by Jim Girard
Lawrence, Kansas, USA
As a child, I lived in a working class area on the west side of Wichita. There was a bridge over the river a half-block from where I lived, and on the other side, at Harry and Seneca, was Calvin’s Hamburger Haven. It was one of those old diners converted from a trailer — just a counter and the grill behind, where Mr. Calvin worked.
Mr. Calvin was a thin, quiet man. He wasn’t very talkative, but, unlike many business owners in those days, he didn’t seem to mind kids hanging around and looking at the glassine envelopes of stamps on the walls.
The stamps fascinated me. I had my father’s stamp album (he’d died when I was less than a year old), but had never thought about being a collector myself. When I asked about them, he took time to tell me about the different kinds, the paraphernalia of collecting, and so on. He was a collector himself, and, with his advice and information, I became one. One day he asked if I wanted to go to a meeting of his stamp club.
My mother dropped me off at Mr. Calvin’s house, a big old Victorian. I was the only child there, and that first time I had the feeling that the other men — mostly middle-aged and affluent, and now I know that some were locally prominent — were annoyed a kid was there. He let me fend for myself, taking for granted that I could. And very quickly, I found myself in conversations about stamps, being shown specialized collections, being given serious advice. That I could so easily fit in with a group like that was amazing to me — and it was the beginning of the understanding that I didn’t have to remain in the world I lived in.
Years later, when my own children were in grade school, I took them on a walking tour of the area where I’d lived. I wasn’t sure they’d be interested, but to this day (they’re both over 30) they speak of that as one of the best days of their own childhoods.
And still there, to my astonishment, was Calvin’s Hamburger Haven. We stopped to have hamburgers, but there was a bulky, unshaven man behind the counter. I asked him if Mr. Calvin still owned the place, and he told me Mr. Calvin had been dead for a long time. Of course, I asked him why he’d kept the name. He told me the previous owner had advised him to — because so many people like myself, people who’d grown up around there, kept coming by to ask if Mr. Calvin was still around. “I guess he was a hell of a guy,” he said.
What struck me was that it was true, but that I hadn’t really known it until that moment. Mr. Calvin had always been so unassuming that it hadn’t really occurred to me what he’d done for me.
He was the quietest hero I ever met.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.