~*~Close To The Bone~*~
(A nonfictional tale)
The second world-war was in full bloom and like so many other towns across America my secluded little part of the world was economically devastated by the war effort. In 1943 Marble Falls, Texas with a whopping population of some five-hundred patriotic souls was struggling just to survive the rigors of daily living with some sense of normalcy. Everything from gasoline to sugar was rationed and once a month head of households were issued ration-stamp booklets. Without a ration-stamp it was almost impossible to buy anything, when and if one had any money. Aunts, mothers and other assorted females in the family circle used to meet weekly and exchange food-stamps between them, depending on what they were out of and that was usually everything. Even with home-gardens, everything was in short supply, especially meat of any kind.
Like all of the able-bodied men in town, daddy was thousands of miles away fighting in the war, though most often we did not know where. When he left, he took our only means of support with him except for the scrimpy check the government sent mother once a month. Pinching pennies the allotment would stretch about three weeks. There was always to much month left at the end of the money.
From necessity mother found another house where the rent was a little less. To call that ramshackle shack a house is a grand compliment, nonetheless she moved me, my older brother and one year old baby sister into it. Financially, less rent helped a bit but there were always those last few days at month's end when mother had little else to lay before her babies to eat. Those days were dark for her and despair would begin and only when the next allotment check arrived would she cheer-up for a time. Soup! We eat soup made from whatever was available for days toward months end with cornbread or what she called water-biscuits, since there was no milk except for baby sister. The concoction mother called soup was more hot water than soup.
One day at month's end, while my brother was off playing and sister was snoozing she called me before her. She told me to go to the only grocery store in town and find the owner, Mr. Charlotte. I was to look him in the eye and tell him my dog was very hungry and would he have an extra bone that I could give to it. She added that I was to say only what she told me to and never speak of this to anyone, then she asked if I understood. Well, I did but I was hugely confused since we had no dog. But as a lad just under seven years of age I had learned the hard way never to question mother's motives about anything. I simply did as I was told.
To grown-ups Mr. Charlotte was a very tall, very large old man, to a wide-eyed ankle-biter he was a giant with giant teeth frozen into a perpetual smile. I found the giant behind the meat-counter where he usually was. I blurted out, Mr. Charlotte! He leaned the considerable distance down until his smile was all I could see then he ask, "what can I do for you young bucko?" The thought of being discovered in a bold lie made me shiver but I followed mother's instructions exactly. I asked him for the bone for my hungry dog and after staring hard at me for a few seconds he said, "well I guess I've got a bone you can have." I was dumbfounded, the lie had worked! I carried that prize home as if it were a million dollar diamond. After questioning me to make sure I had followed her precise instructions, mother cleaned the bone and plopped it into the soup boiling on the wood-stove. That night the soup had the added bonus of tasting a tad more like soup.
The next month at soup time she sent me back to the store again to beg for a bone for my imaginary dog and again I came home with a small bone for mother's concoction. Filled with confidence at having mastered the art of deception I ran to the store yet again the third month. I approached the giant as he put his huge hands on his hips and waited. I gave him my most heartbreaking look and ask politely for a bone. Eye-to-eye he said, "you know, that dog must be really hungry so I'm going to leave a little meat on the bone this time." Well the jig was up, my lie was uncovered. I knew by his stare that he had figured out there was no dog, but a hungry family on the home-front just trying to survive.
Back home I explained our scheme was exposed to mother as she examined the large bone with bits of meat attached. In deep thought she said not a word as she carefully trimmed off the slivers of meat to be used for the next meal, then she added the bone to that night's soup. As she turned from the stove, tears ran down her cheeks.
For as many months as I can remember this routine was repeated. I walked to the grocery store and asked Mr. Charlotte for a dog-bone and he would wrap a bone with a little meat left on it for me to carry home to my grateful mother. We never talked about it, mother and I. Around month's end she would simply say, it's time to go to the store. Respecting her wishes, I've never told anyone the tale of the bones or about the kindness of a gentle giant, until now.
My lifetime through I have often remembered that old man, so loved and respected by the townsfolk. His selfless deeds of loving-kindness went largely unnoticed and unrewarded. After his death years later, unpaid accounts were discovered dating during the time span of world-war two. I guess he figured there was no point in asking people for money they didn't have. I want to embrace and thank him one day in Heaven, that's where I will find him. Paid in-full at last.
©Written by: Kenneth J. Ellison 01-14-11
Footnote: My recollection is that Mr. Charlotte was of foreign descent and I have probably spelled his name incorrectly. I have written it as Texans pronounced it. Mr. Charlotte.