Charlie just phoned me. He got a job. He’s not sure what he’ll be doing, but the city called him and asked him to come in tomorrow morning. They told him they were going to offer him a job. Offer? That always sounds as if there is some doubt. There is no doubt here. He’ll take it. Whatever it is, it’s something steady, five days a week, a paycheck and—this is the clincher. He’ll get benefits. Tonight, Charlie is a happy man.
I met Charlie after a big snow. I’d only been out of the hospital a short time, didn’t have my artificial leg yet, was scheduled to go to Duke for further tests, and was snowed in. My sister-in-law was with me but she could no more shovel all that snow off the porch than I could. We were stuck. I called some friends, and low and behold, Charlie arrived. His head was covered by a knit cap, his muffler wound around his neck, a huge smile was on his face. “This won’t take but a minute,” he said. He was like a snow shovel machine. Not only did he shovel the snow off the porch, he kept going. Snow on the driveway flew. We made it to Duke.
Charlie left me his number and I used it. I love to garden, however that was no longer an option. I could get down, sort of, still can, but getting back up was, and is, another thing altogether. I have always picked up after my dogs, have never asked for help, but staying upright in the backyard was, and remains, a challenge I’m afraid I’ll lose. Over these last couple of years, Charlie has been a godsend. However, the little pick up work I could offer didn’t begin to substitute for a real job. We talked often about his being laid off and what he was doing to find a new job. We talked about what he did before, how he’d worked in a grocery store and was in line for a promotion when the store went out of business, how he’d worked for the city on the trash truck for a while, but hurt his back and there was no position open when he could work again. It was an ongoing saga because, as I gradually learned, Charlie has limited skills.
I live in a state that has some wonderful universities. Young people from all over come here to attend them. We also have one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation. How we reconcile that, I don’t understand. But it was increasingly obvious to me that Charlie was a product of the part of our state’s school system that was short of everything, books, desks, pencils, teachers, but not students. He was never going to attend one of those fine universities; he was never going to land a white-collar job. He was going to be lucky, in this economic climate, to get one at all. During all this, Charlie kept smiling, but, month by month, I watched his hair turn gray.
Charlie never gave up. He found out there were new openings at the city. He went down and applied. He had lost his drivers license. He’d had a couple of traffic tickets and there was no money to pay them. A driver’s license was necessary to do just about anything the city had open, or would have open. A friend of mine, and Charlie’s, took that project in hand, and after a lot of red tape cutting, Charlie’s license was re-instated. He was ready. However, the city wasn’t, the hospital wasn’t, the new restaurants up on the boulevard weren’t either. But Charlie kept making the rounds. He applied to the city again. This time, I tried to help. We wrote a thank you letter to the man who interviewed him and I wrote him a letter of recommendation. So did some of the others who he worked for. And Charlie kept going back. Politely, persistently, he took the letters in, took his new drivers license in, and took himself in, just asking to be considered. He did it on his bike, he couldn’t afford a car. He never lost his good humor, never lost his hope. He never blamed anyone, just thanked all of us who tried to help. This morning, all that paid off. The city called.
We will all give special thanks this coming Thanksgiving. Charlie has a job.