"The Bread Man"—A Story from Gadsden

In December, Judy Bacon and Craig Scott invited me to the Gadsden Public Library to speak to their Friends of the Library group about keepsakes, storytelling, and writing. The Gadsden Public Library is a hub of community activity—a model for other libraries. In addition to its shelves and shelves of books, the library features a spacious bookstore that sells slightly-used books, magazines, and movies at deep discounts. The proceeds from bookstore sales go back into the library to make even more improvements. It also boasts a cafe cleverly named Novel Cafe. As a family history researcher, I was pleased to learn that one entire floor is devoted to genealogy and archival material. Most of all, the folks associated with the library are as warm and welcoming as rocking chairs on a wrap-around porch in the springtime. I felt so at home there.

The contents of Will Bevis' envelope—keepsakes from a good samaritan!

The contents of Will Bevis' envelope—keepsakes from a good samaritan!

It was there that I met fellow writer, Will Bevis. 

Will shared one of his many keepsake stories with me that evening, then pulled out a sealed envelope to show me. On the front of the envelope, he had written the words, "Clifford Fountain gave me this money about maybe 71/72."

You'll understand the significance of the envelope and its contents after you read Will's story titled, "The Bread Man." I've posted it in its entirety below.

After the Gadsden event, I drove home in December's darkness, traveling through downtowns dressed-up with the whimsical decorations and twinkling lights of Christmastime in the South. I drove the expanse without the distraction of music or news, opting instead to be alone with my thoughts. I reflected on 2014 and the many keepsake stories strangers—now friends—shared with me throughout the year, but my mind kept returning to the story of the bread man.

Enjoy!

THE BREAD MAN: A KINDNESS NEVER FORGOTTEN”
(Dedicated to Clifford Fountain)

Looking back,
I was so stupid at twenty.
I should have been locked in prison for my own good.
If there had been a test for common sense,
I would not have been able to write my name on it.
All I knew is
I was hitchhiking to Texas by God.
And there I would become rich.
There was a little more to it than that, I admit.
But that was the basic plan.
And it was really no plan at all.
I was just leaving.
Said goodbye to my beautiful blonde girlfriend,
Had already said goodbye to my parents whose hearts must have
already been broken with grief across the river,
had already walked out of American History class as soon as
the professor had passed out the tests
and I realized I knew absolutely nothing on it
so why bother to waste a moment more in that classroom?
I was going to TEXAS, yee haw!
Gonna get a job with a millionaire,
show him I would do any God d*** thing required of future millionaires...
and jump right up the ladder of success.
Yes, siree, buddy.
I was leaving walking...
but I’d be coming back a self made man.
I went up to Highway 72 West, turned right on it and kept walking.
Walked so far the cotton plains started turning hilly.
A mile is pretty damn far when you are walking it...
not zipping past it in a car.
That fact hadn’t been on the history test nor in the textbook.
I was learning it just this moment.
No worry. Some nice person would give me a ride.
Keep in mind it was just me traveling without any thing.
So why wouldn’t they stop?
There would be no big suitcase to heave into the car.
Not even a stick with a bag tied on the end of it balanced over my shoulder.
It was just me, baby.
Me and the June day those dummies across the river were still taking the test at.
Those that knew the answers.
I remember looking at it and thinking...
I do not know not one answer.
Politics, it was, who was backstabbing George Washington and the other founders of our country
and each other.
That stuff would never do me any good anyway.
The only thing that would do any good now...
was some water. And a ride. But not food. I wasn’t hungry yet.
Damn that road to Memphis was long.
And I wasn’t even to Mississippi yet out of Alabama,
and even if I ever did get to Tennessee and Memphis,
Hell, I still had to go all the way across Arkansas.
And the sun was getting a little hot.
I wouldn’t have to worry about that for long though...
later on when it went down...
I would be cold.
Who cared about that now, though?
I didn’t even think about it.
I just walked and watched the cars pass on by.
I didn’t even have to have my thumb out.
They would see me going to Texas and they would just KNOW.
It was like I had a sign on my back.
It surely must read for every one to see...
”I’m going to Texas. I’m going to get filthy rich and famous.
And even Elvis will know me.
Then I’ll come back.
You’ll see.”
They didn’t see.
But my dogs were seeing something.
They were seeing all this walking was not for them.
I didn’t stop. I didn’t rest.
I wasn’t even near the state line yet,
Much less Texas.
And from somewhere there came this little bitty tiny ant of an idea.
It crawled up my legs and into my brain and said, well just whispered at first...
”Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
”TO HELL YOU SAY! TREASON! BLASPHEMY!” I responded.
I kept on going.
I’m a damn rebel.
Rebel soldiers walked thirty miles a day in the War!
I’m a rebel!
I don’t study in class.
I tell the professors to kiss my a** at test time.
This heat, this tiredness, this sweat, this thirst...
it’s all just a minor setback.
Texas, here I come!
But still the idea had been planted.
And though I kept going...
I was beginning to realize exactly how far Texas actually was...
by foot.
There comes the time of day when you realize...
The day just turned the corner.
It’s on the downslope now.
Night is inevitable.
That time came for me.
It was still light, still a whole lot of light.
Still bright light...
But you knew... this one is done for.
It is in the record books.
And what have you done with it?
And all that I could say was...
I think I have made an incredibly stupid decision...
But I have no choice to go on.
What will people think of me if I go back?
No, wait, get that out of your mind.
You ARE STILL going to Texas.
That’s right.
I am.
One foot in front of the other.
And another.
And another.
The cars are laughing at me now.
There is no sign on my back now saying how brave and risk taking I am.
There’s only one that says, “I am walking slower now. I am walking the walk of someone who does not want to give up.
Someone who will keep walking on a wrongheaded path even when he begins to wise up.
Not because he still believes in Texas or Success or succession or the Lost Cause or miracles or anything...
But because this is the course he has set himself on...
And no one can tell him he is wrong.”

