Christina Hicks led some of us into a backyard adventure in hospitality this past Tuesday. Our first indication that something might be afoot came on Monday, when Chris called Mtr. Terri to request a ride home from the Martin’s Grocery Store on Ellwood Ave. The ride was not for Monday, however. Chris said she was buying a box or two of meat that she was to pick up the next day at 3pm.
“Sure, I can give you a ride home tomorrow!”
“Could we stop by the church on the way, so I can divide the meat up and put it into bags?”
“Um….okay. We can do that. As long as I can make it back to the church in time for 6:30 Mass.”
An hour or two later—just after 3pm, in fact—Chris called back.
“Chris, I thought you said you needed the ride tomorrow?”
“I do. I just wanted to ask whether we have any charcoal and a grill at the church.”
“I’m not sure. The grill we use may be John’s. I’d have to check.”
“Okay, well I’ll just pick up some charcoal, and you let me know about the grill.”
Mtr. Terri did ask John Zanka the next day, and discovered that the grill was, in fact, in the Holy Trinity garage, having been rescued from a neighbor’s trash by John a few years earlier.
“What does Chris have in mind?”
“I honestly don’t really know. I’m picking her up and helping her divide up some meat into packages. I’m guessing she wants to grill some of it to eat today, and, knowing Chris, she will make enough to share, but I have no idea what quantity we’re talking about. How about we give you a call once we reach the church?”
When 3 o’clock rolled around, Chris loaded a shopping cart full of food—including two large boxes and one small box of meat into the back of Mtr. Terri’s car. They went to the church and unloaded the groceries into the kitchen. After getting Chris set up with bags and counter space, Mtr. Terri dialed John’s number and handed Chris the phone to discuss what Chris wanted to do with the grill. John was in the middle of something just then, but said he could get to the church in about 15 minutes.
While Mtr. Terri went into the office to print up readings for the evening mass, Chris started dividing up the meat. Suddenly Chri appeared in the office door, holding a double slab of beef ribs.
“Where do you want me to put yours, Mtr. Terri?”
“Chris, that’s huge! You don’t need to give me that!”
“But I want to!”
“Um. . .Well. . . I’m going to be here at church until after mass and bible study, so we had better put it in the freezer.”
What you need to know here is that Chris often needs assistance with her own groceries. Her income goes to a payee, who pays her rent and is supposed to give her enough money for groceries and incidentals, but the payments are not always regular, and sometimes Chris needs to rely on the assistance of friends. She can tell you where to get a free meal at what time on what days, because she walks that circuit with some regularity.
Chris is also a member of the Church of the Holy Trinity, worshiping with us on Tuesdays and Sundays. When she has a few dollars she puts some in the plate. When she has extra canned goods she donates them to the food pantry. She gives her priest a Mother’s Day card every year. She has a kind word for everybody. Chris is a real disciple.
So what to do when she wants to give the priest a slab of ribs, and when it turns out that she wants to give the priest a gallon bag of smoked turkey tails and another of pork rib tips as well? What to do when someone we think of as poor starts handing John a slab of ribs, and another to Miss Pat down the street, and another to Donny, and another to Miss Betty and probably to other folks when Mtr. Terri wasn’t looking because she was trying to get the charcoal lit? Do we stop her, protecting her from her own generosity, or do we honor that generosity, and enjoy with her the memory of having done the same with her family and friends in years past?
Lighting the charcoal is hot work, especially when your experience of charcoal lies more in the area of thuribles. Miss Pat came over to keep Mtr. Terri company as she tinkered with the fire. Chris came and went with bags of meat. She brought out chairs. She wandered off again. Suddenly she returned with three pints of ice cream from the convenience store. As we waited for the coals to heat up, we sat and chatted and ate our ice cream.
“Now do we think this food will be ready before 6:30? That’s when I need to go in and do mass.”
“Why don’t you do mass out here?”
“Well, Pat, I suppose I could . . . I’d need a table. . .I wonder whether that garden table can be turned around or whether John has it bolted to the wall. . .”
The table, rickety though it was, could be turned around without collapsing. By that time we had been joined by Miss Anne from next door, who added her brats and some salmon burgers to the grill. Mtr. Terri fetched the books and vessels, setting up for mass on the table outside. She posted signs on the doors, directing folks around back.
When Randy and Will and Stephanie arrived for mass, they came around back and found us. Miss Anne volunteered to participate from beside the grill, where she could keep the meet from scorching while we directed our attention to God. Chris did the first reading and Randy the second. Mtr. Terri noted that Chris had already preached us a sermon for the Feast of the Visitation—women coming together and celebrating God’s ability to lift up the lowly. The seven of us took communion.
After mass we settled in to eat. Randy and Miss Anne engaged in a friendly argument over whether the pork was cooked through. As we sank our teeth into smoked turkey tails, we compared notes on what foods were more tasty when a turkey tail was added to the pot. Pork in the greens or special seasonings? Which greens?
Johnny Jonathan wandered over with their mom. We kicked the soccer ball around, and Eliezar showed us some fancy footwork he picked up from watching how the college players dribble the ball. Jonathan ran to get his preschool graduation pictures to show us how dignified he looked in his cap and gown. Chris snuck back into the kitchen to wash the dishes while Mtr. Terri doused the fire.
It was 9 o’clock by the time Mtr. Terri finally dropped Chris off at her home. Out of three boxes and a bag of food, Chris was down to one bag, and she spoke of how pleased she was with her afternoon and evening’s work. She was particularly pleased with having taken everybody by surprise. No one had known they were being invited to a feast that day, but there in the backyard, she got to give them a taste of the heaven.
Just another Tuesday in the Garden of Ste. Therese!