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Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Angel

My Angel

After I graduated from high school I worked for a couple of year at the dry cleaning business in the town where I went to high school.  During that time Brown Shoe Company opened a factory in town and my mom got a job there.  With her working and making enough money to support her and my sisters I decided to try my hand at college.  There was a small two year college about seventy miles from home where I could get government loans and they promised me work on the college campus to make up the difference in my expenses.  So off to school I went.  I lived in the dorm, worked in the cafeteria washing pots and pans, did odd construction jobs on campus and had a part time job at a dry cleaner business in the town near the school.  It took every penny I could make, scrape and borrow but I made it and finished my first two years of college.  Can you believe my room and board and tuition for fifteen hours of credit was three hundred fifty dollars a semester.  Seems prices just keep going through the sky today.  However the point of this one is not me or my education, I would like to tell you about my angel.  His name was Felix Goodson.
I was a sophomore when Felix came to school as assistant to the President of the college.  He had just retired as regional executive director for a large national insurance company and he came to our school just because he wanted to help young people.  I didn’t know all this at first and to be honest I was kind of put off by him.  He was six foot six and weighed one hundred and sixty pounds with a big honking nose.  He reminded me of the character Ichabod Crane in the “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”  the famous story by Washington Irving.  He also dressed in very expensive suits, wore an expensive hat and drove a new Cadillac.  When I first started seeing him on campus he was coming to the men’s dorm in the evenings and picking up a car load of young men.  He would take them to the truck stop just down the road, the only place to buy a meal close to campus, and buy them food and drinks.  We heard all about him and his trips but my roommate and I were just leery about a guy doing what he was doing, what ever it was.  He eventually got around to asking us if we would like to go along.  We both declined very politely, he was the assistant to the president after all.  We had declined several times but he was like a dog after a bone when he got his mind on something and he began to make an issue of asking us.  One evening I was just getting back to the dorm from the library, yes I did go to the library to study, and Felix was sitting talking and laughing with a group of young men in our recreation room.  I didn’t notice as I climbed the stairs to our second floor room that he had come up the stairs behind me.  I had just closed the door and said hello to my roommate when there was a knock on the door.  When I opened it there stood Felix.  He didn’t ask to come in he just stepped in and closed the door.  He asked, “Do you two have a problem with me?”  Of course we said no.  He then asked, if not, why we had declined all of his offers to go to the truck stop with him.   I told him the first thing that came to my mind because I wasn’t about to tell him that he made us uneasy.  I told him that neither my room mate nor I could afford to go out to eat and that we refused to accept the charity that other students were accepting from him.  He just cocked his head and said “OK, I can respect that.  The next time I ask, you two are going if you do nothing except sit with us and drink water.”  He turned and walked out the door.  The very next evening another student came to our room and told us Felix wanted us in the recreation room.   We followed the student down the stairs and Felix got up as we were coming down and waved for us to follow him.  Eight of us students packed into his Cadillac and we headed to the truck stop.  We took up two adjoining booths in the cafĂ© and when the waitress came to our booth Felix ordered sandwiches and drinks for everyone in both booths.  For my room mate and me he ordered a glass of water. Surprise, Surprise.  That night began a long and dear friendship with many trips to the truck stop.  He was a very humorous person and loved young people for all the right reasons and in all the right ways.  I remember once when we were being approached by a new waitress and he elbowed me then reached over, picked up his hat and pulled it down on his head sideways.  It looked really weird especially with his big nose.  The waitress nearly freaked when he began to order in a falsetto voice.  Felix was simply a very kind and wonderfully humorous spontaneous person.
Not long after I became acquainted with him he asked me if I would be willing to help him with his job.  He visited area high schools to recruit students and wanted me to be his driver and even on occasion speak to the students with him. I couldn’t believe someone wanted me to drive them around in a new 1962 Cadillac so of course I agreed.  He would contact my teachers and get their ok for me to miss class, have them send my assignments and off we would go for a day in the world of college recruiters.  The problems of the world that we solved during those drives to and from the high schools we visited could have saved the world, maybe even prevented the Vietnam War if here had been anyone to listen to us. It was one of the really great life experiences of my youth.
