On the hot, hazy days of summer, Jesse Christopher’s favorite activity was sitting on his front porch. Jesse would arrive home from work about 4:30 and eat supper. Then, newspaper in hand, he sat on his favorite porch chair. He paid special attention to the front page, the sports, and the comics. When he finished reading, he would set the paper aside, take off his glasses, and prop his feet on the front railing. Then his eyes would close. And in a state of semi-sleep, he would daydream of being a hero.
In one daydream, he thought of the people who lived next door, Jim and Pat Elbertson. They were good and caring people. Jim, an executive in local industry, had helped create jobs for the region. Outside of work, Jim volunteered his time to organize the local bloodmobile and to coach a Little League team. He was always willing to help in whatever way he could. His wife, Pat, was kept busy raising her three children: an infant, a six year old, and an eleven year old. Yet she also found time for community through involvement with the League of Women Voters, the United Way, and the PTA.
Jim and Pat Elbertson were very good people.
Jesse would sit on his front porch and daydream of rescuing them from death. He imagined their house on fire. He saw himself break in the front door, and begin to look for the family. He found the infant, and picked her up in his arms. Next he found the older children, and shouted, “Follow me!” Quickly he led them out of the house. But where were the parents?
He went back into the house. He climbed the steps through the thick smoke. He kicked in a hot door. He found Jim wandering around, disoriented. Pat was lying on the floor, overcome by fumes.
So Jesse saw himself lifting her over his shoulders, and taking Jim by the hand. Back down the smoke-filled stairs they went. They rushed through a wall of flame, so quickly that they barely felt the scorching heat. He burst through the front door, into the yard.
In his daydream, Jesse had rescued one of the finest families in town. He would be praised as a hero, for risking his life, his very blood, to save such good people. Jesse enjoyed his daydreams. But he didn’t always get to finish them. Some evenings, he would be interrupted by Ted.
No one knew Ted’s last name. And nobody wanted to know Ted’s last name. For that matter, no one really wanted to know Ted. He was one of those people everyone wished would just disappear.
Ted’s beard was scraggly, and his hair came down to his shoulders. He was always wearing the same torn jeans, the same tattered sneakers, and the same ripped tee-shirt. He bathed rarely. And on the hot, hazy nights of summer, you could smell him approaching you.
Ted was considered by most, if not all, a worthless bum. Parents told their children to stay away from him. Teenagers insulted one another by saying, “You’re a Ted!” Townspeople often called the police and demanded they do something about him. But the police could only shrug their shoulders. The most they could ever do was put him in jail overnight for public drunkenness.
Ted might be offensive; he might be worthless; he might be a bum. But he had had never committed a major crime. (Although many people in the town swore up and down that he had to be drug dealer. How else could he get money to survive? He never held a job for more than two weeks.
Well, as I said, Ted would sometimes interrupt Jesse’s daydreams. Jesse would be relaxed, sitting on his porch, feet propped up on the railing. And along would come Ted, who sputtered out, “Whatcha’ doin’, Jesse, good buddy? Isn’t it terrible what’s going on in the world today?” And then he would begin one of his senseless, rambling tirades about current events.
Jesse would listen until it became unbearable. Then he would reach into his pocket and hand Ted a dollar or two. Jesse knew it was the wrong thing to do; Ted would take the money and buy some cheap whiskey. But it was worth it to get rid of him. And as Ted staggered down the street, Jesse would think, “What a worthless excuse of a man. The world would never miss him if he were gone.
Late one summer—on one of the last hot, hazy nights of that year—Jesse was sitting on the porch. He saw Ted coming down the other side of the street. From across the road, Ted yelled, “Hiyah, Jesse good buddy,” and he began to cross the street. Just then, a large truck came careening around the corner. It was going much too fast. Jesse yelled, “Ted, get out of the street!”
But Ted froze. He just stood in the path of the onrushing truck. And then, more quickly than I can say this sentence, Jesse sprang from the porch. In a few steps he was in the street, pushing Ted out of the truck’s way. But the truck caught Jesse, and hurled him through the air. He came crashing to the street. The blood poured from his side, and by the time the paramedics arrived, it was too late. Jesse had bled to death.
The people of the town were shocked and saddened. And they couldn’t understand it. Had Jesse given his life to save a good family like the Elbertson’s next door, his death would have made some sense. But to give his life for someone like Ted just didn’t make any sense at all.
Except, of course, to Ted. The evening he was saved from the speeding truck, Ted sat on the curb all through the night. He just sat there, looking at the pool of blood which had flowed from Jesse’s side.
And for days after, he came back each evening to look at the blood-stained street. He kept doing that, until the rain had washed away every trace of the blood.
In the months which followed, Ted changed.
He stopped drinking.
He got a job—and kept it.
He still wore jeans—but they were always clean.
He still wore sneakers—but never a tattered pair.
He still wore tee-shirts—but never the same one for more than a day at a time.
Ted gradually became a caring and sensitive person.
And people learned his last name: it’s Hawkins.
It’s three decades or so since Ted was saved from that speeding truck.
The townspeople now invite him to their cookouts on the hot, haze days of summer.
Parents encourage their children to play with him in the park.
Teenagers, when asked to list their local heroes, always include the name “Ted Hawkins.
Ted is changed person. When you ask him why, he will say, “I used to be a no-good bum. But now I’m the one Jesse Christopher died for. I saw his blood lying there on the road. It was blood shed for me. And I knew I could never be the same again.”