Monday, July 28, 2014

O HENRY by Troy Lynn Pritt

Harry Ickes had a good job as production supervisor at Hammond’s Shoe Factory. He and his family lived well. There were six children ranging in age from fourteen to four. The Ickes family had a nice home in a good neighborhood. The children’s friends were in and out of the house all the time. Then the shoe company’s production was moved to Malaysia. Harry was out of a job and began a lengthy search for work. The family lost their house and moved into a three room apartment in a run-down neighborhood. Harry became more and more discouraged and was silent most of the time. He filled out applications, stood in lines, and occasionally went for interviews. His hopes then would rise, but when he wasn’t chosen, he was crushed. He would return to searching and applying once more. Finally, his unemployment benefits expired. The next week he said good-bye to his family and walked out the door.
Mary Ickes struggled to pay rent and utilities, buy food, and keep her children in clothes and in school. She worked as a waitress and took in laundry to wash and iron for friends from their recent affluent past. Working as hard as she could, they were barely managing while her husband was receiving an unemployment check. When the checks stopped, it was only a matter of weeks before the utilities would be shut off and they would be evicted.
Mary’s parents lived on a farm in northwestern Missouri. She asked them if she and the children could move in with them. They very reluctantly agreed. She loaded the car with the youngest child, clothes, and food to eat on the way. She picked up her children from the elementary school and the middle school. Their oldest son, Henry, was in high school. The car was full. Reluctantly she decided that he was old enough to take care of himself.
“How can I do this? He is my oldest child; I love him and I am so proud of him. What else can I do? The car is jam-packed as it is. Henry is smart and mature for his age. He’ll probably be sent to a foster family. Henry will manage. He always knows what to do. If we stay around here, the welfare will put all my children in foster care.”
When Henry arrived home, the house was empty. Open dresser drawers and clothes on the floor - his mother had packed up what she could into the car and had gone someplace with the other children and without him. Had she gone to someplace she had found that was cheaper to rent?  Would she come back for him? He searched for a note, but there was none.
Henry scrounged around for something to eat. The only food was canned goods. There were not many of those. What if she didn’t come back? He sat down in despair and thought about it. The longer he thought, the more he was convinced that she wasn’t coming back. Why didn’t she at least let him know where they were going? He didn’t know how long he could come back to this apartment before the eviction was carried out and utilities were cut off. He would go on living here as long as he could. Maybe she would mail him a letter.
What were his options if he were locked out?  He could tell the school counselor. The school counselor would report it to Human Services. He would be taken away to be placed in foster care. He had known youths who were in foster care. They told him:
“You might be fortunate enough to be placed with a decent family. Probably not. Most likely you’ll find yourself with other youths, mostly troubled semi-delinquents, in a family that is only interested in the money they’re paid by the State for keeping you.”
The other option was to look out for himself. If that failed, he could always turn himself in to the authorities. He had to start making plans now. He made up two rolls, each containing a pair of jeans, a shirt, underwear, and socks. He rolled them tight and tied them with string so that they would fit into a locker. One roll he would put into his school locker, and one roll he would put into his gym locker. In his back pack he put soap, toothbrush, underwear, and socks.
Next, he went to the window by the fire escape. It had always been locked. Now he unlocked it and banged and strained until he had it open. He rubbed soap in the grooves until it would open without a lot of effort. If the landlord padlocked the apartment, he would have an alternate way to get into the apartment for a few more days. It was still cold outside, too cold to spend the nights in the open.
At school he stashed the bundles in his lockers. Breakfast and lunch were free. He took any food items that were durable and put them in his pockets and later his back pack – little boxes of cereal, crackers, sugar packets, catsup packs.
After school he went to grocery stores and restaurants looking for a job. He told them that he was sixteen years old. One day he went into a small café with no name outside, just a neon sign “EAT”. It was what his mother called a “greasy spoon”. The man behind the counter was burly. He needed a shave. He was wearing a dirty white apron and a tired looking chef’s hat.
“Yeah. What do you want? I don’t give handouts. I don’t buy gimcracks for the school band.”
“I want a job. I can sweep, clean the tables, wash dishes.”
“Have I got a deal for you! My waitress and dishwasher both walked out. You clean off the tables, wash the pots and pans, and run the dishwashing machine. I’ll pay you five dollars a night and you can keep all the tips. When I get a waitress, she’ll clean off the tables, but she’ll get all the tips. When can you start?”
