“The Man in the Yellow Slicker,” Ensign, July 1992, 58–59
One chilly day in September, my husband, John, arrived home to tell me about a man in a torn yellow rain jacket he had seen walking along the highway and whom he had stopped to help. The man’s name was Claude. He had been pushing a broken grocery cart loaded with empty pop cans. As they talked, my husband noticed Claude’s cold, red hands clenching the handle of the cart, and he gave Claude a new pair of gloves he happened to have in the truck.
Claude had refused the gloves. He said he had a pair back in Calgary in his room and assured my husband that he would be all right. Seeing his swollen feet, which slipped out of his old laceless shoes with every step he took, John found it hard to believe that he would be all right.
Claude told John that he had been on his own ever since he had been a young boy because of problems with his parents. He had quit school after grade nine because of a learning disability. Collecting pop cans during the summer netted him about two hundred dollars for his efforts. Claude said he liked being outdoors and seeing the countryside. When my husband asked him where he had slept the previous night, Claude said, “Between two granaries in a farmer’s field.” He added, “It was a little cool.”
My heart ached for this poor man as I thought about the thick layer of ice on our water trough that morning. My husband and I wanted to help him.
The next day was Sunday. I returned home from church with the words of a song echoing in my mind—“Because I have been given much, I too must give.” (Hymns, 1985, no. 219.) I couldn’t rest. It had been freezing cold again the night before, and I wondered where Claude had slept. That was it—I packed a box for him with warm socks, food, shoelaces, a sleeping bag, and a little money. Then I attached a note with our name and phone number that simply said, “We would like to help you.”
Then we set off to find Claude. We found him sitting by the side of the road. “I stopped for an hour to dry off in the sun,” Claude said as the pale sun appeared between the clouds. We offered him a ride into town, but he refused and assured us that he could walk there, sell his cans, and then walk back to Calgary. That was one hundred and twenty miles! I felt uneasy as we gave him the box and then left him alone on the highway with his cart, his pop cans, and his red, swollen feet.
That night it rained almost two inches. I knew the torn yellow rain jacket wouldn’t give him much protection from the rain. Monday was bitterly cold, with icy winds. We went to look for Claude again.
We found him in a restaurant, where he had taken shelter. He sat near the window, watching his grocery cart with its precious cargo of pop cans, and drank a cup of hot chocolate to warm himself. After much persuasion, we finally convinced Claude to come home with us. So we loaded the cart with the missing front wheel and the plastic bags filled with pop cans into our truck and headed home.
Once in our home, Claude’s blue eyes shone out in contrast with his weather-beaten, bearded face. When we gave him some new boots, we noticed a toe was missing from his left foot. “I got it frozen off one night,” he said, “but I’m glad it wasn’t my right foot.”
Hot soup, toast, and hot chocolate seemed to please him. As he reached for the jam, we noticed that his large hands had been cracked by the cold. He told us that he had a room in Calgary, where the landlady let handicapped people sleep. He said his parents were in a senior citizens’ home in Red Deer. He tried to visit them once a year even though he had not lived with them for many years.
That night we drove him to Calgary, but we stopped first in Red Deer to let him visit with his parents. On the remaining drive to Calgary, I struggled with my thoughts. Here we live in a land of peace and plenty, yet on our very doorsteps there are people in need who are suffering. I was grateful that Claude had crossed my path. The words of the song echoed in my heart again, but this time with much more meaning—“Because I have been given much, I too must give.”