Hot Coffee and Cold Lemonade

Shortly after our family first moved to California from Chicago, we began attending a large church in downtown Los Angeles. After church we sometimes walked several blocks through the downtown area to a cafeteria that had flowing fountains throughout the building and seemingly endless choices of foods. On our way we almost always encountered a “street beggar.” Beggars weren’t called “the homeless” in those days, but they were the same as today: displaced, hungry, needy.

Indelibly etched upon my memory is the image of my father sharing what he had with anyone who asked him for help. Sometimes he gave money; sometimes he bought someone a hot cup of coffee. It was never much. We didn’t have much. But my father never turned anyone away. He never treated another human being as though they were not worth noticing. And he never handed anyone religious literature instead of food when they were hungry.

Once I heard someone criticize my father when they saw him give money. “How do you know that man won’t buy liquor with the money?” the friend concluded. “It’s not enough money for liquor,” my father replied. “Besides, what he does with the money is up to him. My duty is to try to help.” The dignity of that homeless man counted a great deal to my father.

My mother and father were both very generous people who cared about others. When a neighbor was ill, my mother would bring them meals. My mother in particular had a real love for the elderly. Some of my earliest recollections are of being with my parents when they brought flowers and food to some lonely widow.

From World War II I have vague memories of food rationing shared with an immigrant who stayed with us for a brief time. And I remember visiting some Japanese friends in an internment camp and playing with the children there while my parents helped their parents store some of their belongings.

After my mother’s death a neighbor told me about a time when she was temporarily bedridden after a serious car accident. It was a hot summer day without air conditioning when my mother arrived with a pitcher full of ice cold lemonade. The neighbor told me how characteristic that had been of my mother and how nothing in her own experience had ever tasted quite as good as that cold lemonade.

I grew up seeing Scripture shaped into shoe leather. My parents put into action principles which guide Christians in doing good. As a result, the words of Jesus to his disciples hold special meaning for me: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40, New American Bible)

To help those who needed assistance became an automatic way of looking at life. That another person’s need brought to my door becomes my obligation was a lesson I learned early, just by watching my parents.

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Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27, New American Bible)

– Elizabeth R. Skoglund, More Precious Than a Sparrow. Click here to purchase on Amazon.