Roy Exum: When A Vet Got Hot

Sunday, June 18, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Last Thursday night a call came in at the 911 center in Fort Worth, Texas, from an elderly man who said in a weak voice that his air conditioner had conked. He was suffering. Being a low-priority call, it took officers William Margolis and Christopher Weir a long few minutes to get there – it was that hot. After all, as Margolis would say later, “We aren’t AC techs.”
Nope, turns out the two officers are far more. In Texas it gets hot, really hot, and in Tarrant County the summer sun can be brutal. When they arrived at Julius Hatley’s place, the temperature inside the house was somewhere between 85 and 90 degrees so the policemen got the old gentleman out on the porch where it wasn’t quite as bad.
Julius, a kind 95-year-old black man, said he sure was thankful. The police got some cold water in him and wiped his face with a wet towel.
Before the officers left, Margolis told the World War II combat veteran he’d see what he could do and not to worry, that he’d be back. As they drove away, I imagine the conversation went something like this: “You know, Chris, that old man is there by himself and this heat’ll kill him… This ain’t right. He’s a veteran. Deserves better than this.”
“Yeah … what would you think if we took our dinner break over at Home Depot?”
Without another word said, Margolis cut a path to the ‘Depot’ and, once there, the two policemen went to the air conditioner counter. They explained they were hunting a deal, maybe a window unit that had been returned and didn’t have a box, or a marked-down model. They told the two Home Depot clerks the story and not only did they find a good unit for a good price, the two officers discovered the Home Depot folks were much of the same mind they were.
While they were buying the unit, they got another $150 “off” after the store employees “passed the hat” faster than a rabbit could run. They radioed their supervisor, explaining they were going to install a window unit for Mr. Hatley, and by the time they got there a couple of other Fort Worth police cruisers were at the curb, carrying screw drivers, hammers and enough strong arms to set the unit with ease.
As with murders, robberies and fatal car accidents, word about the air conditioner got around the squad room at the precinct house. That’s where a bunch of cops – knowing none of them had the pocket change to buy an air conditioner on the spot – lessened the load Margolis and Weir had accepted when they paid the bulk of the unit’s cost. Everybody chipped in what they could.
Soon a TV station caught wind of the kindness and the media got in on the thing. News reports revealed the central air in Hatley’s house had given out a few years before. Pictures and news tape of Mr. Hatley grinning with his two Samaritans showed Julius’ well-kept but humble house in the background, especially brought into focus when Mr. Hatley explained he could still keep up with yard work despite the heat.
Well sir, shortly the telephone rang at the precinct house. Fellow said in a deep Texas drawl that he was a veteran, too, and needed directions to the Hatley house. Said he’d been blessed and owned a right good-sized air-conditioning company. Wanted to eye that busted central-air unit. Said he had two crews ready to go right then. “And it will not cost the gentleman one dime. Ever. Service contract included.”
Phone rang again. Man needed to know how to get to the Hatley house. Said he had one of the biggest construction firms in Fort Worth. Believed if he could replace all the windows and repair the frames, it would really help. Said he had a supervisor, a foreman and a couple of carpenters “saddled up and ready to ride out, if you know what I mean?”
Phone rang again. The vice president of a huge commercial painting company needed to know how to get to the Hatley place. Said he had an eight-man crew standing on the back dock and figured now would be as good a time as any to start sanding, caulking and get down some primer. “’Miss Vivian’ has her swatch book in the car and she’ll maybe make a suggestion or two but Mr. Hatley will pick the colors. No sir, no sir, no sir …  Ain’t gonna’ be no bill. That was paid-in-full ‘round 60 or 70 years ago, believe you me.”
Phone rang again. “Hey, you reckon the roof’s good on that Hatley House? I got a bunch of squares of good shingles … don’t know how many it may need but I’ll guarantee I got more ‘n it’ll take. A bill? Me ‘n the Lord already worked all that out. All that war veteran is gonna’ get from here is a 30-year guarantee and … hey … if he’ll outlast that, the next roof gonna’ be free too!”
Phone rang again. “I apologize if I am not talking to the right person. I would be most appreciative if you could direct me properly. My husband and I were very touched by the officers who were so wonderful to help the elderly World War II veteran. We would like to send our representative to see him and arrange to buy his groceries every week. We want to remain anonymous but we would like to do this … well, I guess you could say for the rest of his life. Whatever he wants to buy, wherever he wants to buy it, as much as he wants to get … We would like to start as soon as we can … and, um, do you know of anything else he might need, like a good refrigerator or anything like that …”
There ain’t no telling when that phone is gonna’ ring again. But don’t fret – you just let it. Look-a-here, it’s just been over a week since the window unit conked! Officers Argolis and Weir now loop by the Hatley place once or twice a day and seems like there sure are a lot of construction vans lining up and down the street.
Now it turns out somebody … no one knows who because they paid in cash ... went by all the utility companies in Fort Worth and the cable bill has just been prepaid ahead for over a year. It’s the darndest thing you ever saw. Proves one thing beyond a shade of doubt – you don’t mess with Texas.
Hey, you too can get in on the act. When you thank the Lord for his blessings, remember Fort Worth police officer William Margolis and Christopher Weir, and for the undeniable phenomena that from the small ripple of kindness a mighty wave of love can grow.

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