“I can start now.”
Henry’s mother wrote a letter to Henry telling him where they were and promising to send for him as soon as they had an apartment of their own and she had the money to send him for bus fare. The letter was returned “Forwarding address unknown”.
Henry worked evenings after school, on Saturdays, and Sunday afternoons. The work was hard and dirty. He was only able to get back into the apartment for about a week. After he finished work at the café, he would return to the school campus and look for a sheltered place to spend the night. Often he could get into the tractor shed, or he would climb onto a school bus. As soon as the school building was open, he would go into the gym locker room, take a shower, and change his clothes. On Mondays and Thursdays he would go into a room that was sometimes used for Home Economics. A washer and a dryer were there. It wasn’t long before the Home Ec teacher caught him.
“Henry Ickes, what do you think that you are doing?”
“Ma’am, my mother works two jobs. She doesn’t always have time to go to the laundromat. Being in high school, I don’t want kids making fun of me for wearing dirty clothes.”
“I see. Use the machines as often as you want, Henry.”
The end of school was fast approaching. The weather was getting warmer. If he had to sleep outside he could, but it was dangerous sleeping outside. Where was he going to take showers? He had enough money to go to a Laundromat. There had been a waitress at the café for a long time, so he had just been getting five dollars a night. Even so, he had accumulated quite a bit of money. He was afraid of it being stolen. He had moved his rolls of clothing to the café. He had some money in his pockets, some in each clothing roll, and some in his back pack. He continued to spend his nights on the campus of the high school. There were a number of sheltered places he found, though the school buses were now locked inside the garage.
One day a policeman was in the café.
“Hey, Tony, haven’t you heard about child labor laws?”
“What do you mean?”
“That boy isn’t eighteen. Does he have a work permit?”
“I guess. I don’t know.”
“I’ll be in tomorrow and I want to see a work permit.”
As soon as the policeman left, Tony gave Henry a ten dollar bill.
“You’ve been one of the best workers I’ve had, but you have to go now; and don’t come back.”
Henry left carrying his two rolls of clothes and his back pack. Losing his job at the café meant two other significant losses. He had no place to store his clothes, and he no longer had access to free food. He always found enough food on the dishes that came back to be washed.
It was about that time that Mary Ickes wrote to the Department of Human Services:
Dear sirs,
In March of this year I was evicted from the apartment where I was living with my six children. My husband had left the previous month. I took my five youngest children with me to go live with my parents. I left the oldest boy, Henry Allen Ickes, and I assume that he has been placed in a foster home. I have found a job here and I am able to pay rent to my parents and to contribute to the food bill. I can afford to pay bus fare for Henry to come here and join us so that he will be here when school begins the day after Labor Day.
My address and phone number are below. Please let me know what I need to do to have Henry sent to us here.
                                                          /Mary Alice Ickes/
The Department of Human Services replied that they had no record of Henry Allen Ickes in their system. They suggested that she contact the police department and report him as a missing person.
Henry sat down on a bench in the park. He prayed,
“O Lord, please help me. I don’t know where to go or what to do.”
 After his family left, he had continued to attend church. As his appearance had become more scruffy, others had avoided him.
While he was praying a young lady sat down beside him. Her face was washed, her hair was combed, but her clothes were dirty and torn; her shoes scuffed and worn.
“Hi. My name is Alice. What’s yours?”
“My name is Henry.”
“Henry, you look exactly like someone who has just arrived in town and has no place to go.”
“You are halfway correct. I never left town, but my family did.”
“I ran away from home several months ago. My step father was abusing me. My mother didn’t believe me. She said that I was flirting with him. As soon as the weather was warm enough, I took money out of his wallet one night, went to the bus station, and took a bus to this city. I wanted to get far away from him. I didn’t realize what a dangerous thing I had done. There are pimps and drug dealers trying to snatch young teenagers and make slaves of them.
“I was standing in the bus station, almost in a daze, when this young man came up to me, and said,
“’Eleanor, I’m so glad to see you.’
“In a quiet whisper he said,
“’Come with me. I’ll explain outside.’
“His name is Douglas. He has taken it upon himself to rescue homeless youths and help them get some direction in their lives. I’ll take you to him, if you want.”
