By Owen Hudson September 2007
I had a big disappointment when I received my first paycheck. I calculated that I would have to live on less than $200 a month after I paid my lot rent. I might be able to manage by buying generic brands and skipping lunch at school. There would be no money for clothing or entertainment. I had brought both summer and winter clothing, so that shouldn't be a problem. I rarely went to a movie or anything back home and I was used to just watching TV.
School was going fine. The kids were friendly, but so far none meddled in my business. A few of the girls flirted with me. This surprised me because I never considered myself to be good looking. I had no plans for dating anyway since I had neither the time nor funds. Besides, I didn't want any of my classmates to know where I lived.
I had the weekend off from work and decided that my lot needed to be mowed. I asked Mr. Day if I could borrow his mower. The lot was small and took just a short time to finish. I decided that since I had nothing else to do, I would pick up the trash scattered around the trailer park and mow the entire park.
After I finished mowing, I showered and then decided I needed to do laundry. The trailer park laundry room was small and badly in need of a good cleaning. After getting my laundry started I began cleaning the room.
As I was folding and putting away my laundry I heard a light tap on my door. To my surprise, it was Mr. Day. I invited him in and continued with my laundry folding. "Why did you do it?" He quietly asked.
"Do what?" I asked as I was beginning to panic. What did he know?
"All of the mowing and cleaning that you've done around here," he said.
"It just looked like it needed," I said with relief that he hadn't discovered my secret.
"It sure did," he smiled. "When my wife got sick I had to let things go to take care of her. I haven't been able to get caught back up since she died."
"I'm sorry about your wife," I said with sincerity.
"Thank you, Jeff," he said. "I have a proposal to make with you. I don't have much money to hire someone to help me out here, but if you're willing to help with things like you did today I can give you free rent."
I couldn't believe my ears. I quickly agreed before he changed his mind and said, "Thank you Mr. Day. That would be a big help to me."
"I think both of us would benefit from the deal," he said. "And, you can drop the Mr. Day shit. Just call me George."
I laughed and said, "Thank you George."
He had a serious look on his face and said, "Jeff, what's your story?"
"My story?" I questioned. "What do you mean?"
"Look I see you coming from the high school, so I know you're not in college," he said as he smiled weakly. "You have no parents and I've never seen any friends around."
I had been caught. I knew that my luck was too good to last. I decided to confess everything to George and then make a run for it again if necessary. I sat down with a sigh and said, "George, I'm a runaway. My parents were not only drunks, but abusive. The beatings were become more severe and I couldn't take it anymore." I decided to not mention the kiss from Tom.
"Are you going to try and send me back?" I asked. "If you are, I swear that I'll run and never go back to that again."
"No son," he said. "I know what it's like to be on your own. I left home when I was fifteen. Not because I was abused, but for survival. I was the oldest of nine kids. We lived in a two room shack. Although all were able bodied, I was the only one to work. I decided that if I was going to work my ass off I'd do it for myself and not for a bunch of lazy asses. After I left, I never went back."
"Then you're not turning me in?" I asked.
"Nope," he smiled. "If anyone asks, I don't know anything. The way I see it we can help each other out here. I may need you as much as you need me."
I gave George a hug and said, "Thank you."
"Thanks aren't necessary," he said. "I'm just trying to do what's right. I do what I can to keep your secret. Back when I was your age people asked fewer questions."
George and I talked for the rest of the afternoon. I discovered that in spite of our age difference we had a lot in common. I learned that he had no contact with his family, and that he had two sons who died in an auto accident when they were in high school. He was now alone the same as I was. Finally George said, "I'm getting hungry. Let's go get something to eat."
"George, I can't afford to eat out," I said. "I'm on a tight budget."
"Did I ask you to pay?" He asked.
"No, but I can't let you pay," I argued.
"You can and you will," he said.
I was out picking up trash one afternoon when George looked at my trailer and said, "Jeff, we need to get your trailer ready for winter."
I gave him a puzzling look and asked, "What do we need to do?"
