Here’s another story about someone who enriched my life.
I lived in Alvin’s front yard for 12 weeks, one week per year for 12 years.
There is an old story called “The Shirt of a Happy Man”. Once upon a time there was a mighty emperor whose only daughter fell gravely ill. Physicians, wise men and magicians tried one cure after another, but all to no avail. Finally, an augury was performed and all agreed that if the princess could sleep one night in the shirt of a happy man, then she would be cured. The emperor sent his bravest soldiers on his swiftest horses to search the kingdom for the shirt of a happy man.
One by one, the soldiers returned empty-handed. Each had failed to find a happy man. The emperor was desperate, but held on to hope while one warrior had not yet returned. At last, the word came that he had returned, and the emperor had him rushed to the throne room. “Did you find a happy man?” Yes, he had. “Where is his shirt?” He didn’t own one.
I’m pretty sure the point of this story is that happiness is not dependent on material possessions (as opposed to having poverty as a prerequisite).
My friend Alvin Toombs was a happy man, perhaps the happiest man I’ve ever known.
When I was a kid, Senath had very active saddle club. My father’s only hobby and recreation was horseback riding, though like most horse-owners he spent a great deal more time caring for the horse than he did riding, and he enjoyed that, too. Since his business was in Senath, it was pretty natural for us to become acquainted with the horse-people there.
We would see them at the little “fun show” horse shows on the weekends, and that’s where I met Alvin. Alvin’s barn and pasture were nothing fancy, but they contained a horse for everybody in the family that wanted one. We didn’t have that (though later my Dad did expand our “herd”). I don’t know what the inside of Alvin’s home looked like, but the outside was nothing fancy, either. What his home did have was a second refrigerator on the back porch just to keep the watermelon cold in the summertime. Alvin loved a cold watermelon on a hot day (and who doesn’t?). My dad loved cold watermelon on a hot day enough that we would sometimes drive miles out of town to get a cold one from Clyde Glass’s gas station. It would never have occurred to him to have his own watermelon cooler, though he could have easily afforded it. Alvin had one.
The Senath folks told Dad about the “Cross Country Trail Ride” where about a thousand people camped out for a week with their horses near Alley Springs State Park. You didn’t actually travel cross-country, but rode out for a half day, a whole day, or not at all, just enjoying camp life. We went up one day for a visit, and it was amazing. All those horses, the big screened-in dining tent as big as a 3-ring circus tent, folks camped out all the way around – it was beyond my imagination, and I wanted to go. The Senath folks gathered in a community around Alvin’s big truck and awning he had set up.
At that point, Dad didn’t think he could afford to take us on such a vacation (though he could have, and later he did, many times), but he said I could go if I raised the money myself. I was thirteen years old in 1966 and the cost was fifty dollars, and I saved it up a nickel and dime at a time.
True to his word, Dad took me to the Trail Ride camping area and helped me set up my tent behind Alvin’s truck. He had asked Alvin to look after me, and Alvin had agreed. I didn’t think I’d need much looking after, as I was used to camping with the family and taking care of my horse.
One day, a couple of older boys were giving me a hard time, pushing me around a little. They poured oats over my head and down my shirt. Alvin saw them and took them aside. I don’t know what he said, as he didn’t talk very loud or very long, but there was no more of that. I’m pretty sure that those boys felt the same way I did. Just the thought that Alvin would dislike you or think less of you would have been more than you could bear. You wouldn’t take any chances on that.
We went back to the Trail Ride year after year, and I can’t imagine it without Alvin’s camp. It was a beacon of fun and good will and I will always treasure those memories.
Alvin wasn’t above a practical joke, but he was never mean-spirited. George Krone’s young daughter, Cindy, wanted a horse, and she wanted it now. George got with the program, even though they really weren’t prepared, putting the horse in their back yard temporarily, so Cindy wouldn’t have to wait. Though it was summertime and warm, Cindy got concerned about the horse getting wet when it rained and called Alvin to see if it should be sheltered. Alvin asked where she might be able to put it (knowing it was just in the back yard) and Cindy said they had a utility room in the carport where the washer and dryer were. “That would be all right”, said Alvin, who then hopped into his truck and headed right over there.
Sure enough, by the time Alvin arrived, George and Cindy had managed to persuade the horse to back into the utility room. George felt pretty foolish when Alvin burst out laughing at the sight. Realizing that they had gone a little overboard, George wanted to save face and said to Alvin, “We don’t have to tell anybody about this, do we?” To which, Alvin replied, “Nobody but my friends.” Which I would guess was about everybody in town.
Alvin had lots of friends, and I was proud to be one of them. I don’t imagine that there were many people whom he wouldn’t have befriended. He reminds me of Will Rogers saying “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I don’t know that I ever saw him when he didn’t have a genuine smile and a kind word for one and all. I can hear his laugh right now. I wish that you could, too.