“It seems like God sent you to answer my prayer.”
They walked for many blocks to the warehouse district. Most of the warehouses were now vacant. Alice went up to a green door with a sign “No Trespassing”. Where there had once been window panes, there were now plywood pieces. She opened the door and led Henry into the dark, cavernous interior. His eyes adjusted to the dim light from a dirty skylight. He saw various bundles against the wall.
“Put your things down wherever there is a vacant space…Laugh, that’s a joke. Let’s check the bulletin board.”
She led him over to a corkboard bulletin board hanging crazily on the wall. In black marking pen and large letters on a white sheet of paper was this notice: “Supper @ St. Teresa’s 5PM”
“Douglas always has the name of the church where there will be food for the homeless that evening. Time and days lose meaning when you are walking the streets all day. When a church has a free clothes closet, Douglas lets us know that too.”
Henry and Alice walked to St.Teresa’s Church and waited outside the parish hall until the doors opened. Thin soup, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and hot coffee were the supper. The homeless sat at the tables, hugging their coffee, prolonging the time when they would have to go back out into the streets.
Back at the warehouse there were eight other youths. Douglas announced where they could go for breakfast. Then he took up his guitar and they began to sing: “Kum-Ba-Ya”, “Michael Row The Boat”, “Allelu”, “It’s Me, O Lord”, etc. Douglas ended with a prayer for each of them.  When Henry lay down on the rough wood floor, he was happier than he had been in months.
He never woke up. In another part of the warehouse some homeless men were drinking. They accidentally started a fire. It rapidly became an inferno and spread along the ceiling. Some of the youths woke up in time to get out. Douglas, Henry, Alice, and two others succumbed to smoke inhalation before the flames reached them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Stuart woke up and looked at the clock. It was 7:15 am! He had to be at work by 8:00 am. On the way to the bathroom, he yelled down the stairs,
“Sue, why didn’t you come upstairs and wake me? My alarm didn’t go off. Now I’m going to be late for work.”
“I’ve been busy getting the children ready for school. Their school bus will be here in about ten minutes.”
Stuart didn’t hear much of what she said because, as he went into the bathroom, he slammed the door. He came back out several minutes later grumbling about what a mess the children left in the bathroom. When he went back into the bedroom, he slammed the door.
He had trouble buttoning his shirt. The tie was frayed; he had to find another one. One of the socks had a hole in it; he had to go back to the dresser for another pair. Finally, he was dressed. To emphasize his frustration with all the delays getting dressed for work, he slammed the door as he left the bedroom.
Sue was at the outside door waving goodbye and blowing kisses to their two small children who were boarding the school bus.
“Where is my breakfast? Didn’t I tell you that I was going to be late for work? What would we do if I lost my job?”
“Stuart, you are always angry. Anger comes from Satan. If you would only let Jesus into your life, you would start to experience some joy.
“I was busy getting the children ready for school. I didn’t think you’d have time to eat breakfast. Here’s a granola bar and a cereal bar. Take them with you and eat them in the car on the way to work. I’ve already poured a cup of coffee for you into a foam cup.”
Stuart took the cup, the granola bar, and the breakfast bar from her without a thank you. He put them all into one hand so that he could slam the outside door as his parting gesture.
“Jesus, my foot. I’m the one who goes into work every day and earns the money to provide a home, nice clothes, and food for her and the children.”
When he got into the car, he slammed the car door. In the car and driving, he was eating the granola bar, drinking coffee, and cursing every animate object along the way. He was going much too fast on the main street through their subdivision. Ahead there was a STOP sign. Yet another hindrance.
“There are never any cars on that cross street.”
He slowed down, looked both ways hurriedly, and sped into the intersection. Half way through he saw a green car that had come out of nowhere. He slammed into the driver’s side door of that car with his car’s front end. The impact threw him against the steering wheel, triggering the air bag.
When he extricated himself from the air bag, he walked around to the other car. He could tell at a glance that the other driver was dead. There was blood everywhere. He called the police and ambulance from his cell phone. Then he walked back to his own car and slammed the door.
