CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
Today is my birthday. It’s been a long time since my birthday that no one remembered.
I was nine. We were poor, living in a near east working class neighborhood in Indianapolis, before we moved to the little farm near Oakland City a year later. It was dark and getting close to supper time. No one had said anything about my birthday, and there was no cake in the kitchen. That was not surprising. Mother had a new baby, in a time before cloth diapers and refrigerators [we had an “ice box”] and cake mixes. I mentioned the absence of a cake. Mother scrabbled around and found a dime and a nickel and some pennies and sent me off to buy my birthday cake.
We had several neighborhood groceries. I went a lot of places after dark by myself in those days. It was the only way we had to get around. I was always scared, though. I went up New York Street but couldn’t find a store that had a cake that matched the money in my pocket. Then I cut back over and went down Washington Street to the most decrepit of the mom and pop stores. It didn’t look open, just one bare bulb burning behind the counter. I tried the door. It gave. I went in. An old man in an undershirt came out of a door and stood behind the counter. He had a cake, small but really a cake. I gave him my money and took it home.
Helen knows this story. Last Sunday as we celebrated son-in-law Patrick’s and grandson Joe’s and my birthdays together, she made me a chocolate cake. Today she will take brownies to celebrate my birthday at my pickle ball venue, even though she does not play pickle ball. H.L. Mencken said that original sin is the one Christian doctrine for which there is empirical proof. I think he was wrong. There is another. Helen is the empirical proof of the doctrine of mercy.
In addition to telling this story often enough to insure that she keeps baking me cakes, it has another application. It made me aware of how people feel when they are left out and forgotten.
Grace Robb, one of our high school teachers, said that she had never seen a class that was as closely involved with one another emotionally as the class of 1955. I think that was, in part, because I was class president for three years. I did not want anyone left out. For any party or project, I contacted everyone in the class, especially those who were not in the mainstream of activity, to be sure they were invited and involved.
Later, as a pastor, I asked at every church meeting, “In what we are doing in this area, who’s being left out?” In pastoral prayers, I always included “those who have no one else to pray for them.”
It was sad, sure, to be turning nine with no one noticing, but it’s quite minor to what many children have to endure, and it gave me the lasting gift of awareness. I give thanks this morning that I have had so many birthdays, including the one that no one remembered.
John Robert McFarland
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]
I used to keep a careful index of all the things I told in this blog so that I would not repeat. That has become unwieldy. Now I just trust to… what’s it called… oh, yes, memory. Sorry about that.
I have also started an author blog, about writing, in preparation for the publication, by Black Opal Books, of my novel, VETS, about four handicapped and homeless Iraqistan veterans who are accused of murdering a VA doctor, n 2015. http://johnrobertmcfarland-author.blogspot.com/
I tweet as yooper1721.