I love Thanksgiving. My memories of Thanksgiving dinners at home are treasured ones, but one particular celebration when I was a little boy stands out from all the rest. Moments after the, “Amen,” of my dad’s Thanksgiving prayer, there was a knock at our front door.
“Must be somebody wantin’ to play,” said my brother Dan.
My mom said to my sister, Candy, “will you go to the door and tell them we’re just starting to eat. They’ll have to come back later.” My little sister obediently rose from the table to tell the neighborhood kid we couldn’t play right now.
When she returned and took her seat at the end of the table, my brother Dan wanted to know who was at the door. Was it Richard Justice, our buddy who lived across the street? Was it Mike Marler who lived next door?
“No,” said Candy. “I think he was a hobo.”
Sometimes, when people hear things that they can’t believe they’ve heard, they respond in an unrehearsed unison question of clarification; one or two words spoken by several people all at once, spoken as they lean toward the one who has just uttered the unbelievable. That’s what we did.
My brother and I and my mom and dad all spoke in unison, questioning my little sister, “A hobo?”
She stopped spooning candied yams onto her plate, stalled in mid-air as if she’d just been caught doing something wrong. “I think so,” she said. “ I think he was a hobo. He said he was hungry, and did we have anything to eat?”
My mother leaned toward my little sister as if the words were coming too slowly, as if she wanted Candy to get to the bottom line. “What did you say, Candy? What did you tell him?” The urgency in my mother’s voice made me know that something serious had just knocked on the door of our Thanksgiving.
“I told him we were just starting to eat, and he’d have to come back later. Isn’t that what you said to say?” Now, my mother sprang to her feet. Like a fireman answering a call, she raced to the front door, threw it open, and looked for a hungry stranger.
“Are you the man who knocked on our door? asked my momma of the man who walked along, a few doors down from our house, his hands in his pockets, a brimmed hat on his bowed head, his eyes looking down as he walked.
“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry to have disturbed your Thanksgiving,” he said.
“Come with me,” said my bold, four-foot-eleven-inch mother, as she guided the hungry man back to our house. While my dad ushered him toward a seat in the living room, my mother disappeared into the kitchen. She soon reappeared from our dining room where she had set another place at our table.
The hungry man ate with dirty hands, but he cleaned his plate. Before he left, my mom prepared a sack lunch for him. I have never forgotten watching him walk down the sidewalk and disappear into the anonymity of our small town. And I’ve never forgotten the lesson of my parents on how to extend hospitality to someone who happened by on Thanksgiving.
“Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)