The wind whooshed into the room as Harold Staynt opened the front door. He was dressed in brown trousers, pale yellow dress shirt with a dark green Tartan plaid tie, and a rust brown sport jacket. The effect he wanted, they wanted, was friendly, relaxed - not business like or professional. Across the room, at the bottom of the stairs was his wife Mariah, clad in a pink chenille robe. The wind parted it, revealing a gold cross on a chain around her neck. As she clutched the robe together, a new, gold wedding ring glistened on her hand.
“Mariah, how can I leave the house and face a day filled with doing Ammer Insurance Company’s dirty work with such an inviting reminder of what I’m leaving behind?”
“I’ll be here waiting, when you come home. And I’ll be praying for you while you are gone. Count on it!”
He smiled and almost skipped to his vehicle. The wind gusted as he was opening the car door. He backed out of the driveway. As he was driving, he went over in his mind the three visits scheduled for this morning.
Mrs. Hermannson was first. Her husband’s funeral was just last week. Mr. Hermannson had a life insurance policy with the Company for $500,000.
“Harold, we don’t want to have to pay out that much money in one lump sum. Do whatever it takes to persuade her to put the proceeds of his policy into one of our annuity plans. There will be a nice commission in it for you.”
If Mrs. Hermannson had other plans for the money, Harold would report that. The Company would then send a “specialist” to try to convince her.
His next visit would be to Mr. Elkins, who had been a passenger in a car insured by them. There had been an accident and the driver was killed. Mr. Elkins was badly injured. The Company paid his medical expenses. Now, they wanted Harold to offer the injured man $50,000.
“If he wants more than that, or if he talks about getting a lawyer, make him think that anything more would have to come out of the widow’s estate.”
The rear passenger window would not close all the way. The wind was roaring in and swirling around to the back of his neck. He thought of his last call for the morning.
Sister Angelica was a sweet, elderly nun. She had been hit by a driver they insured while she was crossing the street. The driver was drunk. The nun’s collarbone, right arm, left knee, and left ankle had been broken. She would be a long time recovering, and probably would never be able to work again.
“Offer her $25,000 – no more. What does a nun need with money? Besides, she won’t sue. It isn’t Christian!”
From the corner of his eye, Mr. Staynt saw, too late, a car barreling through the stop sign on the intersecting street. The car was going to hit him! There was a crash, breaking glass, crumpling metal. A scream started in his lungs, but never reached his dying lips.
Police Sergeant Paul Carbon went outside for his newspaper.
“It looks like rain.”
Rain clouds stalled over the roof of his life these past months. Several months ago his wife of twenty-eight years had died. After that thunder-clap, the rain had poured! He was passed over for lieutenant in favor of a younger, college trained man. The washer and dishwasher both had quit working. The roof was leaking. He was learning to cook, but half the meals he fixed weren’t fit for dog food. He depended on the dry cleaners to wash or clean and press his clothes and uniforms. That didn’t leave much money to eat in restaurants.
He poured dry cereal into a bowl; there wasn’t any milk in the refrigerator.
“I guess I can pretend they are potato chips.”
Just then the phone rang. It was Marge, the dispatcher.
“Paul, I know that you aren’t scheduled to come on duty for more than half an hour, but we have the report of an auto collision at the intersection of Maplewood and Trace. The other squad cars are either out on call or not answering. Would you cover it? I’ve already called the ambulance and it’s on its way.”
“Please, Lord, don’t let there be any deaths. I’m still all torn up inside over Nancy’s death. She was trusting Christ and I know she is with Him now; but looking at death is hard for those of us who are still here below. Even Jesus wept in the presence of death. Don’t make me face it yet.”
Maplewood and Trace was just six blocks away. He left the bowl of cereal untouched, put on his duty belt with pistol and baton, and grabbed his uniform coat. As he stepped outside, the rain was beginning.
“Great! This old police cruiser leaks water through the side window, and somehow it runs down onto my left leg and foot.”
When he arrived at the accident scene, he saw that it was bad. One car had the hit the other car broadside and had “T-boned” it. The paramedic came up to him.
“The driver in that car is dead. I was waiting for you, in case you need to take pictures. Then we’ll use cutting tools to pry the door open so we can remove the body. The other driver is over there, standing in that store entrance to get out of the rain.”
“Thank you, Steve.”
SGT Carbon went to the patrol car for the camera and tape measure. After taking a half dozen photos of the two cars from different perspectives, he measured the distance from the stop sign to the point of impact. By then, he was soaking wet. He walked over to where the other driver was standing. The driver spoke first.
