God took me on a spontaneous, unplanned road trip; and along the way I met so many beautiful people. It was such a joy to hear their stories and to catch a glimpse of the lives they live. One such encounter was with a man named Bucket.
Nothing is random.
Stopping for gas in Alturas, California, I made my way to the mini mart counter inside for “a fill”. The cashier was a woman who not only ran the register, a lottery ticket machine, and asked for ID when selling cigarettes; but also made lunches for customers. Her peaceful demeanor freely given to everyone coming through the doors was seasoned with an air of joyfulness, even while crafting egg salad sandwiches. I read her T-shirt and it all made sense. Big, bold white text on the light pink garment proclaimed, “Jesus is Lord!” and told of her personal devotion to Him. The message resonated well within my heart, making the payment for fuel seem somewhat illuminated; a worthwhile stop if only to read her shirt. I was blessed by that, so in turn blessed her back by saying “have a glorious day” as I walked outside to gas up my vehicle.
LIFE is a constant stream of encounters with others on the path.
On this sunny, and very warm day in late May I was pumping fuel at $6.38 a gallon in the shade of an overhead gas station roof (the only shade to be had) when a fellow approached me.
“Love your bus!” He said.
I replied, “thanks man”.
And with that – the usual rapport began. He told me of a VW bus from long ago and the good times he had with it. He mentioned drinking too much beer, traveling from there to here, and what his life was like back when he owned that bus. He was in a happy place just remembering a moment in his past. I could see the smile, it fit him well. His gray hair sticking out in a wild way from under his well-traveled and dirt infused ball cap which perfectly matched his long gray beard in how the hairs refused to be tamed.
He looked ‘worn’, like the years had been a challenge to him. His air was that of a vagabond, a person free to move as he needed, where he wanted, completely un-tethered. As he spoke, his hands danced in the air to simulate the actions he was telling me of. I took notice of those hardened hands. They ‘told’ me that he’d been in the midst of working at something a bit soily.
I liked him. I kept listening.
We chatted about air-cooled and water-cooled buses, the virtues and pitfalls of having heat or no heat, and how they always required the application of a wrench. It was fun to have a joke on ourselves as to why anyone would tolerate a vehicle that needs a tool kit and a willing mechanic as an owner. Ah, but the places these buses take us and the people we meet while doing so is reason enough to accept the terms. Easy conversation, and quite typical for when I’m out and about.
I asked him about himself. This fellow told me of how he’d lost his home and belongings in the Redding Carr fire last year. That the only thing of his that survived the fire was an old tractor. Indeed, the fire had torched and melted one of the tires, but he was able to fix that. One new tire plus some vigorous work to get it started, and the machine was put to good use pushing post-fire debris from both his place and the surrounding neighbors properties. To clear the destruction was his job after the fire, at least for awhile.
Then he went on to tell of how he’d come to Alturas for work. He explained it as being a sort of restart for his life as well. Truly, 2021 had been a tough year, but he was still standing.
And right here this man opens up. He steps forward a little closer and says…
“My name’s Bucket”
And I reply, “my name is Jeffery”.
We then knuckle bump with big grins. We are buddies now.
Bucket then asked, “do you like woodworking?”
I answer, “well, of course, who doesn’t like woodworking?”
He grins bigger.
By the way, I am still at the pump. The vehicle is fueled and done, but we haven’t moved because we’ve been talking. And truth be told, the shade is nice in this spot.
Bucket says to me “I was just at a yard sale and got a whole pile of woodworking tools for free!” He is excited, his eyes sparkle. He leans in and asks “Jeffery, do you want to see what I scored?”
Bucket leads me over to the far side of the gas station where a pickup truck is parked. And like a kid, he is proud of the haul. What do I see? I see ‘junk’. The truck is filled with small machinery, steel rims, and parts, that kind of stuff. There is also a nice mower and a pressure washer that look to be quite serviceable. He then points to a lump of old, rusty, used hand tools in the rear corner of the truck bed. “Look at that!” He exclaims. “Good catch” I replied.
There were a dozen or so hand planers, files, and other odd tools in the pile. He beckoned me to survey and bask in the goodness of it all. “Here’s a great one!” he said, pulling a planer from the heap.
(I was seeing a moment from my own past, like when my grandfather took me to the dump to get rid of things but brought the “good stuff” he found there back home).
Bucket rummaged around the items, then he says to me “Jeffery, I want you to take one, any one you like”.
As he says this – what’s going through my mind is, I’m on the road and I really do not need a rusty, broken tool with me. But this fellow is so open and earnest, we have become brothers in 15 minutes. How can I refuse such kindness?
“Why, thank you, Bucket” I replied.
I reach in. He points to a very worn hand planer.
“Take that one, it’s a good one!” he says.
I grab it with a smile and thank him for the generous gift.
Just then a hornet stings my right-hand middle finger. Okay. Hornets simply get back at anything that messes with them. I had disrupted the place it was resting. I shook it off, while Bucket says to me, “Yep, they do that.”
Still happy and exchanging brotherly words, I thanked him once more, reassuring him that the planer will ride with me on the road.
Knowing I needed to get going, partially because I was taking up space at one of the only working pumps at the gas station; I told him it was time to put some miles behind me.
Bucket replied, “you’ve already put in many miles, my man”. One more knuckle bump and we parted. “Have a glorious day” I told him.
The rusty hand planer was given a place on the passenger side floor of my bus. It made me smile every time I looked over at it. This item I did not want, never have needed, nor even thought once of owning. And yet it was given to me like how kids share cookies with one another. I loved the exchange behind the object. Bucket stayed in my heart as a brother who’d been through so much, yet still sought kinship and healing with his fellow man. I needed only to be open and unassuming. Once or twice, it crossed my mind to toss the rusty thing, or maybe leave the trinket on a picnic bench at a rest area for another person to discover; but it had a measure of sacredness. I know, that is an odd description for a rusty hand planer, but it shall suffice.
It stayed in the bus all the way back to my house, and even then it was not touched for 7 days afterwards. I forgot about it. But I did tell the story about Bucket to anyone who wanted to hear of my journey.
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