I love Thanksgiving. I always have. No other day of the year smells like Thanksgiving, I think.
My memories of Thanksgiving dinners at home are treasured ones, but one particular celebration stands out from all the rest.
Just the five of us—my mom and dad and the three kids.
We were seated in our appointed places: my brother Dan and I sat next to each other; my little sister, Candy, who was about seven, sat on the end next to my mom. Moments after the, “Amen,” of my dad’s Thanksgiving prayer, there was a knock at our front door.
“Must be somebody wanting to play,” said my brother Dan.
“Candy,” said my mom, “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 and walked from the dining room through the house to tell the neighborhood kid we couldn’t play right now.
She returned from her trip to the front door, took her seat at the end of the table and began filling her plate with savory things to eat. My brother Dan wanted to know who was at the door. Was it Richard Justice, his 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 to 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 word were coming too slowly, as if she wanted Candy to get to the bottom line—the response. “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?” It was a correct answer that was clearly incorrect, an answer from someone too young to understand the irony of her words. 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 the hungry stranger. He was not there. He had gone away. Across the lawn and out onto the sidewalk she ran, looking determined and urgent in her step. We all followed, a serpentine search party looking for the man who said he was hungry. We saw him walking, 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.
“Are you hungry? Are you the one who knocked on our door?” asked my mother
“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry to have disturbed your Thanksgiving,” he said.
My mother did not seem disturbed. She seemed benevolent. She seemed resolute and understanding and . . . Christian about what to do when a hungry someone knocks on your door on Thanksgiving.
“Come with me,” said my bold, four-foot-eleven-inch mother, as she guided the hungry man back to our house. My dad ushered him toward a seat in the living room and visited with the stranger as my mother disappeared into the kitchen. I do not remember the content of their conversation, only its warmth and concern. My mother soon reappeared from the dining room where she had set another place at our table.
“Please join us at the table,” she invited. “You are welcome here, and we have more than enough food to share.”
The hungry man ate with dirty hands, but he cleaned his plate. After he finished, he politely thanked my mother and said he needed to be moving on. She had prepared a sack lunch for him, and she and my dad walked him to the door and wished him well as he went on his way. Even though I was just a little boy then, I have never forgotten watching him walk down the sidewalk and disappear into the anonymity of the city streets. And I’ve never forgotten the example of my parents on how to extend hospitality to someone who happened by on Thanksgiving.
For we are to God the aroma of Christ
among those who are being saved
and those who are perishing.
(2 Cor. 2:15)