Monday, November 14, 2016

During The Holiday Season, I Always Think About George

Every year on Thanksgiving Day, except for the one year we went to a friend's house for dinner, we open our home to those who have fallen on hard times or have no place to go. I always whip up a huge feast and there's more than enough to go around. I give people until the Sunday before Thanksgiving to let me know if they'll be needing a place at our table. That gives me enough time to make a shopping list to accommodate additional people.

Each year, when I post this open invitation on my Facebook wall, I'm reminded of George. I wonder how he's doing and if he thinks about the year he shared Thanksgiving and Christmas with us.

In July of 2012, we moved into our home. At the time, we didn't have a washer or dryer. Lisa would do our laundry at the laundromat every weekend, or occasionally during the week if needed.

During one of her laundry adventures, she met George. He was a middle aged man from Philly who was residing in our area for about 6 months, in a hotel, on a construction work assignment.

Every weekend, Lisa and George would engage in lengthy conversation. During these conversations, George would get a little teary eyed as he spoke about his life in Philly, how much he missed his family, and how much he disliked living in a hotel. He also told Lisa how much he missed and craved good, old-fashioned home cooked meals.

The following weekend, I baked homemade cookies for George. Lisa told me that George had tears in his eyes when she gave the cookies to him.

Each weekend to follow, I baked George pies, quick breads, cookies, and other baked treats. I also made sure to make a big meal on Friday night so I could package up the leftovers for George.

The weeks rolled along and Thanksgiving was right around the corner. George wasn't able to travel back to Philly due to his work schedule. None of the work crew extended an invitation to George. Instead, they made rude and racist comments.

"Get yourself some fried chicken and watermelon to eat in your hotel." 

"I'm not inviting a black man to sit at our table."

When George told Lisa about the comments and such, he shrugged it off and said, "Part of me can understand their attitude. I'm a black man from Philly working in a small town in Connecticut."

Lisa and I both knew he was just trying to make the best of it, but deep down, the holiday season was looking rather bleak for George.

The week before Thanksgiving, I accompanied Lisa to the laundromat and met George. When he saw me, his face lit up and he gave me the warmest hug. George finally met the woman who had given him the gift of homemade baked goods and a taste of home cooking.

After the introduction and lengthy hug, I extended an invitation for George to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. His mouth fell to the floor.

He accepted the invitation.

George arrived early afternoon on Thanksgiving day. Lisa and George watched football in the living room while I put the final touches on dinner. George sipped his beer and reclined on our sofa. He was relaxed and felt at home. Coco, our only kid at the time, curled up on the sofa with George.

Thanksgiving dinner was incredible. George ate his heart out and enjoyed every bite. He told us stories about his life in Philly and how he ended up here on a construction work assignment.

During the early evening hours, George headed back to his hotel. He had to get up early for work the next morning. I sent him home with bags of leftovers.

That weekend, at the laundromat, George shared a story about the day after Thanksgiving.

Some of the work crew was taunting him about eating Thanksgiving dinner in his hotel. George said nothing.

Instead, he pulled out several containers of the leftovers I gave him and homemade pie. He didn't have to say a word. The work crew saw his lunch fare. It was enough to silence them.

Every weekend, I continued to send Lisa to the laundromat with baked goods and leftovers from our Friday dinners.

We invited George to join us on Christmas Day for festivities and a nice dinner. He happily accepted the invitation. A few days before Christmas, George dropped off a gigantic, gourmet local spiral ham.

"I wanted to provide the ham for Christmas dinner."

I had tears in my eyes.

On Christmas Eve, there was a card in our mailbox. The only thing on the envelope was, "Lisa & Lisa." Lisa opened the envelope. Inside was a card with a beautiful handwritten message along with a crisp $100 bill. It was George's gift to us.

For Christmas, we bought George a Big Daddy fryer. George loved his fried foods, especially catfish. The efficiency kitchen at the hotel was small and the cookware wasn't adequate for frying.

George 'bout near did cartwheels down the street when he opened his gift. We also included a few other gifts. Vegetable oil. Frying accessories. Dish towels.

We enjoyed another festive dinner with lots of stories, beer, and wine.

After the holidays, we visited him at the hotel he was staying at to deliver home cooked meals and baked goods. By this time, we knew George's work assignment was coming to an end.

We told him to let us know when it was time for him to go back home. I wanted to have him over for one final dinner.

I don't remember the exact date, but somewhere between the end of February and the beginning of March, I received a text from George. He was back in Philly.

At first, I was angry. When I related the information to Lisa, she was angry too.

Our home was between George's hotel and the highway.

Why didn't he let us know his work assignment had ended?

Why did he leave without saying goodbye?

It took me a long time to get over that.

The anger faded. I no longer questioned, "Why?"

Even though we had many conversations with George, Lisa more than I, we didn't know George all that well.

Maybe saying goodbye was difficult for him.

Maybe it was easier for him to just pack and leave.

Maybe he was so excited to get back home after 6 months of being away.

I'll never know the answer. And, that's okay.

What I do know is that we made George's time away from home a little more bearable.

He had a place to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Our paths crossed for a short time. During that short time, it made a difference.

That's why we open our doors during the holiday season.

I'll never forget George. I'd like to think, during this time of year, he thinks about the time he spent in our neck of the woods...sharing a couple of holidays with two women he barely knew.

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