Unforgettable encounter with angel in disguise

By Jill C. Hindman
October 11, 2001

The first time I saw him he was standing waiting patiently for his turn in line at the bank. His clothes were ragged and his head was covered with a worn knit hat. He made his way to my window and as he got closer a smile that spread across his face revealed his missing teeth. He looked like he had not showered in days.

He was not sure how to go about taking money out from his checking account. I informed him that he would need to write out a check to himself and cash it. To my surprise he handed me the checkbook and asked me to fill it out. I was curious as to why he didn’t do it himself, but I just nodded and filled out the blank check. He signed his name at the bottom in a chicken scratch that he wrote with such grace and concentration. I read the bottom of the check and saw that his name was Clarence. That name always makes me think of angels, because of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I completed his transaction and told him to have a nice day. He smiled and told me to do the same and graciously thanked me for helping him. I told him that it was no problem at all.

As Clarence turned to leave the window it suddenly dawned on me that he could not read and I was sure of this when I watched him push the doors that exit the bank several times as he was looking at the big black letters that instructed you to pull. I just watched him until he disappeared from my sight.

I wondered if he would have to go anywhere else that day where he would need someone’s assistance and I hoped that they would help him and not belittle, or yell at him. I wondered how difficult life would be without being able to read and only knowing how to spell my name. I thought about how lucky I am to be in college and to have an education. I thought about how embarrassed Clarence must feel each time he has to ask someone for help with something as remedial as filling out a check.

As the summer went on I would see Clarence from time to time and he always looked relieved when he saw me at my window. He would bring up his checkbook and sign his name with grace every time and then he would hand the book to me and I would do the rest. After I was all done he would always say, “Thank you miss.” Each time he left I always thought the same things. Where else did he have to go that day, would someone else help him and will he be okay?

Clarence was a little man. He was short and thin and looked as if he had not eaten or showered in days each time that I saw him, but he could not have been nicer each time he came in. Not one day went by that he would not give me a big smile and thank me. I sometimes wonder if Clarence was an angel in disguise?

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Jill C. Hindman

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