Out of concern for his neighborhood, an old man starts clearing the trash near his neighbors’ houses, and he soon notices a kid imitating him. The old man doesn’t understand why the kid would copy him until the boy shares his reason, and the two of them do something incredible to bring about a change in their neighborhood.
Tom Hankins, 88, stood by the living room window, gazing out. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Florida, and while his neighbors were enjoying summer parties and get-togethers, Tom was alone at home.
Tom stopped socializing altogether six years ago after his wife, Meredith, died of cancer. He was already retired by then, so he had all of his time to himself. He read books, watched TV, and occasionally experimented with new cooking recipes on YouTube, but at the end of the day, the emptiness of the house hurt Tom.
With time, Tom realized he didn’t particularly like being alone. His only son, Aiden, was a successful analyst in a big IT firm in New York City, and Tom wanted Aiden to visit him, but the young man kept putting it off.
As Tom stood by the window that day, his mind was occupied with random thoughts. He reflected on how different his life would have been if Meredith had been there with him.
“The times have changed so drastically. It’s terrible that my own son doesn’t have time to visit me,” he thought.
Soon after, an idea struck Tom. He looked around his yard and realized it had been a while since he cleaned it. Thinking it would alleviate his boredom and keep his thoughts at bay, he picked up the rake and began cleaning the yard.
But what Tom didn’t realize was that he was getting older, and he wasn’t the young 20-year-old who could accomplish any physical task with the snap of a finger. Barely a few minutes after attempting to clean the yard, he got exhausted and sat down on his house stairs. “Jesus! This will take a while,” he murmured sadly as he looked about.
Soon after, Tom’s attention was drawn to the dumpster in their area, and he noticed that the trash bags were left outside instead of inside the bin. “What’s wrong with people? Is it so hard to put the bags inside the bin?” he grumbled.
Tom stopped right in front of the bin and began clearing the trash, putting the bags inside the bin. When he was done, he noticed that nearly every house in the area had left its trash bags out in the open.
Tom knew it would be difficult to clean up the trash in front of all the houses in the scorching heat, but he couldn’t just see his neighborhood like that. He took a trolley from his backyard and decided to move from one house to the next, clearing up the litter scattered in front.
At first, he stopped outside the house across from his and loaded its garbage bags into his trolley. But he hadn’t even left when the owner came out with a garbage bag and simply dropped it on the road. To make matters worse, he didn’t even secure the bag properly, so the wind blew part of the trash onto the street.
When he opened the door, his eyes widened in confusion. “What – what happened? What exactly is everyone doing here?”
At that point, Tom lost his cool. “Pardon me, sir, but that is not the proper method to dispose of garbage! You littered the street again after I just attempted to clean it. You should respect the efforts of others, sir!”
The man laughed and didn’t take Tom seriously. “So? Aren’t you that old man who just broods in his home all day? Actually, you know what, you should be grateful to me! If you do some work, you’ll be in a better mental space. Keep it up!”
“But—” Before Tom could say anything, the man retreated to his house and slammed the door shut.
Tom sighed and shook his head in frustration. He cleaned up the trash strewn across the road, stuffed it back into the trash bag, loaded it into his trolley, and moved on.
When he reached the second house down the street, Tom picked up the trash bags again and loaded them onto his trolley. He did the same for the rest of the houses on his street until he noticed a young boy imitating him.
Tom watched how effectively the youngster cleaned the trash, even though he seemed no older than 12. He first took a garbage bag from his pocket, then picked up the trash on the ground, and then loaded the trash bags into his trolley, just like Tom.
Tom stood for a moment, taken aback by the young boy. He decided to approach him to find out why he was cleaning the trash like him.
“Hello, young man. Thank you for cleaning the streets. What’s your name? And why are you here in the middle of the day? I’m Tom Hankins, by the way.”
“I’m John,” he replied quietly, avoiding Tom’s eyes. “I – I just,” he hesitated. “I just wanted to help you, I guess?”
“Well, that’s quite kind of you. You don’t need to be embarrassed about it. Alright?” Tom said, seeing his flushed face. Finally, the kid looked at him.
“I just wanted to say sorry and help you,” he admitted. “I saw how dad behaved with you a while ago. And I felt really bad. He’s kinda mean, I know…”
“Your dad? I don’t understand…” And then it hit Tom that John was the son of the rude man who was mocking him a while ago.
“Oh, that’s fine, John. You don’t have to feel bad about it,” Tom said, trying to cheer up the kid’s mood. “You’re a good kid, and you’re helping me here, which I really appreciate!”
“Thank you, Tom,” John replied. “You’re a nice guy! I can help you with the cleaning if you want!”
“That would be wonderful!” Tom eagerly nodded. “Having extra aid makes the job easier. Plus, this old man needs the help. To be honest, I was getting tired trying to do it on my own….”
