He was a little boy lost.
Born into the rough and tumble world of 1880's Texas, his first few years were marred by tragedy. He had already lost both parents, first father then mother. Her death, as pneumonia finished the work of the massive burns resulting from her apron bursting into flame while making soap, left him and his siblings alone and vulnerable to the vagaries of frontier life. They were divvied up within the community, and could only hope for the best.
For him, the best did not come.
They were a surly, brutish lot. Their love for alcohol was only matched by their cruelty. Daily the little boy was subjected to beatings and berating, forced to work while they lounged about, drinking and carousing. He endured as well as a 5 year old could, but his life had little hope.
Then, it happened.
They were in a general store, ordering the little boy around, laughing as he tried to carry something too big for his little hands to carry, cuffing him if he dropped it, calling him names cruel and profane. A day like every day.
A typical day.
That turned atypical.
Because that day, Mr. Hampton was in the store. A businessman of some standing in the community, with a fine family. A decent, church-going man.
And at that moment, an angry man.
He looked at the little boy's tormentors levelly, and with even, forceful tones said, "You ought not treat that boy that way! Stop it!"
They stopped, then turned to meet his gaze with scorn, that curled slowly into sneering derision. They scoffed. They grabbed the little boy roughly and threw him at Mr. Hampton's feet. "You don't like it," they growled, "you take him!"
Time stopped. Looking down at the ragged, dirty little boy, Mr. Hampton had a choice. He could walk away, go back to his life with reputation intact, if slightly tarnished. It would have been the easy thing to do. No one would have thought the worse of him for not wanting to get involved. When you think about it, that is the most reasonable, rational choic
"I believe I will."
Four words. Four words that revealed the character of the man. Four words that demonstrated love. Four words that offered hope and possibility to one broken and helpless.
Mr. Hampton reached down, picked up the little boy, and brought my grandfather home to be raised as one of his own.
I must confess that I sit here, almost 130 years later, overcome by magnitude of that simple, unfathomable act. The trajectory of my family was forever altered by that single act of kindness and grace.
I doubt I will ever be faced by that particular circumstance, for these are different days. But I do know that every day the world harasses and harries the poor and hopeless and helpless. Some are well-to-do, some are down-and-out, but all tossed at my feet, crumpled and crushed, by a cruel world, with the words "You don't like it, you take 'em" echoing in my ears. And I am faced with a choice.
Then I will remember my great grandfather Hampton.
I believe I will.