In summer 1968, recently discharged from four years military service, I encountered a fork in life's road: find work in one of Decatur's bustling factories of that day or enroll at Eastern Illinois University. The campus of pretty co-eds sealed the deal for this 21-year-old kid.
Nonetheless, the game plan would've remained pie in the sky except for a benevolent uncle who willingly (foolishly?) gambled his money on the bad bet of my future academic success. After all, I graduated closer to bottom than top of MacArthur's 1964 class. Most likely to succeed I wasn't.
But for reasons of his own, my visionary uncle saw value in educating this veteran. Foolish perhaps, but having matured via military life, I didn't look this gift horse in the mouth. To shamelessly plagiarize: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference" in my life. Thank you, Uncle Sam, for your vote of confidence in this and countless other veterans.
GI Bill cash in pocket, this aspiring scholar and wannabe poet went apartment hunting when a room for rent sign in a storefront window caught my eye. Inquiring inside a small neighborhood grocery just off Charleston's courthouse square -- an easy hike to campus -- I was greeted by the slightly bent octogenarian proprietor.
This congenial old-timer escorted me upstairs as he confessed to a slightly leaky roof, adding "but only if it rains." His ridiculously dirt cheap rent: $20 per month including utilities. Scrutinizing this underfed alley cat, he sweetened the bargain, "plus butcher board leftover scraps of baloney and cheese sandwiches as available, usually daily." We shook hands on my unexpected room and board windfall.
Thus I remember those long ago days of God's blessings bestowed as available, usually daily via this small town Charleston grocer and landlord. Rest in peace, my friend.
Don Carmichael, Decatur