So Tom and John went to each house together and started clearing up the garbage. Tom’s job was to load the trash bags onto the trolley once John had collected them. When John’s father, Keith, saw him, he was enraged.
“John!” he cried from his front door. “You’re coming home right now! What are you doing with that crazy man? Do you want to stink?” he laughed.
“That was not funny, dad, and I’m helping him. I can’t come right now!” John replied and turned his back to Keith.
Keith lost his cool and approached him. “When did you learn to disrespect me in public, John? Is this something you learned in school? Did you just choose him over me?”
At that, John couldn’t control himself, and he began lashing out at his father. “You are far too rude for your own good, dad! Tom is a nice man, unlike you! Why are you making fun of him? He’s trying to clean our neighborhood while all you do is yell at people! You never clean up after yourself and keep telling mom to do it for you! I hate to see the mess in our house, dad! I help mom, but you’re lazy, and you never help us! I want to be like Tom when I grow up and not like you! Let’s go, Tom! We need still have a lot of cleaning to do…”
With that, Tom and John moved to the next house, leaving Keith alone and stumped. Keith loved John and always wanted to be a role model to him. What just happened was like a rude awakening for him, realizing he was ruining his image in his son’s eyes. He didn’t utter another word and just went back inside.
Meanwhile, John and Tom went on their way, cleaning what was remaining, and when they were done, they went to the dumpster and disposed of the trash properly.
“We did a fantastic job, John,” Tom said.
“We did! But it was tiring,” John chuckled. “I’d like to have something to drink.”
“Do you like orange juice? I have some at home. How about you join me?” Tom proposed.
“Really? That would be amazing, Tom! You’re very sweet!”
“All right, then, let’s go….” he said, delighted to have company after a long time.
Tom and John washed their hands and feet properly before they sat in the living room with their drinks and snacks.
“So, do you live alone, Tom?” John asked, looking around his living room.
Tom nodded, taking a sip of the drink. “I used to live with my wife and son, but my wife died, and my son moved out, so it’s just me.”
“Is it fun? Living alone? Nobody can stop you from doing whatever you want!”
Tom laughed. “I’m not going to agree to that. Being alone is strange. You enjoy your own company for a while, but eventually, you become tired of it and begin to hate it.”
“I don’t know about that. I think I’d like living alone!” John laughed. Then they talked about random things like football, TV shows, and how Tom spends his time. John was very eager to try Tom’s cooking.
“Do you enjoy cooking? Seems like you know a lot about it.”
“Of course, I do. How about you come over for dinner sometime?”
“Deal. I would love to. Anyways, Tom, I think I should head home. It’s getting late, and before dad comes to your house and gets mad again, I should leave. See you around!” he said before leaving.
As John left, Tom felt alone again, but he had at least found someone he could spend time with. He cleaned the living room table and decided to take a shower before preparing something quick for dinner.
Once he was done, he changed into his comfy night suit and proceeded to the kitchen to prepare his food. Then the doorbell rang. Tom wasn’t expecting anyone, so he momentarily wondered who the visitor could be.
When he opened the door, his eyes widened in confusion. “What – what happened? What is everyone doing here?”
Tom had no idea why his entire neighborhood had gathered on his porch. They were all carrying pies, cookies, and much more.
“Is there something wrong?” Tom asked again.
The neighbors exchanged glances before Keith emerged with a cake. “We’ve come to thank you, Tom, for cleaning up our area and helping us realize that our ways were wrong!
“This afternoon, while you and John were cleaning the entire neighborhood and he yelled at me, I realized how wrong I had been all along. I love my son, and I was embarrassed to think he was disappointed in me…
“I planned this small surprise to thank you for your efforts. Others were still at work, so it took some time. They were shocked to learn that you and John did the cleaning. We appreciate your help, Tom!”
“Yes, Tom!” said another neighbor. “We were surprised to see how clean the roads were! We had to thank you!”
Tom’s eyes welled up. “Oh, that’s okay. I am happy to help. Please come in….”
The next morning, when Tom opened his front door, he saw Keith mowing his lawn.
“Keith? What are you doing here? Are you cleaning my yard?” he asked, confused.
Keith smiled and said, “I just wanted to be cool like you, Tom, and help you around the house. Hope you don’t mind!”
Tom laughed. “Oh, I don’t, I don’t. Thank you, son. I tried doing it on my own yesterday, but I gave up. Come on in once you’re done! Let’s have some coffee, okay?”
“Would love to, Tom. Thank you.”
From that day on, both Tom’s life and his neighborhood saw considerable changes. His neighbors learned how to dispose of trash properly, and Tom made a new friend in John, who enjoyed trying out his YouTube recipes!