It was then that the bread truck honked...
and slid around onto the gravel side of the road ahead of me and stopped.
What the hell was this new thing? A ride?
There! See that? Never, never, never give up!
And all will go well for you. Eventually.
I found the energy to run to the right side of the bread truck. The door was open.
”Climb in,” the man said, smiling. But it wasn’t an “I think you are an idiot” kind of smile. It was an “I’ve paid my dues kind of smile. And I’m glad I’m not having to anymore.”
I plopped my weary ass down on the engine cover beside the driver, and sighed. There was no passenger seat. And there I would ride as he pulled into the road again, already feeling the heat and the vibrations rise up from engine through the metal.
It was not comfortable and I could not relax. I had to hold on to the door frame to keep from falling off and out into the road, as the door was kept open because of the heat. There was no air conditioning in the truck.
But all in all, it sure beat walking.
Vehicle. Wonderful vehicle. I love you so much.
The man – maybe twenty or thirty years older than me, I don’t know, said, “Where you headed?”
I said “Texas,” though not with as much bravado as I would have answered had I been asked in the first few steps of my journey, away from the kiss on my girlfriend’s doorsteps...
where incidentally she may have gained the first clue that I was not too bright.
The driver nodded. “Long ways.”
Then he said, “Well, I can take you a ways. To this side of the state line anyway. Will that help?”
I told him “Yes. Thanks.”
I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I was busy having the inner conversation now, that I should have had before I left. It was going something like this, “YOU DUMB A**! DO YOU HAVE ANY F****** IDEA WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO DO?”
Which was the same thing I am sure my father was thinking when I told him I was leaving, but who, for some reason was understanding enough just to let me go and make my own mistake. After all, I wasn’t eleven, twelve, or even thirteen.
I was twenty years old. It wasn’t his fault I was retarded. Both he and my mother had done the best they could. And my straight D grades in high school had gotten me into the local college where I had completely further wasted their money.
I know they weren’t GLAD to see me go.
But maybe they realized that hardship was the only way I was going to grow.
I was too stupid to learn from others, or to think things out in advance for myself.

