The Nature of Giving
Too many anxious moments passed before my old friend, Carl answered the phone that evening.
“Hello! Trapeze Repair Service…Can you hold please”?
Carl’s silly phone greetings were well known to his friends and family here in Dry Springs, but that one brought a much-needed smile to my face.
“Hey, Carl…this is Dave. How’ya do’n? Got a minute?”
“Sure, Dave. Can you hold a sec? Gott’a let the dog out. He’s chew’n up the couch. Be right back.”
I could hear Carl’s muffled curses in the background which did little to ease my festering anxiety.
“Sorry ‘bout that, Dave. I’m back now. What’s goin’ on in your neck of the woods?”
“Oh, not much. Listen Carl, I’ve got a problem, and I hate to ask, but I’ve got to. Can you loan me a couple hundred for a few weeks? I promise I’ll pay it back as soon as I can.”
There’s always that moment of silence on the other end of the phone when such a request is made, but before I could begin the awkward explanation of why I needed the money, Carl agreed to supply it – not as a loan, but as a gift. He knew about hard times as well as anyone, and he knew I might have trouble re-paying the debt within a reasonable time. Carl was that kind of friend, that kind of man.
“Oh no, Carl. I’m not asking for a hand-out. I’ll pay it back,” I insisted.
“No Dave! It’s a gift. You’ve been a good friend. Remember the time you helped me unload that old Chevy? I owe you, Dave! Hold on, I gotta pee.”
I did remember that day when Carl pulled-up in his front yard with a rusted ’57 Chevy loaded onto his aging trailer. I recalled the difficulty of discerning where Carl’s trailer stopped and the car it carried began, as both were so rusted. With the exceptions of Carl’s devotion to friends and his unwavering determination to ‘get’er done’, everything he owned was rusty.
Carl wanted to un-load the old car between the rusted ’54 Pontiac and the ’62 Ford, but I was skeptical that we could fit it into that small space, already taken by so many rusty lawnmowers. Somehow – and after a spirited debate – Carl found a way to accommodate his latest acquisition.
“Come on in, Dave, he beckoned as we finished our work. Audra Mae’s got a big pitcher of sweet iced tea.”
Carl and Audra Mae lived in a small, white frame house mostly hidden behind Carl’s collection of junk cars. Audra Mae had the flower beds filled with every color known to the paintings of Monet with beautiful baskets of flowering petunias suspended above the porch, interspersed with her collection of Hummingbird feeders and wind chimes.
With a sprained ankle from tripping-over Carl’s coon dog, Mona – who was sleeping in the perpetual shade of a rusted ’65 Buick – I carefully made my way up the worn steps of Carl’s old wooden porch.
Once inside, I was shocked at Audra Mae’s devotion to beauty, shining brightly with color and warmth. In stark contrast to Carl’s rusted dreams which adorned the front yard, the inside of that little house was clean, simple and inviting. It was lovingly-kept with the joyful sounds of two children, the lingering fragrance of home-cooked meals, and the trials and triumphs that would ultimately go into the record as fifty years of marriage.
Yes, I remembered that day as I waited for Carl to return to the phone.
“Alright, Dave, I’m back. Whatever you say is fine with me. Audra Mae’s got the check ready so come-on down. We’re mak’n ice cream on the front porch. Come on, get’cha some!”
That evening, I accepted Carl’s ‘gift’ while Audra Mae served bowls of homemade ice cream, filling her mother’s recipe with black berries picked from the unruly vines that grew around the aging remains of a 63’ Rambler. On that beautiful night, their front porch was filled with stories of laughter and love.
Along the remote country road that I shared with Carl, the distinction between a ‘gift’ and a ‘loan’ is often blurred by the tendency of folks around here to help one another, love one another and expect nothing in return. But it’s also the nature of folks around here to have a long memory, and most have lived long enough to have one.
Carl insisted the $200 was a ‘gift’. I insisted it was a loan, yet months slipped away, and on those occasions when I had the money to repay him, I managed to find a more urgent use for it. Carl did say it was a ‘gift’, after all.
But what is a gift? Isn’t a gift the giving of one’s love to another? Are we not then obliged to return that love? I pondered that question day and night, but repeatedly awoke to the obvious answer: I had promised to repay the debt.
With check in hand, I drove into Carl’s front yard one evening, narrowly avoiding collision with a 54’ Dodge. Carl’s greasy face emerged from the hood of an old Chevy, and as he wiped his hands for a manly greeting, I presented the check. He smiled broadly.
“That’s good, Dave. You kept your promise. Now I’ll keep mine.”
Still smiling and looking deeply into my eyes, he tore the check in half.
“Come on in, Dave. Audra Mae’s got a big pitcher of sweet ice tea.”
© 2017 David Bradshaw aka ‘Dave from Texas’