Saturday, June 16, 2007

Memories (3)

Grubby Santas Need Love too

I sat in my office working through paperwork when a call came from the diner. “There is a guy named Larry here to see you.” Now I could only think of three Larry’s, two were friends from my church and one was an old school chum. Excited about getting away from the paperwork and having a cup of coffee with a buddy, I bounded down the steps and into the diner. Looking around, I saw none of the faces that I was looking for and turning to the door, there in front of me stood… Larry. Actually the smell hit me before the visual. Larry is a big man; his black stocking cap that I am sure was a light gray once was pulled over his head with the unwashed greasy hair spraying out below it. His gray beard and big belly made him look like a poor Santa. A beat up old sweater just barely covered his large belly and his trousers bore a huge urine stain on the front that I am sure was the prominent smell amongst others.

“I need your help, Lyle.” He said. “We couldn’t get the car out of the snow. We even pulled off the bumper trying. My wife and I need some where to stay until next Monday when I get paid.” I told him that I wasn’t sure what I could do but I would try and then asked him to stay in the hall so that I would know where he was. Actually, it was so that the stench would not be in the restaurant.

I called up an old friend of mine, Patty from St Vincent De Paul. Patty knows Christ’s grace and love to a much deeper degree than most of us and some day, I will write just about her. Patty knew exactly who I was talking about and told me that she could help but I needed to get them clean clothes and a bath before she could put them up in the Bethlehem Inn. She told me to get them down to their store and she would handle the clothes and that she would prepare the paperwork to get them into the inn.

I quickly assessed the situation and decided that they were not going to sit in my car so I needed another option. I looked across the road and saw the Goodwill sign and knew just what I was going to do. I told them to walk to Goodwill and get some clothes and when they got back, I would provide them with a shower and get them set up with a place to stay for the night.

A short time later, I was summoned by Kim, the GM, in the diner. He had heard about the smelly pair and asked what I was doing for them. After giving him the story, he told me that they were still sitting in the hallway. My immediate thought was that they were too lazy to walk over to Goodwill and I headed towards the hallway and a confrontation. If they weren’t going to help themselves, then I was not going to help.

They saw me coming and Larry stood up. “They turned us down at Goodwill, Lyle. Now what are we going to do?.”. With a sigh that I hope they did not see, I knew what I needed to do. Wait right here, I will be back for you.”, I told them. I again called Patty and informed her of what had happened. “I wondered what was going on”, she said, “You need to get them down to our store and we will take care of them.” “I guess that means that I need to take them in my car, huh?”, I inquired. With a chuckle, Patty told me, “Yes, that is what you have to do, Lyle.”.

The ride down to the store for me was horrible. A heavy snow was falling and splashing into my face through the gap that I had in my window to give me fresh air. I know that I was not much of a conversationalist as most of my time when I wasn’t holding my breath; I was somewhat gasping for air through that gap. After taking them down to the store and getting their clothes, I brought them back to the truck stop and set them up for a shower. I rolled down all of the windows in my car and sprayed with both Lysol and Fabreze to try and eliminate the smell that still lingered.

As I scrubbed on the seat that Larry had sat on; I wondered if this is what Christ meant in Mathew 24, when He talked about the least of these. Was he talking about Larry!? It’s easy to hug a sweet older lady who is lonely or to pick up a child who is crying even if his diaper is full. But when I shook Larry’s hand, I could not wait to get to a sink to wash and the thought of putting my arm around either of them was unthinkable.

Seeing through the sometimes repulsive exterior of someone like Larry and to see the person inside of him is a hard thing to do. That is why I am appreciate the men and women who help out in our local shelters who do that on a daily basis.

To all the men & women who man the Bethlehem Inn & the Sheppard’s House, Thank you and God Bless you.

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