The miles went by slowly. Bread trucks are not high speed sports cars.
The driver didn’t talk much.
I liked that in a driver.
I didn’t want him to ask me anything, cause I didn’t want him to find out that I had just left a perfectly good home, a perfectly good girlfriend, and a perfectly good small town college...
to hitchhike to Texas with the delusion that I would do well out there without knowing any one at all. Not one single person.
Thank you, driver.
Instead, the only other thing I remember him saying and doing was this:
And it has lasted me a lifetime.
He started pulling off the road as we neared the Mississippi state line, and said, “Well, that’s about as far as I can take you. I’ve got to turn off here.”
I nodded, and waited as the bread truck rolled to a stop.
Then the unexpected happened. The thing that I will never forget to this day.
He reached into his pocket, and he pulled out everything he had in it.
A bunch of change.
He handed it to me.
And he said, “I just got out of prison not long ago... and I know how hard it is on the road. Take this money.”
I was stunned. And I’d like to say I was man enough to tell him, “No, Sir, You’ve had a much harder life than I have. You keep it and I wish I had more to give you for your kindness.”
But I was just a stupid little boy – a twenty year old boy – but one just the same.
And so I took the money. And simply said, “Thank you.”
Had to be macho. Couldn’t let him see his kind gesture had touched me so deeply.
I got out of the truck, he said “Bye” with that smile, and added, “Good Luck to you,”
and I just stood there for a moment.
He turned left and went straight South out toward the plains and high hills toward Red Bay, Alabama.
And I – I started walking again, that money in my hand.
I didn’t look at it then.
Cause I was growing up.
I was learning about human kindness. This lesson courtesy of a Bread Man. A truck driver who had served his time in prison – but who was not bitter about it. Or anything else.
He was a man whose heart had not been hardened by his time served but who could still stoop to help someone he saw as worse off than himself.
Then the truck was gone.

When I did look at the money later while walking, it was change as ordinary as any you have ever seen.
There was no age on it then at all, other than what happens to money that is not kept, but passed around freely. From one person to another quickly.
This money would no longer be done so.
At that time, I just put it in my pocket and started walking again.
But I was not so God d*** stupid that I did not realize
that that man had just done something extraordinary.
He was a man just out of prison, going home after a hard day’s work to his family...
and he had just given me everything he had in his pocket.
And I doubt there had been much else in his billfold.
I don’t know why, but something inside me even then told me that this money was “special” and to “Keep it separate – for some day down the road you will give it back to him a thousand fold.”
And I did keep it separate.
And I kept walking.
But my heart was not in it now.
I was going ahead on sheer determination and stubbornness now.
But the seed of failure was planted.
I must have gotten at least one more ride...
because I crossed the Mississippi state line,
went on through Iuka...
and someone long forgotten finally dropped me off on the near East outskirts of Corinth, Mississippi,
as they got on the overpass and headed North.
I was on my feet again.
I’d had a rest.
But now I was walking...
and the night was closing in.
And I had only made it about thirty-five miles from my home.
And Waco, Texas, my destination, was still hundreds of miles away, halfway across that giant state.
On the left up ahead was the Corinth, Mississippi bus station.
I was on the right side of the road.
I wouldn’t even let myself look at it. For the Greyhound dog painted on the sign was pointing back to Alabama.
Back to where I had been.
The life I had lived.
I kept walking.
I kept telling myself, I want to be rich. I want to be somebody.
But reality was telling me that would have to be tomorrow, if ever.
This night, my goal was now just not to quit.
To not be a quitter.
I would find somewhere to sleep
and tomorrow would look different.
Texas would somehow be closer.
Success would somehow seem easy again.
Now lights were passing me by, not cars. It was so dark I could not see them. I could not see the metal behind the lights, or the people inside the metal.
And I knew that this was as far as I was going to make it tonight.
I began to look for a place to lay my weary ass and legs down for awhile.
Yes, I would sleep. Then be on my way tomorrow.
There was a wooded area up ahead
and I thought I might not be disturbed there...
by other bums like me.
The place was right by a Holiday Inn Hotel.
And I sat down by a tree
and I couldn’t miss the irony.
There, fifty yards away from me was the back of a hotel.
Nice rooms inside, clean sheets, a hot shower, and maybe even room service.
I however, was by a tree.
I had a few dollars in my billfold...
and the money the driver had given me.
That was all.
Holiday Inn was out of the question.
It was a dream in a far away land, or might as well have been.
I lay down by the tree.
The ground was hard.
It was getting chilly...
And I was wising up...
but it was too late this night to make amends with my idiocy.
Tonight I would have to pay for my stupidity.
And I did.
I fought and fought to relax and sleep on the ground and grass...
but the ring announcer in the fight was saying,
”You are too stupid for words, my friend...
Or you would not be here.”
Finally, I said to him and myself,
”You are right.”
And I got up, and with no ceremony for such a loser as myself,
I left the wooded area and the Holiday Inn,
crossed to the other side of the road,
and walked back to the bus station.
I was beaten.
This was my Appomattox.
And as a Southerner, we all still have them.
All different. But one per man and woman.
I went in under the dog sign, and asked the ticket man how much it was to “Back Home,”
and he told me.
I barely had enough.
And I bought the ticket...
But not with the Prison man’s money...
but with my own.
His money I kept in my pocket,
and in my possession,
from that night,
until now...
forty-two years later.

