Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Green Bean Story

With a new year about to arrive, our stories around the dinner table inevitably revolve around what happened in years past. Here's a story that Scooter, my wife and assistant, has shared. It is true.

She was 8 years old, and her family had just begun attending a small Baptist church in Tulare, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley. This decision came out of nowhere one night when her father, who was affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately) known as "Wild Bill," simply announced one night, while he was drunk, that he wanted know who'd go to church with him. They had never, ever, been in a church.
The kids were watching TV. Scooter was the only one who raised a hand.

She and her sister and four brothers began going to Sunday school classes, where they learned the Bible stories. Then, three weeks before Christmas, the Sunday school teacher asked the kids to bring food to give to the poor people. The campaign to help the poor was putting the teachings of Jesus into direct action and immediately caught the fancy of Scooter and her sister.

They went home and asked their mother if they could take some food to church to give to the poor people the next Sunday. She listened to them but didn't give them anything the next Sunday morning while other kids brought in their donations.

The next week they asked their mom again. It was two weeks before Christmas. "Can we take some food for the poor people, Mom? Please. Christmas is almost here!" Mom said, "We'll see." But again they went to Sunday school empty handed as donations from the other kids grew.

With one week before Christmas, they pestered their mother again, reminding her every day that Christmas was almost here and could they please, please take something to Sunday school for the poor people. "We'll see," she said. Then they began begging, before she finally relented, but not before they were sent out to collect pop bottles for the 1-cent refund, a task not unknown to them.

That Sunday morning, before church, Scooter and her sister were each given a can of green beans, one of the local store brands that cost about a nickel apiece. When Sunday school convened, Scooter waited until everyone was settled and seated before she announced to the teacher she had her contribution for the poor people. After taking her can of green beans to the front of the class, she took the long way back to her seat, milking the moment for all it was worth. She felt good, not only because she was doing her part, but because everyone in Sunday school class saw that she was doing her part to help the poor people. She went home happy.

Christmas Eve arrived. There was a knock on the door. Scooter and her sister waited for their mother to answer the door because one of the house rules was that they were never to answer the door by themselves. Their four brothers gathered behind them. Wild Bill wasn't home. With Scooter on the right hip and her sister on the left hip of their mother, the door was opened.

Standing there were the deacons from the little Baptist church. One had a box of presents, another was holding a Chrismas tree and another held a large box that held a turkey and a variety of other food, including two cans of 5-cent green beans that lay right on top of the pile.

Simultaneously, Scooter leaned forward and looked to her left, her sister leaned forward and looked to her right, and the pair said to each other, "We're the poor people?"

The deacons kept saying, "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!"

Scooter, her sister and their four brothers started jumping up and down, squealing, laughing, and tore into their presents.

Their mother cried. It wasn't out of any relief or gratitude, though she was, indeed, grateful.

Their mother cried, she admitted years later, because she realized everyone in the church knew they were poor and needed help.

The deacons, of course, didn't talk about that. They just helped set up the Christmas tree and decorate it, and kept repeating the same thing: "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!"

Scooter remembers thinking back then that she was going to help people like the deacons were helping them that Christmas (and several Christmases thereafter).

And she has made a point to have green beans on the table at every holiday dinner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's a nice Christmas story but sort of sad ...