I'm an avid story collector; I admit it. I'm not talking about stories to be aired on television, but stories that touched me, interested me, stories I might want to write about someday. I used to keep story ideas on pieces of scrap paper in a dog-eared folder that was always bulging. The technological revolution allowed me the convenience of keeping story notes in my BlackBerry. Who knows, maybe someday I'll write a book.
Fernando's story was unexpected. He is a business owner whose store had been recently robbed. I couldn't help but notice the big American flag on the wall in his office behind his desk. I had to ask, how had Fernando come to America?
Be careful what you wish for. Little did I know that Fernando, like me, was an avid storyteller himself. But I sat with rapt attention as he told me how as a boy growing up in Honduras he saw planes taking off for the United States and dreamed of coming here. He said he literally got down on his knees and prayed to God that if he would allow him to come to the "land of opportunity" he would work hard and live a clean life. Nineteen years ago he boarded one of those planes. His first stop was Houston, Texas, where he noticed someone's uncut grass and offered to mow it. The woman said she couldn't afford to pay him, but gave him a clean shirt in exchange for his work. He recalls this as his "first American gift." His next stop was Tampa, Florida, where he washed tomatoes for a farmer at the flea market. In return he slept in amongst the boxes at the farmer's flea market booth. A church in Raleigh helped him get on his feet in the Triangle. He found a job at IBM making computer cables and soon met his wife. Soon he had saved enough money to pursue his dream- owning his owning vegetable stand at the one of the local flea markets. For various reasons it didn't work out, but he was not deterred. Instead, he rode his bike to a local shopping center and asked the owner if he might rent a space to open a grocery store. The owner laughed at him and told him he would fail, but still accepted the rent money. The store was a success. It was the first of three successful businesses Fernando would open in Raleigh.
Fernando says he is "in love with America." He looks at the flag on the wall behind him with tears in his eyes and says every time he reads about a soldier dying in Iraq he knows it is for the freedom he now enjoys in his adopted country. That's why he's studying to become an American citizen. Now that's what I call a good story...