“Listen to what happened to me at Food Lion.” my mom began.
I knew it would be a good story because only good stories come from Food Lion. When you turn right out of our neighborhood you get to the boring Kroger. When you turn left you go deeper into the heart of our city. Things are grubbier, poorer, but it’s where we grew up so that’s where we go.
“The girl was ringing me up at the register and I noticed this rough looking man standing there swigging a two liter of Pepsi. I swear he must have been eight feet tall and he had a big scab on his nose and he was just standing in the middle of the store downing it like he’d never had anything to drink before. When he was done he walked up to me and out of the blue said ‘Will you buy me some food? Or give me two dollars so I can get me a can of beans?’ I just stood there looking at him, he was seriously almost eight feet tall, and I said ‘Sure. But I’m almost done so get it quick.’ He scurried off and started grabbing things from the end caps. A can of raviolis and one of those big beef jerkies and some chips and another bottle of Pepsi. It came to four dollars. He got his little bag and said thank you and left. When I looked up the teenage girl who was working the register was staring at me with her mouth hanging open. She said, ‘That is the nicest thing I have ever seen.’ I just laughed. What are you going to do, right? Food Lion…” I could feel her shrug through the telephone so I shrugged too. Food Lion.
“I mean, of course you buy him the food.” I said. “How often do we piss away four dollars?”
“He was right pitiful. Reminds me of Eugene.” She said, mentioning her father and the generosity that ran deep through his bones. “He’d always give you the shirt off his back, no matter what. Most people who don’t have a pot to piss in are like that, you know?”
“They do it because they know how it feels.” I said and remembered a story Eugene told me before he died.
He was ten and walking with his Uncle Jack down Main Street when he spotted a wallet on the sidewalk. He picked it up and looked inside and saw it filled with cash. “Today’s your lucky day, boy.” Uncle Jack told him and they kept on their way. When Eugene got home his daddy frowned when he saw that wallet. “Some man worked for that and it doesn’t belong to you and you’re going to give it back.”
“I felt real small.” Eugene said, remembering. His people had been cotton mill workers and knew what that money meant. He’d clearly never forgiven himself for thinking it was his. “We found the owner and when we returned it he gave me a whole dollar as a reward. I couldn’t decide whether to spend it on a baseball glove or a BB gun. That was a whole lot of money.”
These things I know: We are who we are made to be. Do your good where you are planted. You get back what you give.
“So which did you choose?” I asked him.
“Well…you know I don’t even remember.” He laughed with surprise at the not remembering, knowing he’d only kept with him the important part, grateful he’d taught his children the important part.