It had been a hard year for our family. My father had formed a partnership with a man he had trusted, but the man ended up taking advantage of my father’s trust as well as his honesty. The man took all of the incoming money, but left my father with the bills. The partnership was broken, leaving my father with no income and hard pressed to pay the money owed. But he was determined to do so in order to preserve his good name.
Although there was little money for things like school clothes, we always had enough to eat. We raised a big garden, and it and our farm produced plenty of food. There were times when we children felt the sting of teasing from others because our clothes, though clean and neat, were not the newest style. There were times we felt left out when other kids our age could go to the evening show at the theater and we couldn’t. But when a new family, the Tawsons, moved in near us, we soon realized how lucky we were.
We saw them unloading the moving van and went to help. The children’s clothes were even more worn than ours, but the main thing that we noticed was how thin they were. The mother was thin as well, but the father was dressed nicely and was the opposite of thin. The contrast was so stark it was hard not to notice.
As our family helped them move their belongings into the house, we learned little about them. The mother had a job teaching in a local school, while the husband was unemployed. The children said nothing. When my mother brought over a house warming dinner to finish off our welcome, the Tawson children eyed the food hungrily. When it was set on the table, they ate as if they had fasted for days.
When our family returned home, my father spoke what was on everyone’s mind. “Something is not right there.”
It was only a short time later when we learned more. My father had gone to the hardware store to get some hinges to fix a broken door on our barn. While passing the local bar, he saw Mr. Tawson inside drinking and gambling. My father didn’t think too much of it, but, that same day, my mother caught some of the Tawson children stealing food from our pantry.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
The children hung their heads, but said nothing. My mother took them home and visited with their mother. Mrs. Tawson was embarrassed.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But we have nothing in the house to eat.”
“Doesn’t your job provide enough?” my mother asked.
Mrs. Tawson could not look my mother in the eye, and seemed reluctant to talk, but the situation had torn the mask from the silence. “My husband takes my paychecks, and gives me very little back to buy food with. The children are always hungry.”
“What does he do with the money?” my mother asked.
“He said that was none of my business,” Mrs. Tawson answered. “Unfortunately, sometimes he uses what food he allows us to have as incentive to make sure we do as he demands.” She looked pleadingly at my mother. “Please don’t tell him I said anything.”
“You tell your children they don’t need to steal,” my mother said. “They can have food, though I may expect some help weeding the garden or doing other chores in exchange.”
That evening, as my mother told my father what had happened, they started piecing it all together.
From then on, the Tawson children were often helping with chores, and, in return, they would eat with us and take food home.
And as we grew to understand their situation, our desires for what we didn’t have changed to gratitude for how good our life really was.