David - Saturday before Mother’s Day

     After four years on the street, David had encountered the best and the worst of human behavior. The kindness of a few people made it possible to survive. Their generosity always warmed his heart. More people were out to rob him or beat him up, but David tried to stay clear of them. Still, he had been robbed or beaten up more times than he wanted to remember. One time he ended up in the hospital after a severe beating.

     Most people simply looked the other way when they saw a homeless person. That irritated some people but being ignored was okay with David. He didn’t want to be a bother to anyone else. 

     On this particular Saturday, David headed for Woodruff Park, where he sometimes found people willing to share their food. The pretty spring day was perfect for a walk, and David enjoyed the singing of the birds as he traveled along. He was about to turn a corner to avoid a dangerous area when he noticed a long line of people on the sidewalk leading to an unusual sight. Pastor Kurt was sitting on a chair in front of his truck. What was going on? David wondered. The chairs weren’t set up like normal when Pastor Kurt had Church On The Street, but people were lined up waiting for something to happen.

     Torn between curiosity and hunger, David decided to see what was happening at the church. Maybe they were giving out free food or something. When he got closer he saw a sign taped on Pastor Kurt’s truck. He struggled to read it as big words were impossible for David to read, but he could usually figure out the small ones. In time, that is. He stared at the brightly colored sign that read: “Call your mother for Mother’s Day–FREE.” 

    Wow! That was good news. It had been a while since David called home. So he walked back to get in line for his turn to call. Sometimes he had enough change to call from a pay phone but, more often, he stole a cell phone. After all those years, he still felt guilty every time he stole a phone. It was easy to find one in the tourist area of town. People often left purses and phones in their cars. Too easy, David thought. He called only often enough to keep his parents from worrying. Also, he hated for his parents to press him to tell them where he was.

     With several people in line it would probably be some time before David’s turn, but he decided to wait. The opportunity might be gone by the time he got back from the park.

     Pastor Kurt sat in one chair and the person making the call sat in the other chair. Pastor Kurt always wiped the phone clean and dialed the number before handing the phone to the caller. Some people looked happy after the call but others seemed to be sad. After only a few seconds on the phone, one woman left with tears in her eyes. Did her mother refuse to talk to her? David wondered. He was glad his parents still cared enough about him to want him to come home even though he thought it was better for them if he stayed on the street.

     Many times in the past four years David considered returning home. He would try to find Pastor Kurt and see if he could arrange it. Twice, David remembers, he found the pastor and lost his nerve before asking the pastor to call. By now he felt ashamed of himself for being gone so long. What he did was not right, he thought. Even when Pastor Kurt offered to help him go home, David could never muster the courage to make it happen - even though he wanted to.

     During the next call, David was close enough to hear what the man said. After telling his mother he loved her, he began to cry. “Mom, I’m so sorry for being an embarrassment to you. I want to change. I really do.” When the man left in tears, David felt sad. He hoped his call would not turn emotional. He knew he was an embarrassment to his family too. 

     The longer David waited the more eager he became to talk to his parents. It would be so good to make the call for Mom’s special day without having to steal a cell phone. Finally, he was next up. “Hello, David,” Pastor Kurt said.

     “Hi, Pastor Kurt. Can I call my mom?” David said as he reached for the phone.

      “You sure can. Give me the number and I’ll dial it for you.”

      Impatient, David worried that his parents might not be home. On the next ring, someone answered. “This is Pastor Kurt of Church On The Street. David is here to wish you happy Mother’s Day.” David again reached for the phone, but Pastor Kurt held up his hand and shook his head. Why the delay? David wondered. Pastor Kurt began to stammer, “Uh ... uh ... I’m not sure I - I - I - I” A moment of silence as Pastor Kurt listened. “I’ll see what I can do. Here’s David.”

     Grabbing the phone, David said, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom,” when he heard her voice.

              “Thanks, David. It is a happy Mother’s Day because you called. It’s been a long time since we heard from you.”

            “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.” 

     “Don’t you ever get homesick, David? Do you want to see us as much as we want to see you?”

     The conversation had to end soon or David would be in tears. “I’d love to see you, but ... I gotta go. Someone else is waiting to call home.”

