The Lesson

The lesson

28 Now one of the experts in the law came and heard them debating. When he saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:28-31

Here is the story of a valuable lesson that I learned from my dad early on. For context this all happened about 1966 and took place in the Carolinas. My dad had rented a service station for a number of years. At some point he decided that he had had enough of renting and he wanted to own his own place, There were two oil companies in the little town we lived in. One was brand A and the other was brand B. My dad had saved and scrimped for years and had finally gotten enough money together to build a building, pave the parking lot and buy a little inventory. My dad didn’t want to be beholden to either brand A or brand B. So, he went to a neighboring larger town and signed an agreement with a third (and little known) company that actually had better prices. There was one problem with that idea. The town was full of farmers and working class people and almost every one of them owed or had owed money to either company A or Company B. Most people were afraid to be seen buying from my dad. Business was not good and the outlook for my dad’s business wasn’t either. Times were hard. My dad persevered for a couple of years but, it wasn’t easy

I must have been about nine or ten years old. I was hanging around my dad’s service station trying to help. It was a hot, humid summer afternoon and business was a little slow as usual. A big Chrysler imperial rolled slowly  up to the pumps. I went out and greeted the driver. The man got out. He was a tall black man dressed in a nice suit with a hat that matched. I thought  to myself that he was a snappy dresser and that he must be hot because he still had his suit coat on. “Can I help you sir” I asked? My dad had been inside and he immediately came out and greeted the man as I wasn’t allowed to take money, just pump gas. He said “Hello Reverend Rose, how are you”? The reverend replied I’m fine mister Brown” (names changed for privacy). The man said “say ,mister Brown do you have anyplace I can go”? My dad looked confused. “I don’t know what you mean reverend” The Man said “you know , someplace I can go “. Then he said “Mister Brown, I need to Pee”. My dad said “the key is hanging just inside the door”. Then it was the man’s turn to look confused. He said” Mister Brown, are you going to let me use your bathroom”? My dad said “my customers are free to use my facilities”. The man still looked confused but moved with some urgency to get the key and use the bathroom. When he returned we had filled his car with gas and my dad was standing there waiting for him. The man said “ Mister brown did you let me use your bathroom because I’m a preacher or do you let other black customers use it too”? My dad replied” all my customers are free to use my bathroom”. The man nodded and then paid for his gas and drove away. I don’t remember what day that happened on, it must have been a Thursday or a Friday. All I can remember is that on Monday we had a great day of business. Cars were lining up to get to the pumps. Probably a good eighty percent of them were black customers. The only people in that town that weren’t in debt or hadn’t been in debt to company A or Company B were the black folks. They were never given credit so they were free to buy anyplace they liked. Apparently over the weekend Reverend Rose had let his congregation know that there was a service station that treated people of every race the same. From that point on my dad had a decent business and didn’t have to struggle anymore.  

I’m proud of my dad. He made a choice that didn’t make him popular with some folks. I was young at the time. I only heard a few snide comments. I don’t really know why Dad did it. All I know is that he went on day by day doing what he did, treating everyone the same. There wasn’t anything dramatic. No one burned a cross on our lawn. Maybe the world was ready for a quiet man to do the right thing. I still remember that lesson.

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