The Story of Big Jim

One thing we did a lot of during those years was move!!  I bet in
12 years we lived in 12 different places…always within a mile or
two of the restaurant.  I worked all different shifts and the kids
were in and out of the diner almost as much as I was….everyone
knew them by name.    I remember once when Ryan was about 5
and AJ around 3 years old…they ran into the store, straight up to
Leon, an old black fellow who’d become a really good friend,
because he usually had candy in his pocket that he’d dispense
from his stool at the counter.    Well, this time, he was
apparently out of sweets so he gave AJ a $5 dollar bill saying,
“Now little man?  You be sure and give your brother half of this!”   
AJ never missed a beat, he turned around to face his brother,
tore that bill in half and handed a piece to Ryan.    I thought
Leon was gonna have a fit!!   He laughed for 20 minutes!  Kept
telling me “D?  You better keep an eye on that one….he’s sharp
as a tack!!”
 
Most of the regulars were always on my case for one particular
thing….my penchant and my tendency to “adopt” people.    We
never, ever had too much, in some cases, not even enough some
would say;  but there was always someone with even less than
we had.     And, I guess because someone special was once kind
to me when I had nothing, I never was able to resist doing what
I could to help folks.    It didn’t matter who….bunch of college
kids on their way to Miami with a broke down car who needed
a place to stay and had no money for a motel…..a mom with 3
small kids on the run from an abusive spouse who stopped in
the diner at 2 in the morning to spend her last $4 on something
to eat for the little ones…..a young man, who’d just hitched
hiked into Winston-Salem from Chicago, out of money and
not knowing a soul….  most of these folks found themselves in
my kitchen at some point.   They’d get a meal, a hot shower,
clothes for the kids, an introduction to someone who
worked at whatever agency could provide them with the help
they needed, sometimes it was just prayer or hugs!!    
And because of my tendency to help where I could…..most of the
regulars considered it their duty to warn me that if I continued
to haul people into my house it was just a matter of time before
someone either robbed, hurt me or worse!    But I’ve always
believed, deep in my heart, that the Lord protects those who
do His work….so their warnings usually fell on deaf ears!
 
I guess because Mr. Omelet was only a few blocks from down
town Winston, we also attracted our fair share of what some
would call “street people”.      Folks who, for whatever reason,
were usually homeless, dressed in not much more than rags,
some addicted to drugs or booze, some just out of hope in
anything….they’d wander in & out of the diner, hang out in
the parking lot, trying to beg patrons coming and going for
loose change.    Management made a career of trying to run
them off, especially during first shift….but on the 2nd and
3rd shifts we weren’t quite so dedicated. 
 
One man, (we called him Big Jim, cause he was gentle but
HUGE!!) will always standout in my memory!     Probably
somewhere in his late 60s, he stood around 6’4″ and had to
weigh at least 280 lbs!!   He was also what I guess you’d call
developmentally-challenged….he probably functioned on the
level of a 6 or 7 year old.   But he was assweet a man as you’ll
ever meet!    He used to come stand outside the window of the
diner and wave at me around 11pm every night!    I’d go out and
hand him the wide broom and tell him that  if he’d sweep the
parking lot for me I’d fix him a double-burger cheese plate with
hash browns as payment!   
He’d flash me a smile that could stop traffic and get to work!  
The short-order cook on my shift was a grouchy middle-aged
guy named Joe.   (I’m relatively sure that if anyone ever traced
Joe’s family tree back far enough, they’d find he was closely
related to the original Ebenezer Scrooge, BEFORE his Christmas
Eve transformation!)   If Joe was ever unable to find anything to
gripe about, he’d create something!     My constantly buying
dinner plates for different street people was HIGH on Joe’s list
of things to complain about, but since I was paying for the food
with my own money, there wasn’t too much he could do about it!   
 
The reason I’ll never forget Big Jim is that one night, I found
myself working 2nd shift alone when Joe, the cook, called in.  
Now on the weekend nights, Mr. Omelet really rocked on 2nd
shift, with people on their way to the bars and clubs, preparing
to party, etc…
But during the week,  2nd shift was pretty much the dead zone
once the supper crowd left, so working by myself wasn’t a big
deal.   I can flip an egg or make toast without any major
problems.
Now on this particular Wednesday night, I ran out of change &
had to race across the street to the Mobile gas station to buy
some from their cashier.  
I was on my way back to the diner, headed for the back door
which was between our building and this huge metal dumpster.   
I almost made it to the door when this young kid appeared out
of nowhere,  pushed me up against the wall and tried to snatch
the bag of coins from my hand.   I felt something sharp in my
back….had no idea if it was a knife or a gun or what…..but in
any event?    $2.50 per hour does NOT buy you heroics of any
kind.   I gave him the bag, hoping he’d take off and leave me in
one piece.     I never found out what he might have
done next because right then, we both heard what I can only
describe as  a ROAR from across the parking lot!    I looked
around and in the glow of the streetlight I could see Big Jim
come lumbering towards us, hollering at the top of his lungs:   
“DON’T YOU HURT MY FRIEND!!!”     He was angry and closing
fast!!   
 
The poor kid didn’t know what to do…..I’m sure he was more
scared than I was….at the sight of this HUGE guy headed right
for him!    Jim grabbed him with one hand, flung open the
dumpster with the other, tossed the kid in through the open top,
slammed it shut, then climbed up and sat on the lid.     Then,
with the kid inside banging and yelling to get out, Jim looked at
me calmly and said “You best go inside and call the Po-Po, Miz
D….they’ll come get him!”    I’ll never know what might have
happened that night  if my Guardian Angel hadn’t rescued me!     
The police did find a gun on the boy inthe dumpster….   and they
called Jim a hero, which of course, he wanted no part of.   He didn’t
know or care anything about what might have happened, or the fact
that the kid might have shot him.
All he saw was someone who had been nice to him in
trouble and he knew he had to help!    Thank God and Jim….
because otherwise I might have gone to Heaven that night!  
After that story made the rounds, the warnings and criticism
about how I shouldn’t be “helping” street people died down
considerably.
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