The summer of 1962 found me working in Blytheville Arkansas for a company that installed duct work and piping in different business locations.  I was working from eight in the morning till eight at night for a dollar and a quarter an hour, no overtime pay.  I had received a letter from the college that the government had cut student loan funds and they would not be able to obtain a student loan for me for the next semester.  I had written back and informed them that I would not be returning since without the loan I couldn’t afford the expense even with what I would make working all summer.  One day I was working installing pipe in a local business when the manager walked out and asked if one of us was Byron.  I told him that I was Byron and he told me I had a phone call.  Puzzled I walked into the office and picked up the phone to find Felix on the other end of the line.  He asked me what was wrong with me, why was I not coming back to school.  I told him what the problem was and how I just couldn’t afford to come.  He told me to plan on coming and that he would take care of the problem.  I told him he was not going to pay my way, and he said he knew that but he would solve my problem regardless.  I later learned that since we didn’t have a home phone he had called Brown Shoe Company where he knew my mom worked and tried to talk to her.  When he learned that they wouldn’t allow her to take personal calls he insisted that they take and bring back messages as to how he could get in touch with me.  Mom sent the message with the name of the company I was working for and what town it was in.  He found the phone number and called the owner of the company asking to speak to me.  After some questions they gave him the phone number of the company were I was installing pipe.  Impressive, yes he was an impressive man.  I went to college the next semester, he had gotten me approved for a student loan, I never did find out how he did it.
One evening as I was nearing graduation from college Felix showed up in our room.  He no longer knocked when he came to visit he would just walk in, sit down and shoot the breeze with us and that was a good thing.  This time he walked in and walked to the one closet we shared and drew back the curtain that served as its door.  Felix then went item by item of those hanging in the closet asking if it was mine or my room mate’s.  Everything of my room mates remained where it was hanging on the rod, ever item I had hanging was thrown in the floor.  He refused to respond or answer repeated questions about what he thought he was doing.  When he finished throwing all my cloths in the floor he turned and walked out with out a word.  Three days later I was called to the phone in the recreation room of the dorm and Felix’s secretary informed me that he wanted me to drive him somewhere and that I was to go sit in his car and wait for him.  It was a little strange but not as strange as some of the things I had known him to do during the time I had known him.  After a while he came out pitched me the keys and told me to drive him to town.  When we got to town he had me park in front of the best local department store.  He got out of the car and waved for me to follow him.  He hadn’t said a word on the way to town.  We walked in and I followed him to the men’s department.  When the clerk came up to us he said, “I want this young man measured and fitted with your best suit.”  World War III started right there in front of the clerk.  I informed Felix that he was crazy, he knew I couldn’t afford any suit much less an expensive one.  He informed me that I was getting one even if the clerk had to guess my size so I might as well get measured.  I started to walk out and he grabbed me in a bear hug from behind.  I guess we must have put on quite a show but at the time that was the last thing on my mind.  After quite a bit more discussion and argument I agreed to let him buy me a suit only if he gave me his off campus address so I could send him money to pay for it.  Felix got his way as usual but I got mine also, I paid him every penny that the suit cost.  It took over a year for me to save the money but every time I had twenty five dollars I mailed it to him.
On graduation night I was surprised to see my mom, sisters and an uncle show up for graduation.  I later learned that Felix had contacted mom and arranged for them to come and even bought my sisters new dresses to wear.  Not for mom however even though he tried, she is the one that taught me my pride and independence, mostly by watching her.  When I walked down the isle there stood Felix Goodson with my family clapping and cheering for me.
I was not the only one that Felix helped but as it was with me no one ever knew the extent of assistance he gave to so many.  I felt like I was a little special with him but I really never knew if I was or was just one of the group.  We kept in touch for several years until I tried to contact him one day at his home in Harrison Arkansas only to learn from a relative that he had unexpectedly passed away.  I still regret that I didn’t learn in time to attend his funeral.  I still think of him often. He was truly one of God’s angels.  If you go to the campus where I went to school and where he worked you will find a very nice building with the name “Felix Goodson Library” across the top.  Before he retired he contacted the people he knew in the insurance industry and raised enough money to build the library without  cost for the college.  He didn’t want it named after him but he got it anyway.  I wonder how many people who walk back and forth through those doors know what a great man Felix Goodson was.  An angel? Yes he was!

1 comment:

  1. This is an awesome an heartfelt tribute to your friend and mentor kinda like the father you didn't have, Great story B.