A Thanksgiving Story
By Marilyn Snyder
Published in the Redlands Daily Facts, November 28, 2013
Everyone encounters problems. Everyone makes bad choices. Sometimes the two are connected. And sometimes it takes only one person to change another forever.
My mother-in-law, God bless Margarita’s soul, married young and produced a passel of youngsters, eight altogether.
Her first child, Michael, was committed to the Maryland State Hospital when he was only 2 because of devastating cerebral palsy.
Rita’s husband could be relied on to drink his paycheck, leaving little money for groceries.
Picture her in a tiny two bedroom rented row house, so poor that the dingy roadway they lived on didn’t even fully qualify as a street — their address in eastern Baltimore was 5 ½ Street.
The bathtub was upstairs in the children’s bedroom, crammed between the crib the baby twins slept in, and two other beds — one for the girls, one for the boys. The toilet was in the basement near the furnace, a cold trek in winter when the windows wept from the dampness and the heat didn’t quite make it to the second-floor bedrooms.
Thanksgiving approached but there was no joy in Leadville … ; the male provider had struck out once again, leaving Rita and six children with nothing but milk and cereal to eat.
But by dusk, dinnertime, there was no more cereal for six hollow tummies.
Relying on 10-yearold MaryJane to care for the younger children, Rita grabbed 8-year-old Alonzo by the hand and marched out the door, down the hard cement steps, and out of the alley.
Desperate, but determined, pulling her coat closer and making sure Alonzo’s jacket was buttoned, she hurried down the 12 blocks past tall row houses, Alonzo’s school and the car barn. Destination: the A&P supermarket.
Inside, she took firm hold of a shopping cart and, as little Alonzo hungrily watched, in went a turkey … and a ham. Potatoes and onions. String beans and zucchini. Milk and butter. Two loaves of bread. On and on until the cart was nearly overflowing with abundance.
Straight to the cashier they went … and halted as Rita bravely demanded to speak to the manager.
They waited, Alonzo unsure of what was happening, Rita with chin high, probably hoping that the garters holding up her over-the-knee stockings wouldn’t fail her at this crucial moment.
The manager, a tall crusty looking fellow, asked how he could help.
Jutting her chin up and looking far older than her 32 years, Rita demanded, “See this food? I’m not paying for it.”
Her bravado was exceeded only by her shame at asking for help.
The manager looked confused.
“I have six hungry children at home and nothing for Thanksgiving. I’m taking this food home and I’m not paying for it,” she flatly stated.
Too frightened to pull together her shattered pride, she stood there … waiting, looking up into his eyes.
Alonzo looked from one adult to the other, not understanding why his mother thought she could take all this marvelous food home without paying for it.
“Wait here,” the manager said to Rita. Returning moments later with three freshly made pies in his hands, he laid them on the counter.
With a final downward glance at first Alonzo, then the stocky little woman, the store manager turned to the cashier and said, “Bag it,” and disappeared in the back of the store.
By the time all the groceries were bagged, the manager strode in through front door and reached for several bags. Rita, the cashier, and Alonzo grabbed the rest and followed him out to his car where they loaded everything into the trunk.
Following Rita’s directions, he headed back up the hill to the darkened 5 ½ Street. He helped them cart the food up the steps into the tiny kitchen until it seemed like there were bags of food everywhere.
MaryJane called the little kids in to see the bounty that now filled the room.
Shrugging off Rita’s shamed thanks and the bigeyed amazement of the children, this kindly man went quietly out to his car.
He left more than a kitchen full of food behind.
He left a lasting memory of how one good-hearted individual can help others, change their lives and spark a light of generosity that will never go out.