From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Big Men, Big Hearts

Character is power.

Booker T. Washington

On the weekends I work in a coffee store in an old cigar factory in the historic area of Tampa. Sometimes kids from the projects stop by for candy sticks, and if I’m not too busy, I let them weigh out coffee and grind it, fill the jars with candy and even run the cash register.

A few weeks ago on a big football weekend, Omar, a bright little ten-year-old, came by to visit, and I gave him some chores to help pass a rainy day. In mid-afternoon, a giant of a man appeared in the doorway, and Omar was goggle-eyed at his size.

“I bet he’s a famous football player,” I whispered to him.

Omar giggled.

The big man approached the counter with a wide grin on his ebony face.

“What you gigglin’ at?”

“I told him you were probably a famous football player,” I explained with some embarrassment.

He held out a hand as big as a ham hock with a gold ring on his middle finger.

“Can you read that?” he asked Omar.

Omar twisted the ring so he could see it better. “Pitts-burgh Steel-ers,” he read slowly.

“That’s right,” said the man and turned his finger sideways. “Can you read this?”

Omar squinted. “Super Bowl Champion!”

A light clicked in my less-than-athletic brain. “You know who this is?” I nudged Omar, hardly able to contain my excitement. “This is Mean Joe Green!”

Omar looked at him quizzically. Then his face lit up. “Do you know Franco Harris?”

I glared at Omar. “I bet you’d like Joe Green’s autograph, wouldn’t you?” I prodded.

“Yeah, sure,” said Omar while I rummaged for paper and pen. “How could I get in touch with Franco Harris?”

Joe grinned. “He’s staying at the downtown Hyatt. Call his room and say you’re a friend of mine.”

Joe signed his autograph and handed it to Omar.

While nudging Omar a reminder to say thank you, I said, “Give me that autograph, and I’ll put it in a candy bag so you don’t get it all crumpled up.” I laid it on the shelf for safekeeping and turned to thank Mr. Green myself before he moved on to another store.

“Why in the world would you ask about another player when you had Joe Green right here?” I snapped. “That was downright insulting!”

Omar shrugged and said innocently, “I like Franco Harris.”

“I’m surprised he even bothered to give you an autograph!” I glared at him.

I returned to helping customers. The day ended with a flurry of business, and Omar, thoroughly chastened, departed abruptly, leaving his autograph behind.

The next Saturday he appeared again. “I forgot my autograph.”

“I know,” I said, pointing to the shelf. “It’s still up here where I put it for safekeeping.”

I reached for the bag thinking, He is only ten after all. Maybe Joe was big enough not to have been offended.

Omar reached into the bag to look at his trophy once more.

“There’s something else in the bag,” he said, puzzled, handing me a second piece of paper. Because I’d been off-duty since the prior weekend myself, I, too, was surprised to see something other than what I had personally placed in the bag for Omar.

I opened it and read out loud:

“Omar . . . sorry I missed you. Franco Harris!”

Omar’s eyes lit up with both disbelief and excitement as he took the paper to see for himself.

These two big men—with equally big hearts— apparently came back into the store after my shift to leave a special surprise for a young boy. Mean Joe Green isn’t so “mean” after all—quite the contrary!

Phyllis W. Zeno

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