Our house was directly across the street from
the clinic entrance of John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. We lived downstairs
and rented the upstairs rooms to out patients at the clinic. One summer
evening as I was fixing supper, there was a knock at the door. I opened
it to see a truly awful looking man.
"Why, he's hardly taller than my eight-year-old,"
I thought as I stared at the stooped, shriveled body.
But the appalling thing was his face- so lopsided
from swelling, red and raw.
Yet his voice was pleasant as he said,
"Good evening. I've come to see if you've a room
for just one night. I came for a treatment this morning from the eastern
shore, and there's no bus 'til morning."
He told me he'd been hunting for a room since
noon. No one seemed to have a room.
"I guess it's my face...I know it looks terrible,
but my doctor says with a few more treatments..."
For a moment I hesitated, but his next words
"I could sleep in this rocking chair on the porch.
My bus leaves early in the morning."
I told him we would find him a bed, and to rest
on the porch, while I went inside and finished getting supper. When we
were ready, I asked the old man if he would join us.
"No thank you. I have plenty." And he held up
a brown paper bag.
When I had finished the dishes, I went out on
the porch to talk with him a few minutes. It didn't take long to see that
this old man had an oversized heart crowded into that tiny body. He told
me he fished for a living to support his daughter, her five children, and
her husband, who was hopelessly crippled from a
back injury. He didn't tell it by way of complaint;
in fact, every other sentence was preface with a thanks to God for a blessing.
He was grateful that no pain accompanied his disease, which was apparently
a form of skin cancer. He thanked God for giving him the strength to keep
At bedtime, we put a camp cot in the children's
room for him. When I got up in the morning, the bed linens were neatly
folded and the little man was out on the porch. He refused breakfast, but
just before he left for his bus, haltingly, as if asking a great favor,
"Could I please come back and stay the
next time I have a treatment? I won't put you out a bit. I can sleep
fine in a chair." He paused a moment and then added,
"Your children made me feel at home. Grownups
are bothered by my face, but children don't seem to
mind." I told him he was welcome to come again.
And on his next trip he arrived a little after
seven in the morning. As a gift, he brought a big fish and a quart of the
largest oysters I had ever seen. He said he had shucked them that morning
before he left so
that they'd be nice and fresh. I knew his bus
left at 4:00 a.m. and I wondered what time he had to get up in order
to do this for us. In the years he came to stay overnight with us there
was never a time that he did not bring us fish or oysters or vegetables
from his garden. Other times we received packages in the mail, always by
special delivery; fish and oysters packed in a box of fresh young spinach
or kale, every leaf carefully washed. Knowing that he must walk three miles
to mail these, and knowing how little money he had, made the gifts doubly
precious. When I received these little remembrances, I often thought of
a comment (someone) made after he left that first morning.
"Did you keep that awful looking man last
night? I turned him away! You can lose roomers by putting up such
people!" Maybe we did lose roomers once or twice. But oh! If only they
could have known him, perhaps their illness' would have been easier to
bear. I know our family always will be grateful to have known him; from
him we learned what it was to accept the bad without complaint.
Recently I was visiting a friend who has a greenhouse,
As she showed me her flowers, we came to the most beautiful one of all,
a golden chrysanthemum, bursting with blooms. But to my great surprise,
it was growing in an old dented, rusty bucket. I thought to myself,
"If this were my plant, I'd put it in the loveliest
container I had!" My friend must have "read" my mind.
"I ran short of pots," she explained, "and knowing
how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn't mind starting out
in this old pail. It's just for a little while, till I can put it out in
She must have wondered why I laughed so delightedly,
but I was imagining just such a scene in heaven. "Here's an especially
beautiful one," God might have said when he came to the soul of the sweet
"He won't mind starting in this small body."
All this happened long ago-and now, in God's
garden, how tall this lovely soul must stand.
Author: Mary Bartels Bray, reprinted from Guideposts, June 1965.