he said, “They’re great when you need to clean your hands and there’s no water around.” He went on to say, “I take one and tear it in half; I fold the extra half, put it back in the package folding the top over and carry it in my pocket. I take it out to use it later.  I thanked him, but declined his offer, thinking he surely needs those more than I do. I told him I keep a whole container of hand wipes in my car.


Wanting to show his appreciation for the sandwich, he returned to my table with two small bottles of hand sanitizer. “This is really good to have when you need to disinfect your hands. Do you want one?” I smiled and thanked him, but again declined. I noticed he was clean and well kept.


I would guess, everything he owned was in that backpack. I didn’t feel like I should be taking anything from him. I thought more about the meaning behind his offer. This man has almost nothing, yet was offering to share what little he has with a stranger. I was humbled by his generosity.


I asked, “Hey, I changed my mind. Could I have one of those hand wipes to take with me?”


The man smiled very big and began digging through his backpack. “You sure can! Would you like two?”


I took one packet from him and said, “No, one will be enough. I’ll carry it in my pocket when I’m out hiking or walking.”


The man introduced himself. “I’m Delbert.” he said, offering his hand, then asked, “What do you do?”


Shaking his hand, I answered, “I’m Tom and I drive around the country with those little trailers.” I said, pointing out the window to my Scamp in the parking lot.


He asked some questions about the Scamp and about June, my dog, who was sitting in the driver’s seat looking our way.  He noticed my wedding ring. Nodding toward the band, he asked, “Does your wife travel with you?”


“She did last year,” I answered, “but she has a full-time job now and can’t go with me.”


“Do you have faith?” Delbert asked, “Do you believe.” I assured him I did. “Well as long as you have faith, and wear that ring, she’s never very far from your heart.” He made me smile. Then he showed me his ring, pointed upward and said, “My wife left me a long time ago. I know we’ll be together again someday.” Delbert got a little choked up when he said, “As long as I keep wearing this ring, and have my faith, it will be like we were never separated.” He smiled as if reminiscing. Feeling his love for her, I was getting a little teary-eyed myself.



I was watching the way he packed his bag. “I have to keep everything in order, so I know where it is. If anybody needs something – I always know where my stuff is so I can help them out.”


About that time a lady came over with a gift card. “I want you to have a nice day.” she said as she gave him the card.  He thanked her, then she walked away.


Delbert showed it to me and said, “Some people give me gift cards.” He hesitated with his story. “Most people are pretty nice to me,” He said, “but one time a couple guys gave me a card for Home Depot. They said it was a fifty-dollar gift card and hoped I could use it, then laughed when they were walking away.”


Delbert continued, “I met some people who didn’t have anything. They were pretty down on their luck, so I went to the store with them to buy some things. When we went to check out, the lady at the cash register told me there was no money left on the card, so we had to put everything back. I guess I figured out why those guys were laughing. Ever since then, I’ve been a little skeptical about gift cards.”


His story made me sad and angry. I don’t understand why those guys would think their prank was funny – it was nothing short of cruel and mean spirited. I smiled at Delbert and said, “I’m sorry they did that to you. I’m sure the gift card that lady just gave you, is good.”


I asked Delbert where he was traveling to; maybe I could give him a ride. He declined, “I’m going to Washington, but I have to stay in town to go to court tomorrow.” He said, then explained, “I was at a different restaurant having coffee and checking my things when the manager came and told me I couldn’t hang out there. I told him I was just drinking my coffee that I bought there – but I didn’t want any trouble, so I put my stuff away and left.  I went outside to finish my coffee.


“Before I headed down the road, I went in and asked if I could have a refill because I know they give free refills. The manager said, ‘Sure, you can have a refill.’ He asked my name and where I was from, and while I was answering him, two policemen came in and asked, ‘What’s the problem here.’ The manager said that he told me to leave and I came back in – so the police arrested me and now I have to go to court tomorrow.” Delbert’s story was really getting to me.


I asked if he had a place to stay for the night, thinking maybe I could get him a room. Delbert patted his backpack and said he had a sleeping bag that was really warm and a good tarp to keep him dry. “I’ve been sleeping under a bush up by that bridge.” He said pointing toward the interstate. He grinned, “It’s legal and I can’t get a room anyway without a credit card, or a lot of cash for a deposit. I don’t believe in credit cards and I like being outdoors better. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t stay in a hotel.”


He went on to tell me how he prefers to use his money to help others in need. “There are a lot of people worse off than me. They literally don’t have anything” It warmed my heart to hear him say that.


Delbert closed his pack, fastening the buckles. He put his right arm through the strap, then swung the pack up onto his back, sliding his left arm through the other strap. He bounced upward a couple times to adjust the pack so that it was riding comfortably on his back and shoulders.


As he was getting ready to leave, I handed him a couple twenty-dollar bills. “I’m not making any judgements about you, Delbert, but I want you to take this money. If you can use it, that’s great, and if not, will you find someone to give it to who does need it?”


Delbert, took the money, thanked me and assured, “I’m doing pretty good right now,” he said, “but I know I’ll meet people who need help. I’ll put this to good use.” He folded the bills neatly tucking them into his front pocket.


I shook Delbert’s hand telling him I truly enjoyed his company. “I’m glad I met you, too, Tom. Thank you for sharing your time and your gifts with a stranger.” He raised two fingers, giving me the peace sign, then closed his fingers together.  After kissing his fingertips, he pointed to heaven and said, “Keep the faith, brother.”


As I watched him walk toward the street, I thought about our visit and the things Delbert said to me. Here was a man with little more than the clothes on his back, still he chooses to count his blessings. He considered himself to be well off because he has a warm sleeping bag, a good tarp and had found a bush that provided shelter from the wind. He uses what little money he has to help others less fortunate than himself.  He considered his faith to be the most important thing he owned.


I was completely humbled by this man. As I looked out the window, watching him disappear down the road, I reached in my top shirt pocket. Pulling out a small, pink package, I read the label out loud. “Antibacterial, Moist Wipes. For Hands. Kills Germs.” I smiled, placing the packet back into my pocket, “God bless you, Delbert. You may well be the richest man I have ever met.”