Chapter One: Goodie Bags from the Heart
Nineteen years old and newly married. I remember waving goodbye to my husband one hot summer day while standing on the front porch of our small home in California. As I stood outside, I noticed the saddest sight across the street in the fast-food parking lot. He appeared to be homeless in his grubby, dirty clothes and long gray hair. In the heat of the day, he wore a tattered black jacket that I'm sure must have been one of his most treasured possessions that kept him warm in the cooler months. His fiercely thick gray beard hid part of his face, and frankly he looked quite frightening to me. I quickly turned and stepped into the house, shutting and locking the door behind me.
As I stood at my living room window staring in bewilderment, he rummaged through the garbage cans in the parking lot. Wrappers, cups, napkins -- he went through all of it in hopes of finding food, and when he did find a morsel or two, it looked as though he had found a Thanksgiving dinner. Not feeling afraid any longer, I wondered just how long it had been since this poor man had had a decent meal.
The next day while sending my husband off to work, I spotted the man again. He was sitting on the curb with cups and wrappers in his lap, eagerly eating the unwanted scraps of strangers as if there were no tomorrow. I couldn't help but feel sorry for him, and it was at that very moment that I knew what I had to do, and I hoped that my plan would work.
The next day I found myself packing two lunches instead of just the usual one for my husband, and thinking to myself, Oh, I hope he shows up. When I finished my task, I hurried across the hot pavement and slipped one of the brown paper bags into the garbage can. I laughed to myself and thought, Boy, I must look like I'm up to something strange. I sent my husband to work and quickly went to the living room window to watch and wait for my homeless friend.
In a matter of minutes he arrived and immediately found the sack with the lunch inside. I stood there with a huge smile on my face, my heart pounding as he opened the bag and peered inside. He sat down on the curb of the busy intersection happily eating his lunch, oblivious to the passing cars just feet in front of him. He munched contentedly on a bologna sandwich, chips, a soda, and whatever other goodies I had happened to find in my cupboard that morning.
We didn't have much money or food back then, just starting out as a young couple. But for the next two weeks I scrounged through my kitchen cupboards and always managed to find something to slip into a goodie bag for the old man. And, of course, I placed it in the very same garbage can every day. I watched him savor every bite day after day, and it did my heart a world of good.
I used to wonder if he thought it was odd having lunches appear, but he never once looked around in curiosity. Then one day I slipped a lunch into the garbage can and he failed to show up, and I worried about him. I said a prayer for him in hopes that he had just decided it was time to move on.
Years later, when I was thirty-four years old, my children, ages eight, ten, ten, and twelve, were teasing me one day, saying, "Mom,
name one good deed you've ever done." My face lit up, and I knew at that moment what I would say.
PAULA J. TOYNBEE
Copyright © 2001 by Kay Allenbaugh