Will the Old Folks’ Club & Elderly Persons With Ridiculously Expensive Hearing Aids Society meeting now come to order? Thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege to welcome this evening’s keynote speaker to our podium. He is 94 years young, his name is Jon. Let’s give him a rousing round of applause.
Sustained applause. A few cat calls.
“Good evening, friends, constituents, and esteemed members who are still awake. My name is Jon, and I am pleased to be addressing the Old Folks’ Club & Elderly Persons With Ridiculously Expensive Hearing Aids Society tonight.
“I’d first like to thank your chairman for inviting me. I’d like to also thank the Methodist ladies group for providing the extremely tiny crustless cucumber finger sandwiches. Let’s all give them a hand.”
“Tonight I have a story to share. My tale begins when I was a much younger man of seven. I can hardly remember back that far.
“I had a nice childhood. I liked playing marbles, I was active in neighborhood baseball games, I loved Mallo Cups. Sadly, at my current age I can’t eat candy anymore, and I have yet to relocate my marbles.
“When the Great Depression came along—I don’t have to remind you how hard it was—life changed more for some of us than others.
“In my family we were helpless. There was nothing to be done. My dad lost his job, my mom lost hers. Me and my little brother, Skeeter, didn’t know how bad it was, except that we were eating a lotta cabbage soup.
“My parents started falling behind on house payments. They began taking whatever jobs they could, but each month things got worse. Our water got shut off. Then we had no electricity, and Skeeter and I weren’t getting along because he was a boob.
“Anyway, my dad started working for a grocery store and delivering groceries and such. The money stunk, but it was nice work if you could get it.
“My parents delivered a lotta groceries for people and ran errands. Me and Skeeter helped some, but it wasn’t easy waltzing into a store and buying fancy food for other people when we couldn’t afford food for our ownselves.
“I’ll never forget the day my dad messed up a delivery order for this old lady and she got so mad she started throwing her groceries at us, calling my dad bad names.
“A box of crackers hit my dad in the face and cut him on the forehead. He was real embarrassed, but he just told me and Skeeter that the lady was probably worse off than we were and we should be nice.
“That’s when my dad took special interest in that old lady. He would stop by her house on the way to work, leaving gifts on her porch. We didn’t know why he bothered doing that, but he was such a nice guy.
“He left Hershey’s bars, Mary Janes, handpicked flowers, little notecards. Me and Skeet’ were peeved about this. I mean, we did our chores and didn’t get so much as a jawbreaker, but that mean old crab got chocolates?
“We asked Daddy about this but he just told me and Skeeter to hush.
“Over the years my dad kinda became friends with this old woman, although I don’t know why. My family even started going to visit her.
“Her name was Miss Ellen, and it turned out she was real sick. She lived all alone, and nobody ever visited her. She didn’t even have no dogs or cats or nothing.
“My mom started cooking dinners for Miss Ellen. And even though my dad never admitted it, we all knew he was buying old Ellen’s groceries—that’s just how nice he was.
“My family finally lost our house because we couldn’t pay our mortgage no more. But it was okay, ‘cause my dad found a rental in town. Me and Skeeter had to share a bedroom, and it had rats. But we were okay.
“Then Miss Ellen died. And after that happened my dad kept trying to get in touch with the old lady’s family and get them involved in funeral arrangements. But they said they didn’t want nothing to do with Miss Ellen on account of she was a bad mother and she never did nothing good by them nohow. They didn’t care what happened to the old lady.
“So my mom and dad arranged the whole burial. The only people who attended the funeral was our family and two other people who I didn’t know.
“Mom made us wear ties and we all took turns saying nice things about Miss Ellen to the preacher. I told about how Miss Ellen did jigsaw puzzles with me sometimes.
“And all these years later I still think a lot about my dad. I remember him wearing his funeral clothes that he got from the Salvation Army bin. And how he was so skinny ‘cause he couldn’t afford to eat right. And I also remember how he told us that day, leaving Miss Ellen’s cemetery:
“He said, ‘Jon, Skeeter, listen to me, boys. The best way to not be helpless in this world is to get out there and help someone else. Don’t you ever forget that.’
“Well, I always thought it was real good advice. I only wish he’d lived long enough to see me use it.”