Giving

 

Organics potatoes

I studied a modest home and its fields from my window seat in the school bus and felt uneasy. People disliked the family that lived there; I didn’t know why.

World War II had ended, and the farmers in the rural area where I was raised worked their fields and tended their crops with renewed energy, anticipating a good yield. Then the rain quit falling.

Sugar beets, alfalfa, and corn withered under an unrelenting sun. Folks watched the sky and worried — with one exception: the Japanese man who’d recently rented the Peterson place.

As larger crops failed, his vegetable gardens grew green under a patient hand and judicious irrigation. He and his family tended lush rows that contrasted with the desolation of the surrounding acres owned by others.

But as his produce prospered, his family suffered. Perhaps because the war was recent, or because he succeeded where others failed, the people of the small community shunned and scorned him and his loved ones, turning their backs to him at the gas pumps, refusing to sit by his children on the bus.

A meager harvest was taken that fall, and as winter gained momentum, families prepared for hardship. Fathers searched for part-time jobs and Santa Claus exercised thrift.

Then, in the bleakness of January, the gifts appeared. A mother of five, investigating a noise on her back porch, found a sack of potatoes leaning against the railing. An elderly couple, expecting a Sears’s catalogue, discovered a basket of winter squash beneath their mailbox. A young husband, lowering the tailgate of his pickup, saw a cardboard box filled with carrots.3ec02bce-b49b-4fae-a353-642087404172

Finally, winter gave surly way to bird-singing, flower-bursting spring. Once again, farmers wheeled tractors around fields, believing this year would be better. And as summer followed spring, the rains fell; the crops thrived; hope soared.

No one noticed that the Peterson place stood empty once again.

As nature continued to reward hard work, pride softened. Soon, with averted eyes, men broached the subject of the winter gifts. In hesitating sentences, passed awkwardly, they mentioned what they’d been given and asked if anyone knew the giver. One among them had the answer:

“I can tell you who it was. Early on a March morning, unable to sleep, I was standing in the dark kitchen, staring out the window, when a beat-up car I recognized approached. It stopped briefly by my barn, dropped something off, and drove on.”

“I ran outside, bathrobe blowing in the breeze, and found a sack of root vegetables by the milk cans. Each one looked like it had been handpicked and scrubbed, just for me. I ran a few steps, yelling, ‘Thank you,’ after the disappearing tail lights. Hell, I couldn’t even call out his name; I had never bothered learning it. Later, when I drove by to shake his hand, he and his family were gone.”

In subsequent years, I heard the story of the Japanese farmer and his winter gifts many times. And each time, I knew I was hearing how to give: share what you have with those in need without judging the recipients and without expecting recognition — whether or not it’s Christmas.

 

 

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27 thoughts on “Giving

  1. These were my neighbors growing up, but luckily we didn’t shun them. In fact, I never even realized the hostility many felt for the Japanese. So many Japanese had settled in our area after the Internment (not that far from Grenada) and became highly esteemed members of our community. What I remember most, though, was the old Japanese couple who spoke broken English and gardened nearby. They often provided us with vegetables and waved away my mother’s efforts to reciprocate. Precious memory!

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  2. Wonderful, timely post! I have been the recipient of many a “secret Santa’s” and am filled with gratitude each time it happens. Now, it is my turn to be the “Santa” and I hope to bring as much joy as my “secret Santa’s” brought me and my children. Thank you, Aunt Janet, for reminding us that this kind of thing can happen year round. ❤

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  3. I hope the family found peace and acceptance where ere they ended up. A beautiful piece of writing. Have you heard of James Keelaghan Janet? He is a Canadian folkie, with a song called “Kiri’s Piano” you would like. I learned my countries history, the obscure bits from James. This one ought be required listening. Thank you

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    • On your recommendation, Sheila, I’ll Google Mr. Keelaghan and try to find “Kiri’s Piano.” Since posting the story, I talked with my older brother, who first told it to me, and learned that the Japanese family had moved to our rural area after being released from an internment camp in Utah, which makes their story of giving even more powerful. I’m thinking, with their good hearts, they did find peace and acceptance.

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      • When we look at history, we find all sorts of things we wish hadn’t happened. Of course, hindsight is always better, but I like to believe that we learn from past mistakes. I’m dashing madly about in Christmas mode, but will let you know about the song when I have a quiet moment to find and listen to it. I’ll look forward to doing so as I deck the halls today and buy the ingredients to make festive foods I shouldn’t eat.

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  4. Thank you for this timely and moving story. It is charged with regret. I hope the family found friendship. I feel sure many have learnt from this and now find it is their turn to share their good fortune. Secret giving leaves such a warm fuzzy feeling! 😘

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  5. This is a heart-warming story.

    I’m not sure I could have been as charitable to those who shunned and scorned me as that Japanese farm family was.

    Thanks for reminding your readers that human kindness and generosity can exist in the world!

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