“Now that you are finally here, I can give you my name, address, and telephone number. Then I am going to call my wife and tell her to pick me up and take me home.”
After taking the driver’s name, address, and phone number, SGT Carbon said,
“Tell me what happened.”
“I was driving to work. I stopped at that stop sign, looked both ways, and started off. That green car just came out of nowhere. I couldn’t stop!”
“There are no marks indicating you tried to stop. If you had stopped at the stop sign, your car could not have reached the speed necessary to cause that much damage to the other car,.”
“I tell you I STOPPED!”
“A judge will decide that. Let’s take a walk through the rain to my patrol car. I’m placing you under arrest for vehicular manslaughter. After the cell door slams shut behind you at the jail, I have to go to the new widow of that driver you just killed.”
“Lord, I don’t know how I can do it. Please go with me. Please, could You be the One to tell her through me?”

Monday, July 14, 2014


                                                         by Troy Lynn Pritt
They had turned off the Interstate almost an hour ago. There was nothing to see but dark fields, the dark shapes of trees, and the somber purple darkness of an overcast sky. He was tired and his wife had already made her feelings known several times.
“Karl, find some town and let’s stop for the night. I need a good meal, a hot shower, and a clean bed in that order.”
Karl Ferrell was a traveling salesman. He knew how scarce any one of those three was. He was usually gone for a week at a time and Kate had often asked to accompany him. The more that he put off her requests, the more it seemed to her that these trips held some secret that she wasn’t meant to know. Now, for five days, in eleven towns, she sat in the car as he carried his overloaded case into the independent retail stores of his clients. In each store he had to wait patiently, while she waited impatiently, until the owner could grant Mr. Ferrell time to pitch his wares, give him brochures and samples, and take his order.
For four nights, they had stayed in the kind of motels he could afford. They ate the greasy food that is standard fare for those who live on the road. She missed her daytime television shows. Until she went on this trip she thought that she liked country music. When it became her only diversion, she couldn’t stand it.
He saw a sign for a town, “Haggis”, with a sign pointing down a road to the left. As they came into town, they saw street lights, a few stores, a motel, and a grill with a bright neon sign “EAT”. They stopped at the grill and went inside. They were welcomed with the aroma of onions, potatoes, and meat cooking. They sat down in a booth and a friendly, plump, middle-aged waitress brought two cups and a hot carafe of coffee.
Karl almost called her “Mom”.
“Ma’am you sure do know what a weary traveler needs.”
Turning to Kate the waitress smiled, “I expect I know what your wife needs – someplace to freshen up and powder her nose. Go through those curtains, Honey, and you’ll see the door on your left.”
After Kate disappeared  through the curtains Karl said, “Thank you. She probably thought she was going to have to wait until we got to the motel.”
“Motel?  You don’t want to take your wife to that motel. It is a roach infested dump. Go on down this street. Watch for Maple Avenue. Turn to the right and look for an ugly, orange house. It is a bed and breakfast. Molly keeps it clean, and she serves a good breakfast, too.”
“Thank you.”
They enjoyed a supper of beef stew and dumplings, topped off with apple pie. Karl left a generous tip, for the good meal and for the information.
Matilda’s Bed and Breakfast was a large, clapboard, Victorian house that set a good way back from the street. They were met at the front door by Molly. The inside was old, but well kept and clean. Molly led them into a side room to sign the guest register. She told them that breakfast was at 8:30 AM.  Then she led them upstairs and along a confusing labyrinth of hallways.
Their room was in the back of the house. The room was small. There was just enough space for the double bed, a dresser, a wardrobe, and two straight-back chairs. The bathroom was on the hallway. The toilet and a wash basin were in a tiny room on one side of the hallway, a bathtub with a jerry-rigged shower was in a small room on the other side of the hallway.
He wondered how they would ever find their way back to the stairway. As if reading his mind, Molly said, “There is a stairway just around the corner. It leads to the back porch.”
The back stairway was just around the corner of the hallway leading to their small room. At the bottom of the stairs was a door leading to the back porch. Beside the stairway was a soda machine and an icemaker. To the left was a doorway into a narrow room with a television and a sofa. Another door in the television room opened into the room where breakfast was served.
