While a teenager, I started collecting old Reader’s Digest magazines (anyone who has read my blog knows that I was definitely not a typical teenager) because they are like tiny time capsules, in condensed form, of course.  Often, they contained an article about a person’s most unforgettable character.  Here is the story of mine.

In the summer of 2012,  John and Sarah were getting ready to open their historic clothing shop. John and his cousin were sawing and hammering a display rack for the black powder muskets and rifles. Sarah was outside in a rocking chair, spinning with the drop spindle while watching the passing cars on Main Street. She loved this time of evening, as the sultry July day faded into night.

She heard a cheerful “Hello!” and turned to see a thin, older black man with a huge grin on his face. She returned his greeting, and he introduced himself as the Evangelist Jesse Greer. He asked what she was doing, and when she explained it, he just did not seem to understand. He told her that he was waiting around to walk the ladies from the next door beauty parlor to their cars. Sarah thought that was a sweet thing for him to do. She was a frightful sort, nervous about strangers (and well, practically everybody else) but she felt at ease and safe with Jesse.

He preached her a sermon, about Heaven and Hell, and about how people wouldn’t want to go to the “bad place.” Sarah noticed that there was something childlike about him.  After they said goodbye, he got on his bicycle and she went into the store. John fussed a bit about her out there, talking to a stranger, but she calmed his nerves and told him about her new friend.

Over the next few months, Jesse (some called him Rah-Rah) became a permanent part of the store’s daily crowd. He always had a smile on his face. He washed windows or swept the sidewalk for a dollar or two. He did odd jobs for the beauty parlors on either side of the store. A lot of people thought he was homeless, but he lived with his sister.  He did everything with a cheerful heart and said that everything he did was done for Him (he would point upward).

He had problems counting money and often brought a pocketful of change for Sarah to count for him. Some people tried to take advantage of him. One day, she saw three younger men talking with Jesse and noticed he was getting upset. She was about to confront the men when Jesse walked away from them and came into the store. She asked what they wanted and he said that they tried to get his Social Security number, but he wouldn’t give it to them. Another time, a homeless man walked into the beauty shop where Jesse was sweeping, and beat him up. The ladies of Main Street were ready to string the homeless man up by the nearest tree! Thankfully, the police arrived and Mr. Homeless Man had three hots and a cot for several weeks.

Jesse loved his bicycle and rode it every year in the Christmas Parade. He bought locks, tags, or something else for his bike at least once a week. The ladies at one of the beauty shops bought him a new bike for Christmas.   It made him so happy!

Jesse’s church was planning a weekend retreat to the mountains.  He was so excited and could talk about nothing else for weeks! He saved up his money for the trip. After the weekend had passed, Sarah asked him about the trip. The constant smile faded as he said that his sister would not let him go. It broke Sarah’s heart because he had looked so forward to the trip.

She later learned the cause of his childlike behavior.  When he was a child in the turbulent race wars of the 60s, someone threw a brick and hit him in the head.

For all his setbacks and shortcomings, Jesse had a cheerful heart and a smiling face. We all should strive to be more like him.