Every weekday afternoon, like clockwork, they arrive. The walkers, those youngsters whose parents haven’t yet succumbed to the fear that our society has instilled in most. We call the religious extremists from the east “terrorists”, yet the more subtle terror that has changed our whole lifestyle has come from inside our culture: the bullies, the child molesters, even the estranged spouses. For fear of these constitutionally-protected terrorists, most parents don’t dare allow their children to even walk home from school anymore.
Yet every school day, here they come. Not as many as there used to be, but they push their way through the front door to cluster around the front counter. What draws them? No, they’re not interested in making music. Well…except for banging on the drums a few times, or flicking their fingers across the strings on a cool, heavy-metal guitar that draws their eyes. But that doesn’t hold their interest long on any given day. They don’t even want to look at the neat toys that all guitarists crave, the multi-effects boxes, the digital tuners, or even the all-important guitar picks. No, what brings them in every day is the container on the counter. Free suckers. Cheap candy, purchased from whichever store is offering the lowest price this week. Dum-Dums, mostly…if the very name doesn’t invite a comment about the state of education today, nothing does, but I’ll rise above the temptation and move on.
We talk briefly, reminding them that the trash can is where we throw the wrappers, not in the parking lot. Bored, slightly irritated faces look back at us. They’ve heard it before, but most of them readily respond. They want the ritual to continue, ad infinitum, simply because you can’t beat a free sucker everyday, so the easy compensation of compliance with our silly request is paid. Then, with a “see you tomorrow,” they all rush out the door, to spend a few moments jumping the rock garden next door before they renew their trek for home or on to the Boy’s & Girl’s club down the street.
As the ruckus subsides, we smile and go about our regular work, sometimes answering the anticipated question, “Why do you give them candy? They’re not going to buy anything.” After being in business for 25 years, we’ve figured out that profit is only a small part of why we show up here everyday. Even if we didn’t know that these are the same kids who will appear with their parents in a few years to buy the band instruments, the guitars and amplifiers, and even the banjos or mandolins, we’d still give them the candy. We like kids! Many of these youngsters don’t know any adults, except for the ones who tell them to stand up straight, stay in line, and get their pencils out for a test today. We want to be a friendly face, just somebody who they enjoy seeing everyday. Maybe they’ll even see us in the grocery store and point us out to their parents. “Hey, those are the people who give me candy after school.” Kids need to see that adults aren’t their enemies or people to be afraid of, but in the right circumstance, we can be friends.
I like to say that we’re doing what Jesus asked us to do, when he said to give “cups of cold water to the little ones”. It’s not exactly the same as cold water on a hot, dusty day, but the idea is the same. Kindness seems to be the exception, rather than the rule in our society, and this is an easy means for us to remedy that in a small way.
The annual Beggar’s Night is coming up this week and I will freely admit that I’m not an enthusiast. My general perception of the process follows: Greedy children will coerce fearful homeowners to give them handfuls of sweets, with the threat of vandalism unless the treat is forthcoming. That’s an oversimplification, but the result is the same. Every years millions of dollars worth of candy are stuffed into bags and then into the children’s mouths, mostly to the benefit of the vendors of said candy. We watch as children (whose parents could easily afford the candy themselves) are carted to various neighborhoods to ring the doorbells of strangers and beg over and over for something that they have absolutely no need for.
I really am not an angry old miser, but gifts should be bestowed because the benefactor has a desire to give freely, not because he or she is forced to it. I love giving to children, but when they have the expectation, they’re far less likely to be truly grateful. It’s kind of like Grace. We are surprised by the magnanimous, undeserved and lavish gift that we can only thank God for. No payment, no coercion on our part could ever have opened the floodgates of Heaven, yet freely, unstintingly the gift comes to us. How could we be ungrateful?
I know there are many parents who enjoy the holiday to allow their children to dress up and go to a few, carefully selected friend’s homes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It seems that in a very real way, the night actually takes on the nature of its reputation in some locales as “devil’s night”. So, I’m not a fan and may just find a way, later this week, to hang out where I can’t be found until the day (and night) is over.
But, on the subject of giving freely, one of our good friends has a habit of showing up where she’s needed without warning. A loaf of bread, the components for a complete meal, or just some flowers, find their way into the place before you know what’s going on. This is the way that lives are changed, and sagging spirits are inspired to soar again. Over the years in our store, we’ve had the joy of serving kids who grew up to be parents and then grandparents. Hopefully, we’ve had some small part in forming who they and their children have become. You may not choose to give suckers, or bread, or flowers, but there are opportunities in every person’s life to do small deeds which reap large rewards in time. I hope you’ll look for them and do something about it.
While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
(Angela Schwindt, published in Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes 1997)