"You don't want your water pipes to freeze, do you?" He asked.
"Shit no," I said. "How do I winterize my trailer?"
"The least expensive and easiest way would be to use heat tapes," he said. "I'll take you to Wal-Mart and help you find some."
I was happy that George had advised me about winterizing my trailer because three days later we had a hard freeze and I my water never froze.
George and I soon became friends and depended on each other. On rainy days he drove me to and from school and work. I performed most of the maintenance work around the trailer park and soon had it looking nice. By Thanksgiving we decided that we would have dinner together at his place since my kitchen was so small. I would do the cooking since George was a horrible cook.
As Christmas vacation approached George and I began to make plans. I'm sure he knew that I had little extra money and he suggested that we limit our gifts to $20.00. I began to look for clues for something to buy for my friend. I finally decided on buying a nice pair of gloves. When I opened my gift, I realized that George had spent much more than the agreed upon $20.00 limit. He bought me an expensive pair of jeans. I knew that arguing about it would be a waste of time. I graciously accepted them and pretended that I didn't know.
I cooked Christmas dinner and George said that it was almost as good as what his wife's Christmas dinners had been. After we ate we watched a little TV and napped. It was the most pleasurable Christmas I'd ever had. My parents were usually drunk by early afternoon, and I always retreated to my bedroom to avoid their beatings.
George and I ate leftovers that evening and settled in to watching Christmas movies. Most were about happy families. I guess I became quite and deep in thought when George asked me, "Do you miss them?"
"Huh?" I asked.
"Do you miss your family? He asked.
"Hell no," I said. "I don't miss the beatings. I do wonder what it would have been like to have a real family. I wonder if they even tried to fine me when I ran away. But, we were never a family. You're my family now."
George hugged me and said, "We are a family. I'll be here for you."
For the first time in my life I was happy. I went back to school after the Christmas break and even began to make a few friends on a casual base. I began to call George "Grandpa." He seemed to like that and would smile each time I did.
One day after school Grandpa George was waiting for me when I got home. "Get in the car," he said. "We're going shopping for some new clothes for you. You've out grown yours."
I knew I needed new clothes, but I felt security in having some money stashed away. I finally agreed that I could buy a couple of pair of jeans and get by. As we walked toward George's car, he asked, "Do you know how to drive?"
"Sure I do," I said. "I had driver's education back in Illinois. I even have an Illinois driver's license. I just haven't had much practice since my parents never let me drive."
George tossed me his car keys and said, "It's time you got some practice."
I laughed and said, "Thanks Grandpa."
I managed to get us to the mall without wrecking us. After finding my jeans size I picked out a couple of pair and went to the checkout. George put three more pair with mine. "Grandpa, I can't afford five pairs of jeans right now," I protested.
"I'm paying for these and don't argue," he said. "A grandpa can buy his grandson things every now and then."
I couldn't have loved George Day anymore than if he were my biological grandpa. As they days went buy George and I came to depend on each other. I did things for him, but not because I felt an obligation. I did them because I loved him as much as I would have a real grandparent.
My grades were great and I was at nearly a 4.0. I knew that if I kept up my current GPA I could earn a scholarship. Financially, it would be a challenge. However, I was used to living on a strict budget. I would be an adult and could work more hours then.
I was sitting in my isolated area of the cafeteria having lunch. Most kids bitched about the food, but to me it was a lot better than what my mother had cooked. At least it was cheap and filling. I was thinking about how much better my life was now that I didn't have to worry about getting beat up by my parents. I noticed a group of kids a few table away that were laughing and enjoying themselves. For the first time that I could remember, I wished that I could have friends. I chatted and interacted with the kids here much more than I ever had back in Illinois. However, I still kept people at a distance because I didn't want any questions about why I was living alone.
I had been pissed at Tom for kissing me and caused me to make my quick retreat from home, but in the long run it had worked out for the best. I would like to have let Tom know that I was doing okay, but I could never chance contacting anyone from my past.