“Lunch with Joe,” Friend, June 1991, 47
On the first day of our vacation, we stopped at a park in a small town to eat lunch. As we put a tablecloth and paper plates on one of the picnic tables, Jimmy nudged me and pointed at an old man walking toward the tables. “He looks like the guys you see on TV—the ones who don’t have any place to live.”
“He really does,” I answered.
We watched as he came closer. “Do you suppose he’s going to ask us for something to eat?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
We were disappointed when he sat down at a table far from ours.
“Mom,” I said, “see that old man over there? Do you think he has a home anywhere?”
Mom stopped turning the hamburgers on the grill and looked where I was pointing. “No, Crissie,” she said, “he looks like he’s carrying everything he owns with him.”
“That’s what I thought too. Do you suppose he has anything to eat?”
“I don’t know,” Mom answered, “but he doesn’t look like he eats very often. He surely is thin.”
“Could we ask him to come and eat with us?”
“We have plenty of food,” Mom said. “Why don’t you check with Dad first. He’s over by the swings with Susan and Missy.”
When I asked Dad, he didn’t say yes right away. He said he wanted to get a little closer and see what this man looked like. He didn’t want to put any of us in danger.
As we began walking across the grass, the old man glanced curiously in our direction. It surprised me to think that he might be as curious about us as we were about him.
The closer we got, the harder it was for me not to stare. I had never seen anyone quite like this man before. His hair hung almost to his shoulders. It was the color of dirt and looked like it hadn’t been washed or combed for a long time. His face was tanned and wrinkled. His eyes were a milky blue-green color, and I wondered if he could see through that milky haze. But what really fascinated me was his mouth. There were wrinkles all around it, and when he opened it, I could see why. He had hardly any teeth. There was one on the top in the front, and maybe two or three on the bottom. I couldn’t see any more.
His clothes were old and dirty and just hung on his thin body. Next to him on the ground was an old army duffel bag.
As we drew near, he grew apprehensive. He reached down and pulled his duffel bag closer to him. Once again I was surprised to think that he might be afraid of us. “Hello there,” Dad said.
The man didn’t answer, but he didn’t take his eyes off us, either.
“My name is Mike Lambert,” Dad went on, just as if the man had greeted him warmly. “We’re fixing our lunch just over there, and we wondered if you’d like to join us.”
The old man looked up as if he hadn’t understood, so Dad said it again. “Would you like to join us for lunch? We’re just going to have hamburgers.”
Smiling his almost toothless smile, the old man said, “Nobody’s asked me to eat with them for a long time. That’s right nice of you.”
I ran ahead to tell Mom. She set another place at the table, and a few minutes later we all sat down. Our guest was getting ready to dig right in, when he noticed that we were all sitting with our arms folded. He quietly dropped his hands in his lap, and we all bowed our heads as Missy said a blessing on the food. She also thanked Heavenly Father for our guest and asked a blessing on him. When I looked up, I noticed tears in the old man’s eyes. I wondered if anyone had ever prayed for him before.
“No preacher could have said it any better,” he whispered.
Smiling through teary eyes of her own, Mom began to pass out the food. Jimmy and I were so fascinated at how our guest managed to chew his food with so few teeth that we forgot to eat our own. Mom nudged us and, without saying a word, let us know that we shouldn’t stare.
During the meal, we learned that our guest’s name was Joe. He was from Chicago but had traveled all over the United States. He didn’t know where his family was anymore. He’d lost track of them several years before. When Susan asked him if he had any children, he said, “Yes, I had two little girls. The last time I saw them, they were about the same size as you and your little sister. I guess they’re grown-ups now.”
Before we could ask any more questions, Mom asked if anyone would like another hamburger. Joe said that he would. He said he was going to save it for his supper. Mom promptly put several other things in some paper dishes and covered them and gave them to him too. “You might as well take some of this other food to go along with it,” she said.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.
As we packed our things in the car, Joe carefully packed his food in his duffel bag. We waved to him as we drove away. He waved back for as long as we could see him.
“What will happen to Joe when it gets cold outside?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Mom said. “Maybe he’ll have gone to a warmer climate by then. Or maybe he’ll find a shelter to stay in.”
“I’m sure thankful we have a house,” I said.
“I am, too,” Mom replied, “and I’m also thankful for children who have caring hearts.”
We had a wonderful vacation that summer, but the thing I remember best was our lunch with Joe.