     When Pastor Kurt took the phone from him, he said, “David, can you stick around a moment until I get a break? I want to ask you for a favor.”

     “Okay.” David wanted to get to the park in hopes of finding something to eat. If he could do a favor for Pastor Kurt, though, he wanted to help the man who had been so kind to him. Once, when David received the worst beating of his life, Pastor Kurt found him lying on the pavement and took care of him. David had been knocked out so that he didn’t know what had happened until he woke up in the hospital with Pastor Kurt by his side. When he was ready to leave the hospital, he discovered that his boots and the little change he had were stolen. Pastor Kurt promised to find him another pair of boots, which he did.

     Two of the calls that Pastor Kurt made didn’t go through. It wasn’t until a woman began a conversation that the pastor gave David his attention. “David, have you ever washed a car?”

     What an odd question coming from the pastor. David didn’t even know how to answer. “Well ... I used to help my dad wash his car.”

     “Good. My truck is awful dirty and I don’t have time to wash it.” The woman finished her conversation and the pastor turned to help the next caller. As David waited, he wondered what his friend had in mind. He liked Pastor Kurt. He heard Pastor Kurt often stutter when he talked and he knew how it felt to be “different” like David often felt. It was like they had a kindred spirit. 

    David thought to himself how safe he felt with Pastor Kurt and his friends at Church On The Street. He knew they never made him feel stupid.

     After handing the phone to the caller, Pastor Kurt pointed to his truck. “See how dirty it is. I’m ashamed of it. With tomorrow being Mother’s Day, I’d like for it to be clean. Perfectly clean!”   Another caller interrupted the conversation but David continued to wait.

     “Would you come back tomorrow and wash my truck?” The request seemed to be quite urgent.  “Yeah, I guess I could do that.”    “Good. If you come back around lunch time tomorrow, you’ll receive a big reward for washing my truck.”

     A big reward caught David’s attention. How much money would he get for a big reward? he wondered. Sometimes he saw signs about a reward that was offered for doing something important. The amounts were different but they were always for more money than he had ever had. “Sure,” he said. “I’ll be here by lunch time.”  Besides, he thought, Pastor Kurt had always treated him well.

     “Are you sure you’ll be back? It’s very imp-p-p-portant.”  “I’ll be here for sure,” David said as he reached out to shake Pastor Kurt’s hand.

        “All right. Don’t forget. I’ll be ready for you.”

     On his way to the park, thoughts jumped around in David’s head like crickets. Memory of hearing Mom’s voice brought him a moment of joy but then he felt bad because he always disappointed her by cutting the conversation short. Excitement surged through him when he thought about the money he would receive tomorrow – probably more money than he could imagine. In between those thoughts, he hoped to find food to fill the empty space in his stomach and wondered why it was so important that he wash Pastor Kurt’s truck. Why was he willing to pay a lot of money when he could go to a car wash much cheaper?

     Not many people were in the park today. He knew if he waited, small groups of people often showed up on Saturdays to pass out food. He didn’t think it was an organized thing, because no one came at the same time every week and sometimes no one came at all.   To his delight, a van pulled up with two cars following behind it. A number of the homeless in the park gathered around the van to see what the benefactors had to give away. David joined right in hoping for a good meal. He was hungry. Although the memory of just talking to his mother was fresh in his mind, hunger pains in his stomach gained all of David’s attention. 

     Indeed the people brought food. Lots of it. It took them a little while to set up the table and bring out the containers of food. David liked to help when he could. When he helped, he sometimes received more food. That’s not really why he did it, but it was a nice benefit. Today was no exception. This was a special day, David felt. Not only did he get to talk to his mom, he was loaded up with food to take with him. 

     For the rest of the day, David ate all he could from the bounty he was given at the park. It felt good to be full. He knew he had to empty his pockets of the remaining food even if he had to give it away. Rats that frequented the streets would come into someone’s jacket looking for food as the homeless slept. He had seen it too many times to want to experience it himself. So, before David got to the shelter that night, he ate what he could, and gave the rest away to the homeless he knew.

       In the shelter that night David went to bed feeling more satisfied than usual. He had a good day and would have an even better day tomorrow. Even as he counted his blessings, though, he felt emptiness and longed for a hug from Mom.