The man was slightly bent over with age, his eyes and hearing were alert, he spoke softly but firmly, and he had something on his mind that had bothered him for a long time. He asked if I remembered him. The answer was something like “you look like someone I once knew, but I’m not sure.” He told me his name. It rang a bell but only slightly.
“I worked at The Missourian when I was a kid,” he said. It was when he was in high school. He remembered well the type of work he did. He was what was known as a “printer’s devil.” That’s a young person who does a bit of everything in a small newspaper’s backstop in those days — from sweeping floors to melting metal used to make casts from mats chiefly for ad illustrations.
The 79-year-old said he remembers well when he left home while in high school and was somewhat homeless, although he lived with relatives off and on. “My dad thought I should quit high school and go to work at a shoe factory. I felt I needed to get a high school diploma.” So he left home and after high school joined the Air Force. He spent over four years in the military and admitted in civilian life he was headed in the wrong direction. He was drinking too much and was somewhat aimless.
He stayed in Texas where he was stationed in the Air Force and worked for an oil company. “I wasn’t looking for God. But God found me,” he asserted.
He was ready to settle down. He met his wife-to-be in Texas and he yearned for family life. They had two children. In the meantime he entered a seminary in Texas and waordained a minister. He served churches in several states, including in Texas, and was a solid family man. He observed how other people lived and he finally was like them.
The man said he has had on his mind for years that at The Missourian he was a thief. He would take coins and dollar bills from a single copy sales box in the front office. He wanted to repay The Missourian, he said. Asked how much money he took, the man said over the two years maybe as much as $75. He said he wanted to clear his conscience and apologize for his stealing. We accepted his apology and told him we didn’t want any money from him. He was grateful and thanked us for our “mercy.”
He also said since his wife died he doesn’t visit Washington that often, even though he still has relatives here.
His confession apparently ended the guilt that he has been carrying with him for years. He seemed relieved that he finally confessed to his stealing and his apology was accepted.
As mentioned, he was somewhat homeless while working part-time at The Missourian and needed money to survive. No one at The Missourian at that time was aware of his circumstances. We are sure help would have been given to him.
Are there teenagers today who are somewhat in the same circumstances as this man was so many years ago? We have been told by school teachers and administrators they have learned of students who were more or less on their own — homeless to varying degrees. They have stepped in and helped these students. Also, today we have so many charitable organizations who aid people in need. Most are member agencies of the United Way. The man we have been writing about lived in an era when there were only a few charitable groups here.
Churches also do a lot of charitable work and help people who have needs.
We felt sorry for the man from Texas who has carried that guilt inside him for so many years. He did seem relieved when he left our office. He had straightened up a bit and his gait had more vigor.