I had dinner tonight with Jenny and her parents, Sara and John. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I offered to take them to a restaurant, but Sara insisted that she was going to make dinner. She said, “It’s the least I can do after all you’ve done for Jenny and her friend.”
I tried to tell her that I really hadn’t done anything, but she insisted that I had made a real difference in her daughter’s life.
I walked down to the lower town just before dusk. I walked to the place where I usually met the kids. Jenny was waiting for me there. When she saw me, she ran to me and threw her arms around me.
After our greeting, Jenny took my hand and started leading me to her house. She was so excited – she was dancing all around. “I can’t wait to show you my room. I have a little bed and a dresser, and even a mirror.”
I smiled at her and tried to keep up with her as she kept pulling me to go faster. “I can’t wait to see it either, I bet it’s really nice.”
“It is!” Jenny beamed.
As we walked on I noticed that we were leaving the wood shacks and muddy streets of the poor part of town. What I hadn’t known was that there was an even poorer part of town.
“Is this where you live?” I asked her.
“Yes, we’re all most there. Hurry up.”
The houses here were little more than temporary huts, some made of animals skins, others from reeds tied together. I was sure none would keep the rain out, and that most would collapse with the first snow.
We turned around the corner of a shack made of branches and reeds, and I could see our destination. Jenny’s house might have been better than those around it, but it looked like it might fall in the first strong wind.
It was built against the town’s outer wall, where the wall got thicker because of the guard post on the top of the wall. Thus the town wall provided two of the house’s walls.
The house was build as a lean-to, with larger branches making the main supports. Tied between these supports were horizontal branches. Layered vertically on these were pine branches.
I saw Sara cooking over an open pit in front of the house. There was a large metal pot hanging over the fire. There was a large piece of the pot missing, broken off from some previous drop or overheating.
Jenny released my hand and ran to her mother. After hugging her daughter, Sara looked up and waved to me. “Welcome, Hector. Dinner is almost ready. I hope you’re hungry.”
“Yes ma’am, I am. I brought some bread and fresh berries. Where should I put them?”
“Oh, you didn’t need to do that, but they will both go well with dinner. You can just put them on the table. Jenny will show you where.”
With that Jenny grabbed my hand again and pulled me into her home. We passed through the cloth door and into the main room.
The room was lit by three tallow candles. In the middle of the room was a table made from a piece of wood cut from a log, sitting on a smaller chunk of wood. The table was low, maybe two feet high, and it appeared that we would be sitting on the ground to eat.
In addition to the table there was a sleeping mat along the back of the room – against the stone wall of the town wall. There were also some wooden crates that held food, and a few pans and dishes stacked neatly.
Jenny pulled me to the other side of the room and showed me a little hole in the wall. She quickly crawled through and called for me to follow. I set my bag on the table, got down on my hands and knees, and followed her through the hole.
Jenny had brought one of the candles with her and it lit up her room. The room was two feet by five feet, and five feet high at its tallest and two feet at its lowest.
Most of the small room was covered by a straw sleeping mat. At the foot of her bed was a small chest, which she showed me held her three dresses, three pairs of underwear, and a jacket for when it got cold.
Folded neatly at the head of the bed was a comforter, which I recognized from the handiwork as being one made by Mrs. Jenkens. There was also a little pillow and a nightgown.
Jenny was so proud as she showed me each of her dresses, especially her special dress that she wore to church. Then she showed me Mrs. Smiles, her rag doll. She gave her to me so I could hug her.
I have to admit I was a bit torn inside. Part of me wanted to pity her – living in such poverty, but part of me was happy for her – that she could be filling such joy from life.
It wasn’t long until we heard Sara calling us for dinner. Jenny and I crawled back through the little doorway into the main room. John was sitting at the table. Now that I saw him, I realized that I had spoken to him before as he had been heading out of town to hunt.
“Hello John, it’s nice to see you again.”
“As it is you. Come and sit. Jenny, help your mother bring in the food.”
Jenny ran out to help her mother and soon the two of them came in with dinner.
I’m not sure what I expected for dinner. All I know is this wasn’t it.
John sliced thick pieces of bread from the loaf I brought and put one on each plate. Sara brought in the cracked pot and set it on the table. Jenny brought in a smaller pan and set it on the table, too.
Sara used a cup to ladle the contents of the pot onto each slice of bread. The mixture consisted of some sort boiled greens, fresh onions, mushrooms, pine nuts, and some spices in a light gravy.
Jenny handed me the small pot. I looked inside and paused for a second. The pot was full of fried crickets. I used the a spoon and placed a few on the edge of my plate.
After we finished dishing up our food, John stretched his hands to Jenny and me. Jenny grabbed his hand and held her other hand out to her mother, who took it and then held out her hand to me. I smiled and took both of their hands.
We all bowed our heard and John prayed. “Heavenly Father. Thank you for the bounty you have provided. You provide so wonderfully for those who trust you. Thank you for bring Hector to be with us this evening. Bless him and keep him. Be with us tonight, be in our hearts and words. And all God’s people say …”
Then we all said together, “Let it be so.”
When I opened our eyes, the three of them had all started eating. I steadied myself and joined them. The vegetables were surprisingly tasty and the gravy made the bread wonderful. I was a bit hesitant to try the crickets, but Jenny was eating them like they were candy. The crickets were crunchy and a little bitter. They were also hot, and the glass of water did little to relive the burning in my mouth.
As we ate, we talked. John said it was so nice of me to spend time with the children. I told him my story of being robbed and how the kids and been teaching me a lot.
When John was finished with his plate he took a piece of bread and wiped the rest of the gravy from the pot and ate it. Jenny, Sara and John all licked their plates clean, then Sara took the pot back outside.
She returned with a dutch oven. She opened it and the room was filled with the smell of fresh crisp. Sara dished up the crisp and then put the fresh berries I brought on top. “Isn’t it wonderful how these things always work out. It makes you wonder if God planed it this way.”
We all finished our desert and all of us licked our plates clean. Hey, I didn’t want to be impolite.
Sara cleared the table as we continued to talk. I watched her put the pots away, and then carefully stack the plates back on the shelf. That’s when I realized that she wasn’t going to wash the dishes. I’m not sure what I think about that now, but at the time I thought I was glad I didn’t know about it until after we ate.
We talked for another hour or so, then Sara got up and took the last two candles out of a little box and lit them. I tried several times to excuse myself so they wouldn’t waste their last two candles talking to me, but they wouldn’t let me leave. As the candles began to flicker I tried to cast a light spell, but God didn’t answer my prayer, or rather, he said “No.” There was something important about this family giving all they had to honor someone who had honored their daughter.
As the second to last candle went out Sara apologized and said something about them not making candles like they use to. I agreed with her and said I needed to be going anyway – that I had early prayers in the morning – even though I knew she had probably made the candles herself.
We left their little house and said our goodbyes around the fire pit, which was now just a few glowing coals. I noticed that Sara blew out the last candle before she joined us.
After getting a big hug from Jenny, John walked me back to the main road. He thanked me again for visiting and said I was welcome to drop by any time. I told him that next time it would be my turn to show him some hospitality.
We shook hands and I started the long walk back to my stone apartment, with its fireplace and oil lamps. As I walked I wondered who would sleep better tonight. – the three who had just given all they had to make me feel welcome, or me who was wondering how I could have ever complained about wanting anything.