Christmas morning. We served food at a mission.
Well, not me, exactly. My wife and in-laws dished out green beans and turkey while I washed dishes in back with the other indentured servants.
I’ll be truthful, I’d never done anything even remotely charitable on Christmas morning—unless you count marching in the holiday parade with the Boy Scouts, tossing out coozies.
The woman washing dishes beside me was in her fifties. She was quiet, small, country. She didn’t have much to say except for, “This plate goes over there,” or an occasional, “You call that skillet clean, dummy?”
Dishwashing is not my strongest skill.
A boy came into the kitchen. He was young. Black. Gigantic. They hugged. She removed her yellow gloves and kissed him on the forehead.
“This is my son,” she introduced me.
He almost broke my hand. He must’ve been fifteen. But he was the size of a fifty-year-old pecan tree.
She sent him back to the front-lines where he shoveled mashed potatoes to people with long beards and ratty jackets.
“Cute kid,” said I, scrubbing a fifty-gallon soup pot.
“Can you believe someone threw him away?” she said. “He was a dumpster baby.”
And in case I didn’t know what that was, she explained. As an infant, someone found him in the dumpster of a Mexican restaurant. Nobody knew how long he’d been there.
The day she met him, she happened to be volunteering at the mission thrift store when they brought him in. She’d never done any volunteer work before. She’d signed up as a way to meet people and cure her empty-nest syndrome. She was divorced. Her kids were grown.
“It was an accident that I was even there, I was supposed to be out of town, visiting family, but my car broke down.”
Some ladies were giving the baby a bath in the break-room sink. He had tomato sauce all over him. She said he was smiling.
She inquired about where the kid would end up. The folks working at the mission didn’t know. So, she stayed with him. She fed him, sang to him, she held him so long her elbows stoved up.
After a few days, a man from the county came to take the baby to a foster facility. But she wouldn’t let the boy go.
“Ma’am,” the man said. “You have to let go.”
She tells me that something happened in that moment. It was an act of pure impulse.
“Like hell I’m letting go,” she told the man.
And then she asked him where he wanted her to sign.