Karl went to the back door and outside to begin carrying the suitcases. A little girl, who said her name was Jessica, was playing with a young cat on the back porch. The cat was black with dark brown streaks.
“See my cat. I named her ‘Smokey’.”
Coming back from the car with his first bunch of suitcases, Karl saw her mother in the hall. “That is a playful cat you folks have.”
“Oh, it isn’t our cat. It might want to be our cat. It’s always trying to slip into the house.”
On his next trip from the car, the little girl was gone. The cat was mewing, curling itself between his legs. When he opened the door, it was going to try to get into the house. Opening the door was a job more suited to a contortionist: turn the doorknob to the left, turn the key in the lock to the right, prop the heavy, steel storm door open, shuffle the suitcases inside the house, and keep the cat outside the house.
Karl brought the second load of suitcases to their room. He was sweating, dizzy, and exhausted. He fell onto the bed, just to catch his breath. Instead, he fell asleep. When he awoke, Kate was already in bed, and sound asleep. He quietly let himself out of the room, and went to the car for the remaining items, including his shaving kit. The house was dark except for dim bulbs on the back porch and at the top of the stairs.
When he returned from the car, the cat again wrapped itself around his legs, trying to get into position to dart into the house when the door was opened. Karl shook it off his leg and sent it sliding across the length of the porch like a hockey puck on ice. This time he had some loose items in his arms. He struggled with the doorknob and lock, and propped the heavy storm door open as he shuffled the remaining suitcase inside. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the cat. He made it through the door and the storm door swung shut behind him.
“Yee-OW, yeeow, KHACK, hisss.”
The storm door had slammed onto the cat’s neck. Its paws were flailing uselessly, but noisily, on the metal door. Positioning his foot to keep the cat from running inside, Karl opened the door wide enough to reach the storm door latch. He cautiously shoved it open. The cat was gone!  Closing the doors and starting to go upstairs, he heard loud mewing in the television room.
“Oh, no, I’ve let the cat into the house.”  Setting the suitcase and the loose articles down, he went into the television room. The television was on, but there was no picture. Its eerie moonlike glow was the only light in the room. He looked in the direction of the loud meows. There on the carpet was the cat. The body and head were separated. The body was lying stretched out lazily on the rug. The head was sliding across the floor like a hockey puck on ice!
The head slid behind him, biting the back of his foot. He tried kicking backwards, but just as he did the head bit his other foot, nearly causing him to fall. The next time Karl kicked backwards, the cat sank its teeth into his foot and held on. He reached back to try to grab the head. Then the body sprang onto him, clawing his cheek, and raking its claws down his arm. He was blind with pain. The head again bit the back of his foot, the body wrapped itself between his legs, and he fell.
The head was sliding here and there like a hockey puck being passed between two players, mewing and biting. The pain signals going off in Karl’s mind were like the flashing lights and ringing bells at a hockey game. Meanwhile, the cat’s body was leaping about like a goalie, raking bare skin with its claws. With horror, he could feel the rough tongue of the cat licking his blood and purring.
He stumbled to his feet and found his way up the back stairs. The cat’s head was stopped by the first step and the body would not go on without it. Karl’s painful and bloody progress up the stairs was followed by mocking meows and hisses.
When he reached their room, he was in shock and couldn’t speak. Kate wrapped a blanket around him, cleaned his wounds with a wet washcloth, and took him down to the car. She found a hospital in a bigger town farther on down the road and took Karl into the emergency room. He still could not talk. His eyes were fixed in a dumb stare.
The doctor said to his wife, “It appears to me that he was attacked by a large rat. We have to assume the rat was rabid. Your husband will have to take a course of rabies shots.”
They returned to the bed and breakfast in the early morning hours. He looked fearfully for the cat but did not see it. Karl lay awake despite the shot they had given him. “Where is the cat now?  Even if the cat can’t come up the stairs, who knows what worse horrors are lurking in this house?”
The next morning the Ferrells walked through the television room on their way to breakfast. He saw no evidence of blood on the carpet.
“Did you clean up the blood already?” Karl asked Molly.
“I didn’t see any blood when I came through there. What happened to you?  You have bandages all over you.”
Kate said, “We think that he was attacked by a large rat.”
