A Thanksgiving Story

A Thanksgiving I can’t forget was when I was a reporter for WCCO-TV. I drew the short straw on the assignment board: Go to a shelter, find a poor family eating the free dinner and let ‘em tell you how grateful they are for a warm meal on a cold day.

On this day, photographer Dick Nordling and I were at the House of Charity in downtown Minneapolis. The dining hall was filled with men, women and children sitting at tables and eating – most still wearing their overcoats. I asked the dining room manager who we could talk with and he pointed to a family in the corner of the room.

I walked over to the family of five and picked out the father. Happy Thanksgiving, I said, explaining I was a TV reporter looking to talk with people who needed help during this season. He said his name was Don and that he and his family had come up from Texas a couple of months ago looking for work. He was a house painter – a “damn good one if I do say so myself.” He explained that he couldn’t find work, was behind in his rent payments and had no cash left for groceries.

“So, here I am,” he said. “I figure at least the kids can enjoy a dinner that makes it seem like Thanksgiving.”

Well, I got that on tape, talked to his wife and one of the kids and got ready to leave. Before I could think about it, I blurted out I had a half bathroom in my house that needed to be painted and maybe he could do the job.

He said sure, and we struck a deal. The next day he stopped by WCCO to pick up a key to my house (I was working all day) and I wrote him a check for the paint and materials. It dawned on me I’d just given my spare house key to a guy I didn’t know, and I spent a sleepless night, wondering how dumb I really was.

After I left for work in the morning, I got a call from my neighbor. She told me some guy got off the bus at the corner with a woman and a couple of kids in tow, carrying a stepladder and a bucket of paint. “They just went into your house,” she said. Concealing my angst, I told her not to worry, that this was just a guy I hired to paint the bathroom. She pointed out the obvious: I was trusting my house to a man who didn’t own a car.

That night I roared in the driveway, jumped out of the car and almost ran into the house. Inside, on a table, I found my key and a short note thanking me for the work – and for trusting him. The bathroom looked great: the ivory paint had not a brush mark and the floor had not a speck of paint. I sent him a check the next day.

I forgot about Don and his family until I moved from that house a year later. As I cleaned out the drawers in the vanity table in the bathroom, I found a $5 bill and 17 cents – and a note from Don:

“Thanks again, Dave. You paid me too much for the wallpaper.”