Price: When the 'dumb' thing is the right thing

Ron Price, Special to The Daily Times
Ron Price

We all have special people in our lives, people we admire and respect. One such person in my life is Mike Hattabaugh. Hopefully, you recognize his name as he has guest-written more of these columns than anyone else. I always appreciate his wit, wisdom and practicality. I believe you’ll find all of those qualities in today’s column. Enjoy! 

The dumbest thing I ever did for Christmas

I've done a lot of dumb things around Christmas. One Christmas, I "accidentally" hit my sister in the eye with a wooden ball. She spent Christmas in the hospital. One Christmas, I bought my wife, who thinks staying in a 2-star hotel is camping, a tent. She had told me when we got married to never give her a kitchen appliance for Christmas. I thought a tent would not qualify as an "appliance." I was wrong. It was a nice tent. A really large tent with two rooms. I got to sleep in the other "room" for a while. 

I've bought bad gifts, forgotten gifts, even bought gifts for myself and gave them to my nieces and nephews to "open." They did not like shaving cream and a nose hair trimmer from Santa for some reason. I convinced them to let me have them. They must have been "mislabeled."

Mike Hattabaugh

So, see, I've been a bit selfish, foolish and dangerous in my Christmases past, but none of these is the "dumbest" thing I ever did for Christmas.

One Christmas, when I was in college, I was "voluntold" to go play Santa at a small rural church on Christmas Eve. You will do a lot for a girl when you want to date her. Anyway, it was a bit out of town, and after handing out the gifts, I headed back into town to go home to be with my family for Christmas. It was cold, and the possibility of snow had excited my small, southern Arkansas town enough that people were rushing to the one open gas station to fill up before the snow hit.  I went there myself.

As I walked in to pay the cashier, I saw a scraggly middle-aged man standing in the corner with a small duffle bag and clothes that looked two sizes too big.  He was covered in tattoos, had a cigarette dangling from his mouth, unlit, and had that "if you talk to me, I'll kill you" look going on.

I asked the cashier about him and was told he was looking for a ride somewhere. Normally, my wimpy self would have paid and gone home, but for some strange reason, I thought I might just help the man. Turns out, that was the dumbest thing I ever did for Christmas.

He told me he was trying to get almost 60 miles away to see his family.  I looked at my watch, nearly 10 pm.  Home at midnight, if I'm lucky.

I thought for a second, and said, "No problem, let's go." 

We loaded up in my 1975 bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle and headed down the road toward his destination. He was quiet, and it took a while for us to say much. The story out of his mouth scared me. Turns out, he had just been paroled from prison that morning, given a bus ticket to the closest station (my town) and sent on his way. He had been in prison for 20 years for robbing and killing a man.

As I hurtled through the darkness toward a small, unlit destination, I thought: "Ummmm, nobody knows where I am, or who I'm with. Robbing and killing a man. ... He's going to kill me and take my car." Great. I'm going to die a stupid death. I'll miss Christmas, and it's because I was stupid enough to take a felon on a ride to be nice. It was the dumbest thing I'd ever done.

But it wasn't. As we got closer to his home, he told me it was his brother's house, and he didn't know he was coming. He didn't know if he would accept him or curse him out and leave him out in the snow. The snow had begun to stick to the highway at this point, and I was beginning to worry I wouldn't make it back myself. He asked me, what should he say to his brother? 

I thought for a moment, and said: "I'm sorry, can you forgive me?"  He thought that was great and as we pulled into the small, run-down lot, I saw the magic of Christmas. He walked up to the door, knocked on it and his brother came out. They talked for a moment, then bear hugged. His mother was at the house for Christmas, and she came out cried. He was too ashamed to tell them he was getting out.  He waved goodbye as I backed out of the driveway.

I noticed the empty Santa suit in my back seat as I looked through the snow to back out onto the highway.

I laughed.

"That was really stupid," I thought. But it was the right thing to do. I managed to drive through the snow and got back to my worried parents about 1 am. They didn't believe my story, I don't think. I didn't believe it either, but I learned this: Sometimes you have to do the "dumbest" thing at Christmas. Forgive that family member who really hurt you. Give the "best" when you can't really afford it. Share a kind word, a ride, a blanket with someone who doesn't really deserve your love, but who might be changed forever by it. 

Merry Christmas, my friends, and let me encourage you. Go do something "dumb."

Ron Price is the owner and operator of Productive Outcomes Inc. and the author of "PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Work,Toolbox Edition," a newly released paperback book available on Amazon or at PlayNiceinYourSandbox.com. He can be reached at 505-324-6328.