Holidays can be about more tears than gifts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 23, 2006

Nothing makes an impression on a young boy like watching tears stream down his mother&8217;s cheek.

The year was 1981.

Piled up in the family Buick, my parents, my brother and I were headed home after a long day of shopping in Tuscaloosa. A regular Saturday trip to T-town usually was packed full of grocery shopping, clothes shopping and maybe a treat to the movies. Because we lived 35 miles a way, anything that couldn&8217;t be done in Carrollton had to be done during those weekend trips.

Email newsletter signup

But before we headed west, we always made sure the gas tank was filled. Even at a dollar a gallon we always took advantage of cheap gas.

As the family car slowed to a crawl beside the pumps of the Parade gas station that particular Saturday, my mother looked out the passenger window as my dad got out of the car to pump the gas.

I am sure my brother and I were not paying much attention to the scene at the time as the unshaven man approached my dad. He had walked up from his car where his own family, a wife and two young kids, peered through their car windows.

It was two families looking back at each other. Only it wasn&8217;t like we were looking in a mirror. Quite the opposite. While my family sat comfortably in our almost new car piled high with groceries and other purchases, the other family across the way was clearly in need in their rusted out automobile.

Our car windows were closed but we needed not to hear the conversation to know what was happening.

With a quick shake of the head, the man walked off.

My dad finished pumping the gas, paid for the gas and got back in the car.

What happened next is still very clear and real to me today.

&8220;What did he want?&8221; my mom asked.

&8220;He said he wanted gas,&8221; my dad said.

&8220;Did he want money?&8221; my mother responded.

&8220;No, just gas,&8221; dad replied.

&8220;Where were they going?&8221; mom asked.

&8220;Nowhere. He said they were looking for a place to park the car for the night,&8221; dad said.

&8220;And?&8221; my mother asked.

Then there was a long hesitation combined with a look of worry on my mother&8217;s face.

&8220;What?&8221; my dad said.

And that was it, except for the silence and the tears that fell down my mother&8217;s cheek for the next 35 miles.

Some 25 years later, those tears still stream down her face in my mind.

Too many times we think of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas as a time to fill our lives with things. From filling our homes with beautiful Christmas trees dripping with ornaments and tinsel to filling our credit cards with gift purchase after gift purchase, we tend to forget that there are many who live just down the street who are less worried about preparing for Christmas than they are about preparing for the next day&8217;s meal.

Tuesday night, Theresa Beach, director of the community food pantry, reminded those who gathered for the Community Thanksgiving Service at Christian Hope Baptist Church of this message. As she spoke of the many people she helps each year just to get the basics of life, the faces of that family at the Tuscaloosa gas station came back to me clearer than ever.

Her words were a reminder that not just during the holidays but throughout our entire lives the best way we can be thankful for our many blessings from God is by sharing what we have with others, especially with others who are less fortunate.

During that service, the community gave nearly $3,000 in donations to the food bank.

The money will go a long way, but it is just a start. And the food pantry is just one of the many organizations across the Miss-Lou that are trying to help those who are in need.

During this season of preparation, let us not forget that this is a season not about filling our lives with stuff, but emptying our hearts and wallets with love and kindness.

That is something that is hard to do when the world around us shouts loudly, &8220;Buy, buy, buy!&8221;

But for this young writer that message is drowned out by the silence and the tears.

Ben Hillyer

is the visual editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at