“Excuse me…could you spare a little change? A dollar? Anything would help.”
I am running from the main entrance of the Megaplex 17 with my daughter and my granddaughter, trying to get to our cars before the chill seeps under the layers of our sweaters and coats, when I hear this quiet plea. There is a pan-handler standing between me and warmth. I hate it when this happens. My companions have rushed ahead, refusing to let this annoyance slow them down. Now I am torn. I need to keep up with them. I haven’t said good-bye to them yet. But I slow my steps and look at the supplicant.
“It’s just that you look nice,” he says. “I need to get something to eat.”
Oh, my gosh! He is just a child. Maybe all of fifteen. Small, perhaps a little too thin, but he doesn’t look particularly neglected. Or necessarily underfed. I observe him critically with a mother’s eye. He has on a decent coat. Even with his jacket, though, it’s still too cold to stand around outside begging.
He needs drugs, I decide. If I give him money, he will just use it on drugs. I do not want to facilitate that. I try to walk on by. My heart does a strange twist in my chest. What if he is really hungry? It’s impossible to ignore him, so I dig around in my big purse for a dollar. At least that won’t go very far on drugs, I rationalize. If he gets two or three more from others, he could buy a burger. Maybe he will at least get an order of fries, if he is starving.
“Here’s a buck. That’s all I’ve got right now,” I dissemble, lamely. I feel kind of sick when I think how little a dollar will buy, but I turn away from his reaction to the cash. Whether it’s a typical teen smirk of “is that it?”, or a “God bless”, I don’t stay to catch it. I just hurry to catch up with my daughter.
She and I have come in separate cars, meeting here to see a Muppet movie. By the time I reach her, she has buckled her little one into her car seat. She puts a baggie of healthy snacks in her daughter’s toddler fist and hands her a toy to distract her for the ride home. My granddaughter turns her enormous eyes to me and says, “Bye Grammie. I’ll miss you!”
She’ll miss me! She always knows how to pluck at my heart strings. Just now that heart is achey, and the strings are tender. Oh, dear…I should have given that poor boy more money. A dollar won’t buy him enough. What if he were my boy out begging on a frigid night? What if I were home with six more hungry little ones, hoping my son would find a generous stranger? Does he have a “Grammie” and where is she tonight?
At once, I know I need to go back and find him. I will look directly at him and ask if it’s REALLY food he wants. If he can’t look at me and answer, I’ll know. But if he says yes, I’ll take him back inside to the food court and buy him a feast, and send him away with extra. If he’s really only trying to beg enough for some drugs, he should still be there working the exiting crowd.
A few years ago, as part of a group therapy challenge to “break bread with a total stranger,” I went out of a shopping mall in downtown Salt Lake City, and approached a group of homeless young people huddled in a group on the sidewalk. They were a motley gang of kids in baggie clothes with chains and black lipstick. One fellow, apparently the leader, held a cardboard sign claiming they would work for food or something like that. Even back then, no one really believed those signs. At least most of us. It was before Ed Smart put it to a tragic test.
I walked up to the sign-holder and told him I would like to take one of the girls to lunch. He could choose which one.
“Carrie,” he shouted to the raggedy bunch. An enormous mountain of a person separated itself from the crowd. Six feet, at least two hundred and fifty pounds, shaved head, size twelve army boots, five or six facial piercings and a pair of gigantic black eyes stood in front of me and took in my lady-like gold flats and ivory blazer with the fussy metallic gold crest.
I specifically asked for a girl! This one was a Cary, as in Cary Grant—not Carrie, as in Carrie Underwood. This huge guy could have squished me between his finger and thumb. But it would have been a mistake to show my fear at that point. I hastily reassessed my plan of an elegant lunch in a quiet restaurant and decided, for my personal safety, that we would go to the food court in the basement of the mall.
“Come on.” I nodded.
“You look exactly like my sister,” an unexpectedly sweet voice came from the “mountain”.
“Right.” I thought, sarcastically. I’m sorry, but I was looking at a very large person of mixed race, with dark olive skin. I am small boned, light-complexioned. I kind of didn’t think his sister looked just like me.
As if my smart aleck thought were heard, the sweet voice continued, “I was assigned a “Big Sister” once and she was just like you…I really loved her.” Tears are welling up in the big black eyes. I was shocked to realize this was, indeed, a Carrie, a girl in a very tough façade—and she has had a “Big Sister” assigned to her at one time…
“What’s your favorite food, Carrie?” I asked her as we arrived at the food court.
“Could I please have a hamburger?” Carrie asked yearningly.
Carrie and I had a wonderful lunch. She ate hungrily, but politely, with perfect manners. When she was finished, we went back and got a bag of burgers for her friends. I bought her a frozen yogurt and we continued to talk about her difficult life—kicked out of her home at the age of twelve, bounced from foster care to the streets. She said she tried and tried, but could never land a job. I suggested that her appearance probably intimidated employers. She said she’d never thought of it like that. She just thought you should always be yourself, and not let others dictate how you should look. Maybe she would think hard about what she would really be giving up if she dressed more like an employer would like her to, she said.
