Whatever you may think about having a day dedicated to our thankfulness, you have to admit that California, with all the problems we all face this year, will have plenty of places to say “thank you” for the huge number of volunteers that want to give everyone a chance to eat and meet another human. After all, the human touch is the most healing thing we can do for someone who needs a smile.
We can give them a smile with a touch, a greeting or salutation and directions to their table. We don’t know what their stories are. Perhaps they are just down on their luck or perhaps they have been captured by the false promises of happiness through pharmacology. Perhaps they have lost a dear one due to this terrible virus that no one seems capable of curing.
They may have lost everything they hold dear. By fire or flood or arrest, the reasons are many, but they have decided to get out of their tents or sleeping areas and walk down to the nearest establishment that welcomes them and perhaps open their hearts and fill the stomach at the same time.
We take a deep breath and smile from the heart. We can serve them with a smile and may not receive a smile in return. If you don’t get a thanks, just remember these guests may have a particular reason to want to look invisible to the folks around them. Some of these folks that will eat have much less than us. Some may not have smiled in a week or two. Most will find it hard to hold their head up proudly as they are embarrassed. This may be the only meal they will eat for a couple of days.
When I think of Thanksgiving, I am always reminded of a couple of fellows that used to come into my store in Salinas. They would always come with a friend. Mike was a tall, handsome African American man that just couldn’t seem to find his place in the world. He always wanted to wash my windows for the paltry amount of money I could pay him. It didn’t matter what my windows looked like afterward, he never held out his hand.
I gave my daughter, who was about 4 or 5 years old, a couple of dollars when I saw him and told her to give them to him. She was, as you might expect, a little tense about this. However, once she handed him the money for the first time, he smiled like a Cheshire cat. He actually taught my daughter courtesy and showed her that skin color had nothing to do with being a good person.
The other was one of the most precious friends I have ever had. He was Jewish and very old. Because he was old, he knew a lot of things. He owned a secondhand store on the 100 block of Oldtown Salinas. He would dig around in the detritus of his back room until he found photo books that showed him as a young man working out in a gymnasium in East Germany after the Second World War.
I was young and dumb, but I kept my store open on Sunday and he would come in and tell me stories that would curl my toes. Life had to have been hard on him, but he walked tall and smoked cigarette after cigarette. His ashes would drop down and burn little holes in his very long beard. He was beat to death by three… I don’t have a word to describe what I would call them if this were not a family paper. I miss our discussions and trading stories of his past.
My point is, these were two guys that hardly knew each other, but both taught me how much better it feels to give than to receive. You know the feeling, don’t you? I had just got out of the Army — courtesy and charity is not one of the first things you learn in the Army — so I had to learn from someone that it is so much more for my soul to give whatever I could to help these two guys, and with my daughter watching she learned to trust people.
My Personal Nurse witnessed these guys as she was working next door to me and she never made anyone feel less than God intended. She witnessed me and my instructions to my daughter and I think that it was this that prompted her to say “yes.”
Every year after we eat, we sit around the table and everyone has to say what they are thankful for. This year is special. I am thankful for my wife, my daughter and those two precious sons of mine, and especially for my wife’s mother. That she is with us and is a joy to have around and learn from in the twilight of her life.