From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

A Decent Thing to Do

Virtue and decency are so nearly related that it is difficult to separate them from each other but in our imagination.


Looking up at the big lettering on the garage building reading “Corr Richfield’s Service Station,” my father was a proud, happy man. It was 1935. He had built our house, a service station and mechanic’s garage. Opening for business just five years after arriving in America from Northern Ireland, it was quite an accomplishment.

My father had two faults. The first was working too hard from sunup well past sundown every day. Second, he was very trusting and generous, helping anyone, always feeling sorry for those down on their luck. In the 1930s, people had little money, paying him with whatever they had to give. Dad trusted everyone, including strangers. Business was usually a handshake with a promise to pay. Mother often said, “Bill, do you think we’re running a charity ward? We’ve barely enough to pay for our next load of gas.” Nothing stopped him from helping people. He’d just shrug his shoulders, saying, “We’ll manage.” He was never too busy or tired, many times getting up in the night to help anyone who needed him, regardless of what it was. They knew he’d come.

It was a hot summer’s day, and perspiration poured off him as he worked doing repairs in the garage. A car chugged up to the pumps. Going around to the driver’s side, Dad asked, “Can I help you?” The panting, sweaty man looked at my father and said, “It’s empty, but before you pump it, I’ve no money. I’ve a ways to get home. All I have is a gun to offer you in payment.” He reached under the seat. “It’s my army pistol.” Slowly getting out, limping as he moved to nearby shade, he said he was a disabled war veteran who lived further down the valley.

Daddy walked over to his car silently and filled it up— as well as the gas can that he put in the back. He did the usual checkup, plus filled a water bag hanging on the radiator. “You’re ready to travel,” he said.

“Thank you very much.” The man staggered as he started to move. Daddy grabbed his arm. “Are you all right?” he asked. “Better come inside for a bit. When was the last time you had a bite to eat?”

“Yesterday, I think.”

“Good lord, man, no wonder,” Dad said, pushing the buzzer for the house. Mother came. “Sadie, would you be fix-in’ this man a sandwich? Make it two, he’s a ways yet to go.”

Back she came with two wrapped sandwiches. Daddy pulled two cold drinks from the icebox outside. After enjoying the sandwich and a drink, the man stood, grabbed Daddy’s hand and shook it. “Thank you again. Bless you and your wife.” He took the gun from the car and handed it to Dad. “My name is George. I’ll be back with the money,” he promised. “Remember, Bill, I’ll be back,” he called, waving as he drove off.

Daddy knew two things as he placed the gun and the invoice for the gas in a locked drawer. One, he was going to catch the devil from Mother. Second, George would be back for the gun.

Right he was on number one. “Bill, the charity ward is running a bit dry,” Mother scolded.

“Aw, Sadie, the poor man just needed a wee bit of a hand. It was a decent thing to do,” he said.

“Before him it was that artist. The painting’s on the wall—we can’t eat it!” mother said.

Two years passed. The gun still lay in the drawer. Mother kept saying, “Sell it,” but Daddy wouldn’t.

One day a car pulled into the station. A man got out and walked toward the garage where Daddy was. “Are you Bill Corr?” he inquired.

“That I am,” replied Daddy, extending his hand.

“Well, I’m George’s son, the fellow who left the gun for gas. He’s bedridden so I came instead.”

“I knew he’d come or send for it,” Daddy said, retrieving the gun from the drawer.

“Now what do I owe?” the man asked.

“One dollar twenty five,” Daddy replied.

The man handed him a five-dollar bill. Daddy punched the register to get change. “Not on your life! Your kindness and trust cannot be repaid,” the man said. “Keep the change.” Then, smiling, he added, “Would you fill up my car? I’ll pay you now.”

After the fill, he shook Dad’s hand again, got in his car, saluted and drove off.

Marking the invoice “paid,” Daddy started to put it on the spindle, but didn’t. Instead, whistling away, he headed for the house. Opening the door, he yelled, “Sadie, me dear, look what I have,” waving the invoice and money. “The gun’s gone. Got five dollars for it, plus another two for a fill-up. Do you not see? Good things come to those who wait and trust. You’ve got to put faith and trust in people. All I done at the time was the decent thing,” he said.

Unfortunately, my father never fulfilled his dream of paying off the business. He died at age thirty-nine from a heart attack. His funeral was the largest in town, filling the church to standing-room only, then down the steps and into the streets. People he had befriended came from miles around to pay tribute to a man who never lost faith and who trusted them.

I have the framed photo of Dad, taken in 1935 in front of “Corr Richfield’s Service Station,” and the artist’s painting he bartered in trade. Both hung on the wall of the station before Mother sold it. Now they hang on my wall as reminders to be honest, caring, hardworking and compassionate, and to have faith and trust in the goodness of people.

Isabel Corr Rizzo

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