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Phelps' Stories

The Golden Rule: The Gift of a Meal

Through her actions, my mother always illustrated the Golden Rule.  Many years ago, my mom and I were in the kitchen.  I did this often;  sit in the kitchen and pester my mother, while she prepared meals.  On this day, though,  she was drinking coffee, having just finished washing the dishes.  Everything was in order.  There were few words between us.  Instead, she was mostly silent, occasionally peering up from her cup to ask me a question or two about my latest baseball game.   I returned the courtesy by only talking unless she broached conversation.   By looking into her eyes I could see that she was far away, in her thoughts.  I thought about leaving to go play outside and as that thought ran through me, but then there was a knock at the kitchen door.   

I jumped from my chair, turned to the door behind me, peered through the screen and saw a young man, dressed in a soldier’s uniform.  Probably just returned from Vietnam, I thought to myself then rudely asked aloud, “What do you want?”

Soldiers scared me.  My oldest brother’s friend, Marion, had went off to the war and came back pretty crazy.  Sometimes for no reason he would just sit in the front yard and stare at people as they walked past.  So, I was a bit leery when I saw this soldier at our door.  So, before he could say a word,  I reached up and engaged the latch to the screen.

The young man smiled and tried to answer me,  but my mom interrupted and asked from across the room, “Who is it, Baby?”

“Some soldier,” I answered and turned away from him and sat back in chair, at the table.

Mom looked at me as though she wanted to slap me into the next week, threw her dish towel on the table and lumbered past me to the door.  She opened the screen and apologized, “I’m sorry young man.  My son seems to be a bit rude today.  How can I help you?”

The soldier was nervous.  He cleared his throat and asked, “Ma’am, I’m selling Bibles and was hoping that you needed one.”

“No, I have a family Bible.  I bought one a few years back and don’t need another.”

The soldier dropped his head and thanked my mother.  He started to walk away.   My mother turned back into the kitchen and then abruptly turned toward the door and yelled through the screen, “Young man, come here.”

The soldier returned to the door.

“I can’t buy another Bible, but I was wondering, when was the last time you had a home-cooked meal?”

“I don’t know ma’am.  Probably before I went into the service.  I’m selling Bibles because I’m trying to make my way back home to Tennessee.”

“Massillon is a long way from Tennessee,” she said, opening the door. She nodded for him to come in.

“I know ma’am, but God willing, I’ll get there soon.”

A Home-cooked Meal

“Sit down and I’ll make you a meal.  It’s not much, but at least you’ll have a full stomach,” she offered.

I honestly didn’t know what was going on, having never seen my mother do such a thing.  The young man came into the kitchen, and took a seat at the table.  He was fidgeting nervously, automatically making him untrustworthy in my eyes.  I was a paperboy and had read all the stories about United States Soldiers getting strung out on heroin in Vietnam.

My mother walked over to the stove and set about cooking.  Occasionally she would turn and ask the young man a question or two about his family, his time in Vietnam and his hometown in Tennessee.  Now and then, with my mother’s approving look, I would ask a question.

She livened the kitchen with good conversation, laughter and the smell of fried chicken.  The young man laughed and seemed to be enjoying his time.  He certainly enjoyed the pile of food that my mom placed in front of him.  When he had finished, my mom wrapped the remaining food, and put it in a brown paper sack and set in next to him on the table.

The Golden Rule

“Ma’am, thank you so much for the food.  It’s been ages since I’ve tasted a meal that good,” he said, standing up and gathering his things.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out some change and got ready to hand it to my mother.

“Put your money away, son,” my mother smiled.

“Please take something for the meal.”

“I don’t want anything for the meal. You go on your way now, and I’m sure you’re going to make it home, soon,” my mother said.

“What can I do to repay you for your kindness?” he asked.

My mother gave him a hug and said, “One day there may be a knock at your door, and standing outside might be a young woman or man that needs a meal. You can repay me by giving that young person a meal, because you never know, it might be one of my children.”

The soldier smiled, took the bag of food and left.  I looked over at my mother and saw tears streaming down her cheeks.   I gave my mother a hug then ran outside to play.

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