by Paula Hodges
It was 1967. The year I turned 11 my father was in the hospital with cancer, and it was a very bleak December. There was lots of snow and cold, and an old furnace ruled our household with demands for fuel oil and attention. The neighbor had the required touch on the reset buttons and when awakened by nocturnal phone calls, he never failed to respond with a visit to our basement. On one early dawn foray, he showed me the trick of relays and resets. From then on, half asleep, I went downstairs and pushed buttons, feeling powerful as hot air again pushed through vents upstairs.
One night, as I sleepily pushed the sequence to restart the furnace, I looked toward the garage doors. My heart stopped as a jumble of unfamiliar shapes cast odd shadows. The weak flashlight beam revealed a heap of grocery bags. I was now totally confused. Grocery store trips were boring, once-a-month excursions; we never left bags in the garage. Why would there be grocery bags there? But I was sleepy, so I took my cold bare feet back upstairs and into bed.
At breakfast next morning, I asked Mom, How come you have all those grocery bags in the garage? She looked at me with her “You have no idea what you’re talking about!” expression. She replied, “It’s probably just detergent boxes,” I interrupted, It’s grocery bags Mom, I’m gonna go see….
“Sit” she commanded, “I’ll find out what’s going on.” She was gone so long we got nervous. Then she came slowly up the stairs, her arms full of bags, a disbelieving look on her face. She put the bags on the kitchen table and sent the twins down after the rest. I looked at the bags and then at Mom.
These were not our groceries. The things in these bags were things we looked at, but never bought. Potato chips in bright yellow bags, Shredded Wheat, coconut, chocolate chips, jellies, canned soups, Jello! 12 boxes! One bag was meat, another held cheese and fresh vegetables, even cottage cheese and chip dip! Chip dip! Wow! It took forever to put it all away. There was a turkey, cola and so much more. It was like Christmas, better than a birthday, and my mom’s face was young and glad that whole morning.
Not until I was a grown woman did I find out the answer to that December mystery. The local grocer, Mr. Weston, had been our Santa Claus. Kind and generous, he had filled those bags to feed the hearts of three lonely kids.
To us, it was a miracle. Long after the cottage cheese carton held odd buttons, the feeling of sweet well being stayed on. All through that hard winter we talked about the morning the groceries came.
Thank you, Mr. Weston. I just wanted to tell you how much we appreciated the groceries.