Kate wanted to stay another day so that Karl could rest. He insisted that they leave as soon as possible. As they were moving the suitcases out to the car, they saw Jessica playing on the back porch with that same cat!
“See my cat?  I named her Smokey.”

Monday, July 7, 2014


Mrs. Lila Sue Haverty lived in a modest house in a small town. Four children had grown up in this house, and it contained many fond memories for her. Ralph, her husband, had kept it in good repair while he was living. Ralph worked as a millwright.
Their children are now grown and are all prosperous and comfortable.  Samuel is 60 years old, and is an engineer.  He is married and has grown children.  He and his wife live in a beautiful home built on the edge of a golf course.  They have a cabin on a lake, belong to a country club, and travel to distant places on vacations.
Lorelai is 58 years old and divorced.  She is an investment banker. She has a condominium in what used to be a huge warehouse.  She parks her car in a garage on the ground floor. She is so busy with work that she has a maid come in every day to make the bed and clean her unit.  She also has a personal shopper who does her grocery shopping.  She has three grown children, but has not seen any of them for at least several years.
Jonathan is 56.  He is a widower.  His wife died in a car wreck twelve years ago.  He is a social worker and works sixty to eighty hours a week.  His children all have good jobs and nice families.  Sometimes, one or another of them will invite him for Sunday dinner.  He always goes, but never without an invitation.
Diane is 54. She is on her fourth marriage.  She does not work outside the home.  Neither does she work inside the home – she doesn’t cook, wash clothes, or clean the house.  That is what maids are for!  Her chief occupations are to buy a new dress and shoes every week, to go to the hair salon, to keep up with the gossip within her circle of acquaintances, and to go to a party once a week.  She has no children and has never wanted children.
After the children were grown, Lila became a nurse.  She and Ralph made a comfortable living and both were careful with money. When they retired, their Social Security checks were more than enough for the two of them. They even had enough to travel to places they had previously seen only on calendars. Ralph only enjoyed his retirement for three years before he died. That was fifteen years ago.
With Ralph’s passing Lila’s only income was her Social Security check.  She had lived simply all her life. Her house was free of mortgage.  She adroitly balanced utility bills, food, and medicine costs. Lila always took out a tithe of her check for the Lord. She cheerfully carried it to church the first Sunday of each month. Lila sent another 20% of her check to several different missionaries whom she had faithfully helped to support for many years.
In town Lila was called “The Hag” behind her back. She was odd in appearance. Every day but Sunday she wore a sunbonnet, and one or another worn and faded cotton dress covered by an apron. In cold weather she traded a knit toboggan for the sunbonnet and added a thick wool, moth-eaten cardigan. In very cold weather she also wore a scarf and a rain coat or even her husband’s thick wool Army overcoat. She bought mismatched socks at the Clothes Closet operated by a Baptist church. She wore the mismatched socks and old, scuffed nursing shoes left from the years when she worked as a nurse. The sunbonnets/toboggan hid the fact that she was bald on much of the top of her head. Her face was wrinkled and had hairs growing like weeds. There was a prominent mole on the left side of her chin.
None of Lila Sue’s children have visited her in over ten years. They were embarrassed by her straitened circumstances.  Each of them in their own way determined not to spend the last years of their lives as their mother spent hers.
Lila carefully planned her meals.  She had a large garden which she worked in during the growing season. She canned hundreds of jars of food each year. She had meat just once a week, usually on Sunday.  She would buy a pound of hamburger or a pound of some other inexpensive meat and divide it for her four meals with meat. She bought a dozen eggs and made them last a month.  Her breakfasts were usually oatmeal and coffee or dry cereal and coffee.  A couple times a week she fixed a poached egg on toast. She used dry milk and instant coffee because there was no waste.  Her lunches were a sandwich of peanut butter or toast and jelly with a glass of milk. Despite her frugal personal diet, she spent a large proportion of her funds on food. There were other hungry persons to feed.
Lila had a sunny smile shining out of her hag-like face. You had to avoid looking at that smile to see her frowzled appearance. She greeted everyone she met on the street, in the store, in the doctor’s office, or in Sunday School. People found her easy to talk with. Nearly everywhere she went, someone unburdened to her their health problems, family squabbles, or some other reason for being downhearted. They all went away comforted by a quiet woman, with gentle, well-educated responses who listened, who really cared, and promised to remember them in prayer. Most of these people didn’t know about Lila’s other circle of friends.
