Money feeds the body, but kindness feeds the soul
Columnist Dan Conradt says request for cash is rejected, but invitation to supper leads to deeper meaning.
Finding him on my doorstep was unexpected, but not nearly as unexpected as his greeting: “Dan, can I borrow some money?”
I paused a moment longer than I had intended, then remembered my manners.
“Come on in, Mike,” I said, pushing the screen door open.
He wiped his shoes on the welcome mat, took off a worn pork pie hat and stepped into the house.
“You want a Coke?” I asked.
I got our drinks and took a seat in the rocking chair, gesturing him to a corner of the couch.
“So what’s going on?” I asked.
He put his drink on the coffee table and fidgeted with the hat.
“I need to borrow some money,” he said again. “My check isn’t going to be here for a couple of days, and I’m broke.”
We were passing acquaintances at best, someone I’d greet on the street, but hadn’t known long and certainly not well. He had an infectious laugh and a charmingly lopsided smile, but always seemed down on his luck — the kind of guy who needed someone to give him a break, and here he was, asking for one.
And that made my answer even more difficult: “Mike, I can’t lend you any money.”
He didn’t ask “Why?” If he had, I’m not sure what I would have said: Because I’ve got bills of my own? Because my bank balance is hovering between black and red? Because it’s mine and I doubt that I’d ever see it again?
Yeah, all of those.
“I understand,” he said in a resigned way that told me he’d heard it before.
He drained his Coke and started to get up.
“Thanks for the pop,” he said. “Hope I didn’t bother you.”
“No bother,” I said. “Tell you what … I was just going to make a frozen pizza. If you don’t have anything going on, you’re welcome to stay for supper.”
It took 17 minutes to bake the pizza and five minutes to eat it.
“Thanks for supper, Dan,” Mike said when we finished eating, “and I understand about the money.”
“If you’re going to be around tomorrow night,” I said, pushing the screen door open, “supper’s at six.”
He showed up 10 minutes early and we had burgers on the grill.
The night after that we had beef stew from a can; if his appetite was any indication, he didn’t seem to mind my lack of culinary skills.
I was expecting a knock on the door the fourth night, and was half disappointed when there wasn’t one. Not until well after sunset.
“My check came today,” Mike said through the screen, pulling a beat-up wallet out of his hip pocket. “I want to pay you for the food.”
“Mike, you don’t owe me anything.” Then, almost as an afterthought: “I enjoyed it.” In time I would come to realize that it was much more than an afterthought.
He smiled his lopsided smile, tipped the brim of his pork pie and disappeared into the gathering dark.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one,” Mother Teresa said.
And while Mike might have come for the food, I was the one who was nourished by it.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.