Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poor in Spirit?

Berserk horns blared and bright lights flicked on and off furiously as two terrified squirrels bolted down the porch steps and back over the wooden fence. Unsuspecting robbers, they had triggered the home made alarm once they reached the top landing. My dad's warning system succeeded in chasing those furry food thieves from stealing leftovers.

In winter, my mom utilized the cold temperatures to store leftovers on the outside porch off the kitchen. And the squirrels knew. They smelled the food but waited until no one was around to bite through the screen and feast on mom's Italian cuisine. This maddened my mom and spurred my dad to invent a repellent. The only draw back was that if the system was left on, anyone walking up the steps to the porch would trigger the vexatious outburst.

My dad, "Pappa Joe" as he was called, was an inventor of everything necessary and unnecessary. His porch, built with his own tools and design, was his sanctuary. It was also the place our family gathered for meals in the warmer seasons. Looking out from its screened in frame, you could spot his signature in the suburban yard we grew up in. His kingdom consisted of flourishing greenery, haphazard creations he invented for fun and function, and whimsical furniture that included his very own throne--a chair fit for a king.

Dad made life a fantastic journey. Yet he hardly ever left the confines of our colonial home on Long Island in New York. The front of the house included a park bench where he would sit and wait for one of us to join him. As soon as he had a taker, the sky became a gigantic movie screen. Clouds, slowly moving and changing, offered an endless pallet of designs we were challenged to identify as whatever our minds saw: a rabbit hopping to the next billowy puff, an elephant raising its trunk in delight, a willow tree offering shade to the sun, and anything we were inclined to conjure up.

His stories also took us to far away places. Recounting countries the war brought him to, scenarios with interesting characters, people he encountered while working as a TV repairman, good memories and bad, all served to enrich our view of the world around us.

And Dad never left us forget how much we had. Although raising a large family left little money for frills and flare, we never wanted for anything. Food and family meals were times to gather and eat, but they were also times to be thankful. And that table on his proudly built porch provided the perfect place for lessons to be taught.

Before most meals, especially large Sunday dinners, Dad would say grace and just as we rushed to devour the first forkful of food, his words would stop us: "I wonder what the poor people are eating."

That was it. No lecture, no added rhetoric, simple words alone forced us to think of our fortune.

I will never forget his powerful words. All the wonderful memories of my dad float about my mind and I often wish I had given more attention to his lessons. But the one lesson at that dinner table, inside the screened porch, overlooking our small but fanciful yard, will always keep my thankfulness in perspective.

I am certainly rich even though sometimes poor in spirit.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3


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Friday, December 4, 2009