Often hobos or tramps—rather derelict-looking older men, unshaven and ragged of clothing, who traveled by riding on the bottom of freight cars, or hidden inside an empty one—came to our back door asking, “Cup of coffee, ma’am, and maybe some bread?”
“Wait a minute,” I’d reply, “just sit down there, I’ll fix you something.” It was too dangerous to invite such a stranger in, alone with small children; but it would have been wrong to send him away.
I would get out a tray, put the kettle on, and look in the fridge for some left-over soup. Into a small pan would go the soup, with the gas on under it. I would cut bread, enough for two big sandwiches (not too thin, he’ll be hungry) and wonder what sort of a home he had had when he was a little boy—and wonder who he is, or whether maybe he is an angel in disguise!.... A diagonal cut through the first sandwich showed red tomato and green lettuce attractively displayed in the slash. The walnuts crunched as the knife went diagonally through the second sandwich. Alternating these four triangles on a lovely dinner plate came next, with pickle trim on one, and parsley on the other. Now for the steaming hot soup left over from our lunch. I would put a good bowl of this on the tray, and the children would help me fix a tiny bouquet of flowers nested in an ivy leaf.
“What’ll he think of all that, Mummy?” Priscilla would ask with big, wondering eyes.
“Well, perhaps he’ll remember something in his past—perhaps he had a very nice home once, where he had meals prepared for him. Anyway, he’ll stop and think, and we’ll give him this little Gospel of John to read while he is eating. He can take it away with him and, who knows, perhaps he’ll do a lot of thinking, and some day, believe. Anyway, he may realize we care something about him as a person, and that’s important.”
Priscilla would hold the screen door open as I took it out, and watch his surprised face as he saw the tray.
“For me? Is this for me?”
“Yes, and the coffee will be ready in a minute, eat the soup first. This Gospel is for you, too. Take it with you. It really is very important.”
I can't help but wonder how many of us, myself included, would be frustrated, annoyed, or even a bit scared if someone just showed up on our doorstep? How many of us would take the time to make a proper meal (even if it includes left over soup), present him with a beautiful spread and flowers to boot for such a man? Obviously, one should take care to be safe in such instances, just as she did, but to then go through that effort? Oh how I think, shamefully, that many of us would turn him away out of fear. Or on the off chance we did feed him, would we bring out the good china, cut flowers, and lay it all out as if the President were coming over for lunch? Even if this man wasn't allowed inside the house he was treated to an exceptional meal.