A Tale of Thanksgiving
The following incident would be unremarkable had it not been for a short paragraph I added a couple of years ago to my book, “Eating of the Forbidden Fruit.”
This particular incident occurred, to be exact, the day after Thanksgiving. My wife Barbara and I had returned home from a long afternoon walk, which included stopping at a local brewery, where we shared a pint of their powerful IPA draft beer.
Our Tallahassee home has a sloping driveway, surrounded by a variety of tall trees that at this time of the year are shedding leaves. Feeling still energized by my share of the beer, I decided there was enough daylight to do my weekly blow of the driveway.
I connected our trusty Toro blower to a hundred foot heavy duty extension cord, which I then plugged into a socket in the garage. I turned the blower’s rheostat knob to maximum,, which produced the familiar growl of gaining speed but then suddenly went mute.
I checked if some of the blower’s safety features hadn’t automatically cut in, and then went back inside the garage to open the fuse box. None of the switches had been tripped, but just to make sure, I unplugged the chord and went through the inside garage door into the kitchen to try one of the sockets there.
Still nothing. Oh well, I figured, after fifteen years of reliable service I could hardly complain. Blowing the driveway would have to wait until I bought a replacement.
I didn’t really mind being temporarily released from my task. I was eager to get to my computer and belatedly answer an accumulation of emails.
I had barely sat down in my second floor office when I heard the front door bell ring. Since Barbara was expecting her daughter, I was glad that I wouldn’t have to interrupt my work.
I heard Barbara open the door, and then call up to me, “I think it’s for you.”
Leaving the computer still booting up, I made it down the short flight of stairs to the open door, where I came face to face with a slight, elderly man in neat work clothes whom I had never seen before. My first thought was that maybe he was one of the members of an African-American family that occasionally showed up looking for yardwork. This supposition gained credence when the unexpected visitor asked whether he could blow the driveway so that he could eat. I was taken by his calm demeanor in making the request, showing none of the sense of urgency of his presumed relatives.
“Unfortunately my blower has just crapped out,” I said with a little shrug, thinking I would now be able to go back to my work.
“Oh, but I’ve got a blower,” he volunteered, somewhat to my surprise, since I didn’t see a blower anywhere nearby.
Suppressing a touch of annoyance, I asked, “How much?”
“I’d say about fifteen, maybe twenty dollars,” he replied casually, without glancing around. When I suggested this was a bit steep for a job that local college students were glad to do for five, he informed me with that same calm that this was how much he needed to have food for the next two days, a weekend.
I hesitated, then said “O.K., but please make sure you also blow the path from the garage to the small deck behind the house.”
Eager to get back to my computer, I left him to his work. I heard the unmistakable whirring of his blower, but then just moments after I finished logging on the whirring stopped and the downstairs bell rang again. Assuming that the man must be having some problem with his task, I went down to check. But when I opened the door, I saw that the driveway had been completely cleared, and when I walked out behind the garage, the back deck had also been blown clean.
I was astonished at the inexplicably speedy completion of this work. Reaching into my back pocket I fished out the lone twenty dollar bill I had placed there earlier. He accepted it graciously though without fanfare. As he stood there with a faint smile, I felt there was something radiant, almost ethereal, about this wispy old man who had so unexpectedly entered my life. I was now especially glad that I hadn’t given a second thought to asking for change.
I began to wonder about the fortuitous coincidence that had brought us together at such a propitious time. An urge rather than mere curiosity prompted me to ask whether Tyrone or some other member of that African-American family hadn’t sent him. “Besides, how do you explain that you happened to arrive just as my blower gave out after fifteen years?”
He looked at me with a joyful gleam and began to nod eagerly. “Why, Jesus sent me,” he said simply, as if revealing something that should have been obvious.
Living as we do in the Bible belt of the Deep South, this response alone wouldn’t have been notably unusual from an itinerant laborer. But it was at this moment that I suddenly saw that added paragraph in my book in a beguiling new light. Had I just experienced the sort of intercession I had been hoping for? And was it enough to qualify for eternal life just by always trying to be kind? As I continued to think of the illuminating response of this man who had blown our driveway, I was beginning to feel a comforting gratitude and peace.
. . . and now that added paragraph from my book:
WITHIN SIX MONTHS OF THAT ENLIGHTENING DAY [while walking along the ocean’s edge in Laguna Beach some thirty five years ago] I STOPPED ENTIRELY GOING TO CHURCH. YES, THE [Catholic] CHURCH HAD BEEN A WELCOME PLACE FOR ME TO SEEK REFUGE IN THE STORM [during an earlier spiritual midlife crisis], AND I WASN’T SURE THAT IF ANOTHER STORM BLEW IN BEFORE I DIED, I WOULDN’T AGAIN TRY TO SEEK REFUGE IN THIS CHILDHOOD BASTION OF CERTITUDE. BUT RIGHT NOW I SENSED AN UNBRIDGEABLE DISCONNECT. THE JESUS I HAD [just] EXPERIENCED WAS A JOYOUS ONE OF UNIVERSAL LOVE, LAYING DOWN NO DOCTRINAIRE PREREQUISITES AND HOLDING FORTH AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING EMBRACE. THE CHRIST I HAD ENCOUNTERED IN THE CHURCH WAS THE DEPRESSING, DOCTRINAIRE ONE ON THE CROSS, SO OFTEN USED FOR MAN’S PURPOSES AND MISDEEDS. I REALIZED, OF COURSE, THAT THE FOREGOING MAY HAVE MERELY BEEN A CONVENIENT RATIONALE, AN EXPLANATION USED AS AN EXCUSE FOR MY UNWILLINGNESS TO INCONVENIENCE MYSELF. AND IF THIS INDEED WERE THE CASE, I TRUSTED THAT MY EVER-FORGIVING JESUS, WHOSE UNFORGETTABLE INTERCESSION CONTINUED TO INFLUENCE MY DAILY LIFE WOULD UNDERSTAND AND IN HIS MERCY INTERCEDE AGAIN BEFORE IT WAS TOO LATE TO REINFORCE MY IMPERFECT FAITH.
Ernest Kolowrat was born in Prague in 1935. After attending schools in the former Czechoslovakia, Turkey and England, he graduated from Yale and served as a naval reserve officer with the U.S. Pacific Fleet. During the decade of the 1960s, he was employed successively as world affairs editor for Scholastic Magazines in New York, director of information for the American Institute for Foreign Study in Greenwich, Connecticut, and director of 10th Anniversary Programs of the Peace Corps in Washington. Since 1971, he has been a freelance writer, publicist and filmmaker. He is the author of “Hotchkiss: A Chronicle of an American School.”