When I got home that morning back then...
My parents said nothing.
They were just happy to see me, and welcomed me home with smiles.
They rubbed nothing in.
Great people. Both of them.
The idiot son was home...
safe.
I took off all my sweat soaked clothes,
took a wonderful shower,
and then prepared to sleep all day.
And all night.
And I did.
And I never again made another “F” in college.

I make a decent living now.
I support my wife, a wonderful daughter, three dogs and two cats and various birds and squirrels that consider our wooded home theirs as well, and who are fat and happy on our birdseed and bread crumbs..
I have never been to prison.
Knock on wood.
The last time I looked at the Bread Man’s money, several years ago...
a lot of the pieces had eroded and corroded and rusted.
Some you could not even tell what they were anymore. Forty years is a long time.
But they were all there,
every cent the man gave me.
And they were still in the same white envelope I put them in
when I got home all those years ago, though it had long since turned old and yellow.
And the name I wrote on it –
his name which he told me –
is still on it.
A name burned into my memory forever.
I have kept his money all this time,
because of a dream I had even way back then...
the moment he gave it to me.
You see, I never gave up my dream of someday becoming wealthy...
and I always told myself,
someday I will find that man who was so kind to me,
and pay him back a thousand fold.
And over the years as it didn’t happen, I came to realize...
he may not be alive any more.
He would be in his seventies or eighties or maybe even his nineties...if he is.
But then I thought
even if he isn’t he surely has descendants...
and I would like to give them
the original money he gave me
and more...
If I am ever able.
And it would be wonderful if I could tell you that at this moment,
I am able now.
But it would not be true.
But my quest is not over
and until it is...
I still hold the dream
That someday I will give back a lot
to a man who gave me all he could spare.

That night at the bus station the bus did not leave to take me home right away
just because I had come to my senses.
I had to wait until the next morning.
And I stayed awake the whole time.
I had plenty of time to think.
And I would like to tell you now, that after that I never did another stupid thing
in my life...
but that would be a damn lie.
But one mistake I never made...
was spend that man’s money.
Because from that first day it has never been money to me.
It is and has always been proof,
of the wonderful spirit a man can have in him,
even if he has been to prison.
It showed me you can do a lot of stupid and possibly even bad things...
and even be cast in with people who are evil...
and still come out with a heart that is able to love.
This man, whose name was only known to me all these years...
and who I have now dedicated this story to...
is proof of that.
And if I don’t reach my goal of someday
returning a blessing upon the man or to his family...
I have done the best I could.
I didn’t make it to Texas...
but I wrote about a good man
And this is what I wrote.
Don’t forget him.
I never will.
Goodnight, Bread Man.
And Thank You
from the bottom of my heart
For your unselfish
and unforgotten
act of kindness to a total stranger.
Me.
And know this:
My life is not over yet.
And I still have your money...
Waiting to return to you.
— Will Bevis, 2012

After listening to Will's story detailing the actions of a good samaritan, I said, "We have to find Clifford Fountain. Time's running out."

16.99 18.99

But Will said, "No." He remains resolute in his plan to return Clifford Fountain's kindness with a small fortune some day. I admit, I've googled the name and looked for clues, but I will not interfere with his plan. I made a promise to Will that night, and I'm not in the business of breaking my promises.

Thank you, Will Bevis, for sharing your story with me and allowing me to share it with my many Project Keepsake readers. I believe your story will prompt many people to think about goodness, selfless acts, stereotypes, mistakes, and starting over. Most of all, I hope your story will inspire others to write about their own experiences.

"The Bread Man," and many other of Will's stories such as "The Killing of Train-Man Brown," "Send Me a Friend," and "Then Her Wig Fell Off," can be downloaded from the Kindle store. There have been over 55,000 downloads of his work, and there will be thousands more, I'm sure. Click here to view a listing of Will's work. He also has a website at willbevis.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @WillBevis.

As always, keep storytelling alive, my friends. To read more keepsake stories or learn to write your own keepsake story, consider buying a signed copy of Project Keepsake. The link is on the left. And feel free to contact me about hosting a Project Keepsake presentation or workshop in your community.

Thanks for visiting! Hope you stop by again in the future.