If you grew up with someone like my Dad in your life, then as an adult you may now realize that he truly was full of wisdom when he was telling you all those stories that you sometimes pretended to listen to as a kid. No, I'm not confessing that I wasn't listening, but I will confess that I must have appeared listless at times as he would interject his own stories with a whistle, a "Hello, Operator?!" (his favorite phrase) or a loud clap just to be certain my listening ears were on. Clearly I was listening as I do remember most of his stories, especially the one I am going to share here.
With Thanksgiving & Christmas swiftly approaching I continually find this story bumping around in my forebrain, and I believe that there's no better time than now to share a story like this one. In his own words my Dad grew up "very poor," and I think he'd be quick to agree with me that he's rightly proud that he survived it. As a kid there were a number of roofs over his head as he, his mother and two brothers moved at least seven times during his school years, mainly to different tough projects in Trenton, New Jersey. He had a newspaper route from the ages of twelve to fourteen, and then took a job at a drug store delivering prescriptions. All of his pay went to his mother towards groceries, rent, and other bills. She had various cleaning jobs in an effort to make ends meet.
When my Dad was twelve his mother worked as a custodian at a Catholic school, and he remembers walking three miles to meet her there after school so he could walk her home. Most likely he made these walks in his grandfather's hand-me-down shoes that were a few sizes too big so the toe ends were stuffed with spare socks, perhaps even uphill in the snow (this was New Jersey after all). The nuns working in the cafeteria would sometimes give my grandmother and my Dad food to take home as they barely had enough to eat.
Just prior to Thanksgiving of 1954 my Dad's junior high was collecting food for needy families, and he wanted to jump on the giving bandwagon in an effort to "help poor people." He asked his mother if he could take a can of food to school for the food drive. The can he selected from their cabinet was a badly dented can of pork 'n' beans (she would buy dented cans whenever possible as they'd be marked down at their local Giant Tiger supermarket).
I must now tell you that my grandmother's picture could have gone down in the dictionary next to "spitfire". She was not known for censoring herself prior to speaking, if you catch my drift, and I'm guessing if she ever was told that she had the mouth of a sailor, then she most likely cackled in agreement. She is no longer with us, and thus, she cannot defend herself here (well, if she's watching me she'll probably put me on her "list"), but she was a character who could also be sweet when it behooved her. Even though she possessed one of the most difficult personalities I've ever encountered, she earned it and she was admirable if you ask me, because she was blatantly honest...When my Dad asked to donate this dented can she quite naturally replied to my Dad by asking if he was crazy (expletives deleted). Didn't he know they were poor? They needed that can of food.
In a very typical passive aggressive reply, she told him to just take the can (once again, expletives most likely deleted) to get him out of her hair. Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving break my Dad proudly contributed the dented can of pork 'n' beans to the boxes at his school in an effort to feed Trenton's needy families. Wednesday night a knock came at their door.
As they opened the door, my grandmother and Dad discovered that there wasn't a person in sight, but there were two big bags of food. My grandmother fell to her knees in tears of thanks, and it was one of the few times my Dad recalls her expressing raw emotion. There was probably enough food to make what most of us would consider a proper Thanksgiving meal, but in her view it was enough food to feed herself and her three boys for a month!
As they pulled out a Thanksgiving turkey and other fixings from the first bag, my grandmother covered her mouth with her trembling hand in shock at what they found. In the bottom of the bag was THE dented can of pork 'n' beans that my Dad so selflessly donated. This can was unmistakable as my Dad recalls that just where the dent was there was a memorable yellow mark in the center. It was the can his mother begrudgingly allowed him to give to other needy people.
Their family's pride had most likely kept them from signing up for this program at school, but someone knew they needed help. Was it a neighbor? A teacher? A family friend? They never found out how they came to possess this food, but they certainly needed it, and they were grateful to have received it. Someone seemingly, very deliberately put that dented can in there, but my Dad knows no one saw him put that can in the donation box at school.
Why am I delivering this anecdote to you? I think one of the small keys to making this world a happier place is for parents like us to discuss compassion with our children and to engage in small, random acts of kindness with them. Let them learn from us how to help those less fortunate and how to be cheerful givers. Let's teach our kids that Thanksgiving isn't just about turkey, Christmas isn't just about what's on Santa's sleigh, and thanks should be given through sharing with others whenever possible. I realize I've taken this preachy post to Church, so I'll step down from the pulpit now, but if you have similar anecdotes related to giving, please share them with your kids. Share them here, there, and everywhere. Someone just might learn from your anecdotes as I did from my Dad's. Let's remember those less fortunate with compassion not just today, not just during the upcoming holidays but every day.