Eventually, her yogurt was gone and I needed to go. I had enjoyed my lunch.
Carrie reached over and touched my hand and asked if she could give me something as a thank you.
“Oh! No thanks are needed,” I insisted. “The pleasure was truly mine.” But she insisted, too. I didn’t know what to do.
Carrie stood up and cleared her throat and said she was going to thank me with a song.
“Oh, no!” I thought. She was a wack-o after all. These homeless people are so often unbalanced—or so I have heard. I couldn’t have her causing a scene there in the mall. Someone who knew me could have been watching. What on earth would they have thought I was doing there with this scary looking person doing something inappropriate in a public place. I’m sure a look of mild panic crossed my face.
Undaunted, Carrie, still holding one of my hands broke into a song in a deep, pitch-perfect, gorgeous alto. She sang a hymn, Amazing Grace. Her voice sent waves through the entire food court. People put down their forks, quit licking their ice cream, held their feet, and hands and hearts still, until the last note hung in the air, sadly, somewhere near the escalator, and then it was rising up, and up, fading slowly away and leaving us forever. We held our breath for a few more seconds. Tears ran down my cheeks. Carrie was queenly in her own amazing grace. Then, at last, the silence was broken and everyone burst into applause.
Never in my life had I received a more powerful thank you—nor one that chastened me quite so deeply.
As we said good-bye, I asked Carrie if I could come again and buy her lunch.
“I’m always around,” she laughed. “Got no where else to be! Just ask for Carrie—Carrie the Great!”
I went back there to the entrance to that mall, and searched through the dirty faces, the mohawks, and spiked collars, three or four times in the following months, but Carrie, Carrie the Great, was never to be found. The “leader” said he hadn’t seen her for a while.
I’ve never stopped wondering about her. Bless Carrie, God. And all the homeless kids.
I blow kisses to my girls as they drive away in their white station wagon. My granddaughter is waving through the window. “I’ll miss you, Grammie,” I think she is saying. As soon as their car rounds the corner, I turn away and run back to the front of the theater to look for the boy. As I run I have a brief vision of children falling—literally falling—into big cracks in the earth. Carrie, I’m so sorry. The skinny little boy is nowhere to be found.
This is a wonderful story and while it never mentions God, to me this is a portrait of a woman whom God provided for in so many ways. It is a reminder that God works in ways that we do not understand and a great read. Here is another link to stories about this interesting woman!
YES THOSE WERE THE GOOD OLD DAYS. THEY ARE LONG GONE. 1957 Sandwich Menu from Woolworth‘s….
If anyone doubts what we paid for a coke and a sandwich at Woolworths
In the 1950s, here’s proof of the era we lived in.
I wondered who to send this to – who would actually remember eating at a Woolworth’s.
Isn’t it fun just to receive an e-mail that doesn’t make you crazy but just brings back good memories?
For those of you who are too young to remember. Too bad. You missed living in a wonderful time.
Can you believe it was in ENGLISH ONLY!
- You’re asleep, but others worry that you’re dead
- Your back goes out more than you do
- You quit trying to hold your stomach in, no matter who walk into the room
- You buy a compass for the dash of your car/truck
- You are proud of your lawn mower
- Your best friend is dating someone half their age and isn’t breaking any laws
- Your arms are almost too short to read the newspaper
- You sing along with the elevator music
- You enjoy hearing about other people’s operations
- You would rather work than stay home sick
- You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge
- People call at 9:00 pm and ask “did I wake you?”
- You answer a question with “because I said so”
- You send money to PBS
- The end of your tie doesn’t come anywhere near the top of your pants
- You take a metal detector to the beach
- You know what the word “equity” means
- You can’t remember the last time you laid on the floor to watch television
- Your ears are hairer than your head
- When you talk about “good grass” you are referring to someone’s lawn
A man came home from work late, tired and irritated, to find his 5-year old son waiting for him at the door.
SON: “Daddy, may I ask you a question?”
DAD: “Yeah sure, what is it?”
SON: “Daddy, how much do you make an hour?”
DAD: “That’s none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing?”
SON: “I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?”
DAD: “If you must know, I make $100 an hour.”
SON: “Oh! (With his head down).
SON: “Daddy, may I please borrow $50?”
The father was furious.
DAD: “If the only reason you asked that is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you are being so selfish. I work hard everyday for such this childish behavior.”
The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door.
The man sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy’s questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money? Read the rest at….
What Makes a Dad
God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,
The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle’s flight,
The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,
Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
He called it … Dad
This is the most wonderful story of the love of a father outside the gift that God gave us with His son. I am the parent of a disabled son myself, though he isn’t as dependent as this young man. I know what it takes and how much you give! I also know how much you receive back and that is where those that look at the disabled as see something worth less than they think they are. I can tell you this, I got more back than I gave. My husband and I would not give up the rewards we gained for anything. Happy fathers day to all fathers, but especially to those who know the love like this!