When I pick up Maria’s Catalina Vista donations on Sundays, her dad, Carl, an Optical Scientist at the U of A, is there to greet me sometimes. This was one of those Sundays.
Our conversations are always easy, interesting and thoughtful because Carl looks to understand human behavior. We talked about the nature or nurture of generosity in people and if they are born to be a liberal or a conservative. I was on both sides of this issue telling Carl about a study that discovered poor people are more generous than rich people. However, when the researchers told the rich people to imagine they were poor and the poor people to imagine they were rich, the poor became less generous if they thought they were rich and the rich became more generous if they thought they were poor. Nurture at work.
On the nature side, we talked about our earliest memories where we just felt the desire to help people. If we saw something out of place, we deemed it important to do something to correct the situation.
This thought suddenly stirred a memory from my Army days. After basic training, I was stationed in the Headquarters Company at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma writing news releases. Our stone barracks were near the administration building and quite nice compared to what I lived in during basic training. The floors were polished cement and the bunk beds were double-decker frames placed in a casual order about a large room.
One day as I returned from a not-so-hard day at the PIO (Public Information) Office, I noticed an 11B20 soldier (basic infantryman) lounging on a top bunk reading a book. That was unusual because Playboy Magazine was the standard fare. I asked him what he was reading and he said a physic book. I soon learned he was RA (Regular Army volunteer) and held a Ph.D. in physics. I, on the other hand, was a US (draftee dragged in kicking and screaming) and graduated Summa Cum Last.
I knew the infantrymen were attached to our Headquarters Company and their duty was to put out fires on the artillery range during the day while they awaited orders to ship out to Nam.
Without saying much more than “What the hell are you doing as an 11B20?”, I wrote down his service number and the next day I visited the personnel office.
He may have been a soldier but he was more a physicist with his quiet, somewhat shy demeanor. I knew I had to do something because he was not equipped to get himself out of his life-threatening dilemma.
Since I was in the Army barely 90 days, I understood very little about military procedures but I did know that the Army had a mistake to correct. The first officer I encountered in personnel was a Captain. “Sir,” I said with not too much confidence,” this is the service number of an 11B20 attached to Headquarters Company. He has a Ph.D. in physics. I think he is in the wrong place.” I handed the Captain the piece of paper on which I wrote the soldier’s service number and left.
The next day around noon I started up the barracks steps and the soldier in his dress uniform, dragging his duffel bag, came through the door.
“Hey, where are you going,” I said a bit surprised.
“Cape Canaveral. I’m being transferred. Going to work with rockets.”
That’s all we said.
(During that period of time, Cape Canaveral, from 1963 to 1972, was called Cape Kennedy but many of us never made the changeover.)
It’s been forty-six years since then, and now and again I think of that soldier and I’m sure he is telling the story about a guy who saved his bacon just because that guy saw something out of line in the universe. Bet the personnel Captain is too.
Carl said he really liked my story. That’s probably because he is a member of the U of A Physics Department and a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy.
There is a new show on TV called Touch with Kiefer Southerland. It is about a man whose Autistic son sees the order of the entire universe and has his dad help fix peoples lives when things go awry. Fascinating show, but we don’t require someone with special powers to tell us when something is wrong. All we need is a strong sense of what is fair and the will to think of others more than we think of ourselves.
Things are ever changing around us, but we as a neighborhood have kept to our One Can A Week commitment for 13 straight quarters. Based on averages, for the past three years we donated 229 lbs. of food and $50.18 in cash per week.
In our first quarter of our fourth year, we donated 206 lbs. of food and $57.08 in cash per week.
That’s got to be the finest example of community service consistency on the planet. Somebody call Guinness.
Terri opened the door and handed me her donation. A bright blue and white box featuring a big yellow Twinkie was on top. (Pictured in the front of the cart.)
“Oh, no, those will never make it,” I thought. “Wait a minute; did I say that out loud?”
Terri smiled and said emphatically, “No.”
We both laughed.
The very next stop was at Greg’s house on the corner of 12th Street and Cherry. He walked up to my car and studied the donations spilling out of the container in the back seat.
“Twinkies! Give me that.”
We talked and we laughed some more before I drove off with the Twinkies secure in the back seat.
We collected a total of 164 lbs. of food. The money we donated amounted to $33.15, a $25.00 check and $8.15 in cash.
See you Sunday,