by Reginald Gibbons
The children are eating lunch at home on a summer weekday when a man comes to the door and asks their mother if she has anything that needs fixing or carrying or any yardwork he can do. They chew their food a little dreamily as, with her back straight and her voice carefully polite, she says No, thank you, I’m sorry, and the man goes away. Who was that, Mama? they say. Oh, no one, she says.
They are sitting down to dinner but they have to wait because the doorbell rings and a thin young boy begins to tell their father about a Sales Program he’s completing for a scholarship to be Supervisor, and he holds up a filthy tattered little booklet and lifts also his desperate guile and heavily guarded hope, and the children’s father says, No thank you, sorry but I can’t help you out this time, and the boy goes away. The children start to eat and don’t ask anything, because the boy was just a boy, but their father acts irritated and hasty when he sits back down.
Once a glassy-eyed heavy girl who almost seems asleep as she stands outside their door offers for sale some little handtowels stitched by the blind people at the Lighthouse for the Blind and the children are in the folds of their mother’s full skirt listening to the girl’s small voice and their mother says, Well, I bought some the last time.
She buys the children school supplies and food, she pays the two boys for mowing the yard together and weeding her flower bed. She gets a new sewing machine for her birthday from the children’s father, and she buys fabric and thread and patterns and makes dresses for the girls, to save money. She tells the children each to put a dime or quarter into the collection plate at Church, and once a month she puts in a little sealed white envelope, and the ushers move slowly along the ends of the pews weaving the baskets through the congregation, and the organist plays a long piece of music.
Whisk brooms, magazine subscriptions, anything you need hauled away, little league raffle tickets, cookies, chocolate candy, can I do any yard work again and again, hairbrushes, Christmas cards, do you need help with your ironing one time, and more, came calling at the front door while the children were sometimes eating, sometimes playing. Their faces would soften with a kind of comfort in the authority of mother or father, with a kind of wonder at the needy callers.
Their father left for work every day early, and came home for dinner, and almost always went again on Saturday; in his car. Their mother opened a savings account for each child and into each put the first five dollars. The children felt proud to see their names in the passbooks, and wanted to know when they could take the money out. But they were told they had to save their money not spend it. They felt a kind of pleasure in these mysteries, to know that there were things you would understand later when you grew up and had your own house and while your children were eating their dinner and making too much noise the way you did, you knew it was true, the doorbell would ring, the familiar surprise of it, who would it be, and someone would be holding a little worn book or a bundle of dishtowels or once an old man, but perhaps he only looked old, with his beard, came with bunches of carnations, white, red, and pink, and he too was turned away.
Last updated July 22, 2021