Every evening Lila carried a large purse and a shopping bag to the park. There was no money in the purse. Both bags were bulging with sandwiches, thermos bottles, and cups. She sat down on a bench and waited. One by one homeless people would come and sit on the bench with her. Unless they were new, she greeted them by name. She would hand them a sandwich and then pour a cup of hot coffee. She also gave them a homemade granola ball or donut or cinnamon roll in a plastic baggie.
“Don’t eat that now. That’s for your breakfast.”
To many of them those words were like an echo of the own mom.
Over time many would cautiously open up to her and share their heartaches, not like the townspeople, but just a little bit now and a few sentences again later. Sometimes there would be runaway teens or throwaway teens. She would urge them to go to the authorities rather than continuing to face the dangers of living on the streets.
There were pregnant teens whose parents/boyfriend/pimp threw them out of their “home”. Those who shared this particular burden with Lila ended up living in a spare room at Lila’s until their baby was born. Lila would take them to Child Protective Services, to a doctor, and then to the school to enroll the mothers-to-be in all the programs that were available to them.
Lila’s ministry to the homeless did not remain a secret. There were many who shook their heads in disbelief.
“I wouldn’t dare go to that park at night with all those weird people. Doesn’t she know the danger she is in? Anyhow, it is their own fault they are homeless – alcoholics, drug addicts, fugitives from the law, bums!”
But there were those who admired her courage and compassion. On his way home every night the baker left a bag with loaves of bread and the leftovers of donuts and sweet rolls on her porch. A woman who worked at the Food Pantry periodically left jars of peanut butter and cheese spread. The owner of a café she passed on the way to the park insisted that she stop there and let him fill her thermos bottles with coffee every night.
One dark night Lila caught her foot in a hole on the walkway out of the park. She fell forward, scraping her hands and knees and then crumpled to the ground. She had twisted her ankle, her hands and knees were bleeding, and she couldn’t get back on her feet.
“Help me! Please somebody help me.”
In a few minutes Maudie the bag-lady was there, kneeling beside her, comforting her. When Maudie saw some of the homeless men approaching, she took charge.
“You, Ralphie and Harry, go down to the street. Go in opposite directions on the street and stop the first person you meet. Tell them to tell the police that Ms. Lila has turned her ankle, she can’t get up, and she needs two strong policemen to pick her up and drive her home.”
That is what happened. When the police got her into her house, they called her doctor at home. It was not his custom to make house calls and at night! But when he heard that it was Ms. Lila, he was on his way.
She couldn’t bear to think of her friends in the park going hungry for a week or more while her ankle healed. She called her friends at church and asked them to take turns. The volunteer-for-the-day came to Lila’s house, made thirty sandwiches and wrapped them, put the donuts and sweet rolls in plastic baggies, and put them all in a cardboard box. She then delivered the box to the park and placed it on Lila’s bench. The grocer agreed to deliver a case of bottled water to the bench each evening while Lila was incapacitated. Maudie took over at that point making sure there was a fair distribution of food and that all the litter was picked up.
Lila, the Hag, sat on her bench each night until all her sandwiches were gone. When it was raining she went to a gazebo in the park. The homeless would already be there waiting. She quickly passed out her food and poured their coffee. With her bags empty she was able to carry an umbrella on the walk back home. Every evening she thanked God for the ones He had sent to sit on the park bench with her. She told Him about the pains and problems each of them had shared with her and begged Him to help them.
Lila Sue Haverty died as she had lived - quietly and simply. Some ladies from the Methodist Church stopped at her house after church.  They had missed seeing her in her pew.  The ladies found her seated in her rocking chair.  Her Bible was in her lap. She had died there a couple days before.
Her children were notified. The funeral director asked who was going to plan her funeral and who would be paying for it. Mrs. Haverty owned a burial plot beside her husband, but had no life insurance. Jonathan replied, paid the undertaker, and attended her burial and memorial service. He was the only one of her children who was present.
At the memorial service for Lila Sue Haverty the church auditorium was filled to capacity with people who came to mourn their loss. Outside the church some of the homeless stood with hats off and heads bowed. Some were wringing their hands. All of them were weeping.

“…the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7b NKJV)