Friday, December 24, 2004

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm thinking of my dad. He passed away back in 1978, but at this time of year, there's a special memory of him that inspires me like no other.

Back in the 1960's, my father was the manager of the Hogue and Knott #3 Supermarket on Lamar Avenue in Memphis. If you've visited elsewhere in my site, you've probably read stories about some of his patrons (see Luther for an example). I worked weekends and summers at the store from the time I was sixteen until I went away to college, and on several breaks thereafter, so I came to know many of the regulars.

One of our most endearing customers was an elderly African-American woman named Margaret, who lived in a tiny, drafty yellow clapboard house just down the street from the store. Margaret's husband was totally blind, but he was self-sufficient enough that she could leave him for short periods to walk to our store to buy groceries. She was one of those people who had next to nothing in terms of material possessions, yet never found anything important enough to complain about.

Every year, in the last few days before Christmas, my dad would say that we needed to get a box together for Margaret. He would go around the store, packing her a big box of what were then staples: items such as flour, sugar, Crisco, and corn meal. Then, on Christmas Eve, he would present the box to Margaret as a gift -- no charge, it was just his way of helping someone who had nothing. I don't know that the items in the box were considered as a writeoff, and I don't imagine that my dad really cared one way or the other. Many times, I saw him give food or gifts to people in need. He didn't say much about it, but you knew he was always at the ready.

And so today, when I stopped into my neighborhood Kroger supermarket to pick up some dishwasher detergent ($3.99 shelf price), I paused at the checkout line and purchased one of those $7.50 boxes of canned food for the needy, then placed it in the donation box set up at the front of the store. I didn't feel right until I had bought that box. It was as if my dad were looking over my shoulder, telling me to look out for others who might not have much of anything under their tree, if they even have a tree.

Dad, I miss you, and I wish you were here. I thank you for your wisdom, your humor, and the work you did throughout the years to provide for us. But most of all, I thank you for putting in my heart and head the twin spirits of charity and empathy. I will try to keep them there until I buy next year's box.

God bless, and Merry Christmas to you all.