A New Friendship and a New Hero
● By Billy Pilgrim
Life is Beautiful
By Billy Pilgrim
FRED HAMPTON was more than a little down on his luck at the rest stop in Merlin, Ore., on a bone-chilling day in December a few years ago. I was on my way to a Ducks game in Eugene, and had stopped for a little roadside rest when I saw him sitting on the ground, a Bible by his side, playing the harmonica. A handwritten sign next to him detailed an unpleasant divorce, a loss of a business and a plea to help him connect with his young son from whom he had become involuntarily separated. He was homeless. I initially walked past Fred on my way back to my car when an inner voice told me to turn around. I did, and went back to this man I did not know. We exchanged a few words. I learned a little about his unfortunate circumstances, offered a small donation, and continued to Eugene. I had no idea we would ever meet again.
Several months later, I was on my way to Eugene for another game. The Merlin Rest Stop exit was ahead of me on the right, and I remembered the man I had met a few months before, wondering if he was still there. I mean, what were the odds that he would be? My inner voice told me to get off the highway and find out. I pulled in and saw a clean-shaven man in the same spot. He had a beard during our first encounter. Was this the same guy? I asked, and he responded, “Yes!” And we really started to connect. We were becoming friends and finding a commonality. He told me he had worked in radio at one time. I work in radio, too. He had also worked in Hollywood in the movie industry as a locations manager and extras coordinator on some really big films, including David Carradine’s final movie and the Bette Davis biopic. He had lived a great life, but that all changed due to many layers of unfortunate circumstance. Fred told me he had applied for many jobs in Grants Pass, and was trying to secure housing. Both goals were in reach, and yet so far away, but he was not quitting. And he was helping others who were in a similar situation. He understood the complexities of homelessness. He was living it.
I made it a point to nurture our friendship over the next few years, calling him when I would be coming through town, and making arrangements to drop by the rest stop in Merlin. His progress toward home and job seemed painstakingly slow, until one day I got the word: Fred had found employment, and a small room to rent, too. He was out of the elements and away from the constraints of homelessness. He was going to be warm in the winter and cool in the hot summer of Grants Pass. My heart soared and continues to with the recent news that he has been able to reconnect with his beloved son. Great blessings! Mercy.
Fred Hampton is my hero, I am in awe of his survival instincts, his courage and his capacity to love. Sometimes we search for our inspiration to make it through the day, and sometimes the inspiring finds us, and encourages us to see the light. I am glad we found one another. Sometimes life is beautiful. •