Trash hauler touches autistic boy's heart

banderson@fresnobee.comAugust 3, 2013 


Greyson Kelly, 4, right, held in his father Michael Kelly's arms, gets a high-five from garbage truck driver Frank Diaz, left, as Diaz takes a break at the Kelly's home on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 in Fresno, Calif. Chrissy Kelly, Greyson's mother, said th family moved into their home near Woodward Park about three years ago and would often wave to the passing Diaz but it wasn't until three weeks ago when the two first interacted. Greyson, who has autism, waits and gets excited when Diaz makes his weekly Wednesday runs through the neighborhood. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — Fresno Bee Staff Photo

— Chrissy Kelly and her son Greyson never missed the garbage truck on Wednesday afternoons as it rumbled into their Copper River Ranch neighborhood.

At the first screech of the brakes on the street, Kelly grabbed Greyson's hand and ran outside to the curb, where her son flapped his arms — a sure sign of delight — stamped his feet and squealed.

They didn't know the garbage man's name, but Greyson, 4, always waved to him.

Frank Diaz, 53, noticed the woman and little boy who were waiting every week when he turned onto their block in his city green-waste truck. He returned a friendly wave.

Week after week, this casual interaction played out — a wide-eyed boy and a middle-aged garbage man exchanging waves. It could have remained that way, but last month, a small act of kindness brought them close together.

"Trash truck Wednesdays" had become a special day for Greyson, who has autism. He was fascinated with the garbage truck. A preoccupation with vehicles is common among children who have autism.

Many children with autism struggle to communicate, and Greyson is no exception, speaking only a few words. "Truck" has been his favorite word since he was a toddler, said Kelly, 39. He will repeat it over and over, but on one Wednesday, as Diaz's truck approached, Greyson said more — "I want truck" — his first sentence.

Kelly was dumbfounded. Hours of therapy five days a week had improved his word vocabulary but had not produced a sentence, and yet, somehow, the sound of the garbage truck "kind of broke into this world of his," she said.

Kelly, a professional photographer, grabbed her camera when she heard the garbage truck approaching June 26. She wanted to capture Greyson's excitement for her blog, a chronicle of the family's journey with autism. Greyson's younger brother, Parker, 2, also shows signs of having autism.

Diaz, a veteran garbage driver who has worked almost 13 years for the city, turned on Kelly's street and saw her camera pointed at his truck. He was concerned that he had done something irritating to cause her to take pictures. He picked up the garbage and drove on, but knew he had to make a turn that would put him back on the opposite side of the street.

Mom moved to tears

Greyson had run across to see the truck as it approached on its turnaround, and Kelly snapped pictures. Diaz waved and said, "Hi." He started to pass, but stopped, put the truck in reverse and got out beside the mother and son.

He told Kelly that he had seen her and the boy on the curb every week, and then he asked, "Would you like to take a better picture?"

Kelly stood in shock. The garbage man had to be too busy to take time to please a little boy, but she wasn't going to pass up this opportunity for Greyson.

Diaz lifted Greyson and put him inside the truck cab. Kelly suddenly struggled to focus her camera. She barely had time to learn Diaz's first name before he shook her hand and drove away.

He knew he had made a child happy, Diaz said, but he thought Kelly's reaction was a little over the top. "I noticed her and she was just crying, but I thought it must be because she had so much joy."

That could have been it — a fleeting moment between a boy and a garbage truck driver. Instead, it sparked a connection that has captivated people from Fresno to England.

Kelly sat down later that day to write a letter on her blog to express her appreciation to the garbage truck driver she knew only by first name.

Dear Frank,

You have no idea the impact you have on a Wednesday. What you don't know is that your presence has been a calming and reassuring force in our week for years now. No matter how good or how bad our week was, there you were every Wednesday reminding me that we could go on. The weeks I couldn't count on anything, I could count on you, Frank, to light up my boy's face.

Kelly continued, explaining that Greyson's autism made it difficult for him to connect with her, the fam- ily and the outside world, but that Diaz had broken through to her son.

And she ended the blog with this thought:

Sometimes I worry, 'How will the world treat my boys?' And today was a beautiful reminder that people are good — all because of you, Frank. I saw the way your face lit up with joy that my son put there and I was so proud and so honored and so humbled to be a part of such a magical moment. Sometimes I hear phrases like People are so stupid, or crazy or mean. To them I say — No they aren't. You haven't met Frank. — Love, Chrissy

Email reveals good deed

Diaz had no inkling that Greyson had autism and how his weekly garbage pickup was a highlight for the boy. But after posting her blog, Kelly sent an email to the city's Department of Public Utilities, and at the start of his workweek, Diaz was called into his supervisor's office. Boss Joe Ramirez let him know of his good deed.

Since the solid waste division had only one Frank on its payroll, it was clear who had picked up Kelly's can, but Ramirez wasn't surprised it was Diaz. "He's pretty good at customer service," he said.

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