Steve Flores column mug

Californian community columnist Steve Flores.

The Cancer Run/Walk was over, and as I was shuttling people in my golf cart from the event to their cars, I saw the elderly couple standing at the bus stop near the parking lot.

I recognized them as having walked the track for the fundraising event. He was leaning against his walker while she was on her cellphone. The event had been over for a while and almost no one was left. They had been standing at the bus stop for at least an hour.

You may have read my previous “Diary of a Courtesy Golf Cart Driver.” Well, I purposely held back one diary entry: My encounter with Ralph and Doreen Steele. I felt their story more compelling for Thanksgiving week.

I drove up in my car and asked them if I could take them anywhere. They said, “Thanks, but the bus should be coming any minute.” Besides, they said, they lived in Oildale.

I explained, “No problem. I would be happy to drive you home.” They reluctantly accepted my offer.

Just as I was loading his walker into the back seat of my car, the bus pulled up. Ralph looked at Doreen, who was already sitting in the back seat and asked what she wanted to do. Doreen explained that even if they took the bus, they would still have to walk almost a half mile from the bus stop to their home.

“Please let me take you home,” I asked again. They agreed.

On the 20-minute ride home, I learned a lot about the Steeles, and about gratitude, thankfulness and grace.

I learned in preparation for the Cancer Run/Walk Festival, their day had started at 5:30 a.m. They walked from their apartment to the bus stop, nearly a half mile away, and waited for the 6:30 a.m. bus. An hour later they arrived at Yokuts Park ready to do their part and support those needing help.

Ralph is a cancer survivor. He is thankful to the doctors and staff at the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center. And, as unreal as it may seem, he is also grateful to two very rude women who unknowingly helped him discover his cancer while delivering their pizza.

Ralph is very proud of his company's customer service awards that he received for delivering pizza. His best customer service techniques were tested one evening when he delivered pizza to two unreasonable young women.

About a week later, a pizza order came in from the same rude women. A different delivery driver received the order and was about to leave with the pie. Ralph said “No, I will deliver to that address,” fearing the worst for the new driver.

Just as before, the women were rude. One grabbed a bag from Ralph and hurt his wrist. He eventually went to be treated for it. It was then that he discovered his hemoglobin level was low. A follow-up with his doctor discovered that his hemoglobin level had continued to drop. A CT scan was ordered, and they discovered his cancer.

On our ride to their home, I asked Ralph and Doreen if using the bus was their only means of transportation. “Oh, no,” they both responded. “We have a car that needs some repair work.” What type of work I asked? “Brake job and some electrical,” he replied.

As I dropped them off at their home, Ralph mentioned how he wanted to use his walker to raise money to help cancer patients. I looked over at his dust-covered car in the parking lot and, without me saying a word, he said, “It’s more important to help people going through cancer than to fix my car.”

He would check with his neighbors and see if for very mile he walked, they would donate money for cancer patients.

As I drove off, I was taken by their gentle demeanor, gratefulness and sincere desire to help others. There was an overwhelming sense of thankfulness for everyone who helped them on their cancer journey and even for the two rude women.

Someone much smarter than me once said, “Some people worry so much about what they don’t have, they forget how thankful they should be for what they do have.”

Ralph and Doreen, thank you for reminding me about the “thanks” in my Thanksgiving.

Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at floressteve32@yahoo.com. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.

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