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This holiday season, give the gift of self; volunteer or help out someone in need (maybe your brother)

O.C. Johnson didn’t complain but you could tell when his back hurt. Friday and Saturday nights, he trades his shovel for tongs and sells ribs on the corner of 49th Street S and Gulfport Boulevard.

PATTI EWALD | Times

O.C. Johnson didn’t complain but you could tell when his back hurt. Friday and Saturday nights, he trades his shovel for tongs and sells ribs on the corner of 49th Street S and Gulfport Boulevard.

On a recent hot and humid morning, I was out in the front yard digging a bed around some palm trees.

No sweat, I thought when I started. Just dig out the grass and put down some mulch. How hard can that be?

So I had grabbed a shovel I found in the garage behind three nonworking weed whackers, tromped out, raised the shovel over my head and plunged it into the weeds that I call grass. I was Brutus plunging a dagger — over and over again.

Two hours later, I stepped back to admire my accomplishment. Yep, there it was. I had managed to clear 2 square feet. I figured if I kept working at that pace, I'd be done in about two weeks, which was about 13 days and 22 hours longer than I had anticipated. But, I persevered.

And then, a deep husky voice behind me announced, "You look like you could use some help."

I turned around and there, not 20 feet from me, was a pickup pulling a trailer filled with mowers, blowers, yard tools and four men.

Yard men from heaven.

• • •

Turns out these guys were collectively known as O.C. Landscaping, an occasional labor force that, when everyone and their backs are feeling okay, piles into the vehicles and drives around looking for work.

The driver, O.C. himself, climbed out of the truck. We talked about what I was doing (wrong) and how much it would cost to have them help me finish before my next Fourth of July picnic.

We agreed on a price (which would have been a bargain doubled). Then, I got everyone a cold drink and joined the crew, happy to help now that the burden of doing it all myself was lifted.

O.C., who is 54, was born and raised in St. Petersburg and, by his own admission, was no angel in his younger days. But, he got himself straightened out and had a good job until forced to leave it 10 years ago after hurting his back.

He needed a job and so did his brother, Doc, who is 68 and mentally disabled. So O.C. went into the landscaping business.

On this fall day in my yard, Doc worked diligently, taking directions from O.C., which mostly involved picking stuff up. He drank root beer when the others drank beer — O.C.'s idea, which seemed fine and dandy with Doc.

The other two members of the lawn quartet were Michael Larry, 51, O.C.'s high school buddy, and Aaron Brantley, 53, who, as a homeless man, was hired by O.C. when he spotted the crew and asked for a job.

So, there you have it: A regular guy with problems of his own helps give his brother a purpose in life while providing a homeless man with what might be the first rung of the ladder to get off the streets.

O.C. may not have volunteered his time but he found a way to help others get paid for theirs, which is just as good.

Before you go shopping in this season of giving, consider a gift no one else can bestow: yourself.

Help someone out. Give a friend your time. Volunteer. Rumor has it the giver gets more out of it than the receiver.

Patti Ewald can be reached at [email protected]

This holiday season, give the gift of self; volunteer or help out someone in need (maybe your brother) 11/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 3:30am]
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