Frannie surveyed the pantry shelves in dismay. There wasn't much left after she assembled the last of the Christmas baskets for the record number of needy families this year. Jonas, their volunteer who had already picked up the baskets for delivery, was long gone.
Now, Mrs. McCandless, her neighbor lady, had reluctantly called the pantry for help. Her pension check was late and she had no food for the next week. Actually, she had shyly shared the disturbing news that Mrs. Hubicki and Mr. Sanchez, who had retired from the same company, were also in similar dire straits.
Frannie would have gladly spent her own money to provide for them, but she had already emptied her wallet to put together the Christmas baskets for the other families. Somehow, the cans of beans, beets, and asparagus other people had donated, just didn't quite fit her idea of a Christmas dinner.
Abruptly angry with the people who took the opportunity to empty their own pantries of things better not bought, Frannie found a sturdy box and carefully packed the few odd items left on the shelves. It was food, after all, even if it wasn't what was normally prepared for Christmas.
Five cans of beans--pinto, navy, black, red, northern--not even two cans the same! A small bag of rice, two cans of beets (yuck!), one can of asparagus tips (oh, gross), one can of salmon, a small box of cornbread muffin mix, another little box of biscuit mix, three cans of evaporated milk and a lone, tiny box of animal crackers.
She stared down at the box contents and wondered once again what possessed people to donate only what they didn't want. Why did they think that a poor family would be happy to eat what they had already rejected?
She carried the box over to the refrigerator, set it on a chair next to the door, and slowly swung the door wide. It was nearly empty. A small container of dill cream cheese, a quart of skim milk, and two cartons of eggs with several cracked eggs in each. Resignedly, she packed them on top and closed the door.
She carted the box to her car, returned and locked up, and then with a deep sigh, slid behind the wheel. When she carried the box up to Mrs. McCandless' apartment, she was almost ashamed of the things she was delivering. Mrs. McCandless opened the door and greeted her with a wide smile.
"I knew you would help us!" she exclaimed happily. "Come in, come in." She stepped back to allow Frannie to squeeze past her. "Just carry that out to the kitchen. Mrs. Hubicki and Mr. Sanchez are already there."
Delivering the meager supplies to Mrs. McCandless was embarrassing enough, but Frannie hadn't counted on her other two neighbors' presence. She shrank back.
Mrs. McCandless urged her on with a firm hand planted in the middle of her back. "Come on, now. You know where the kitchen is. You'll join us for a cup of tea."
Frannie set the box on the table and silently sat in the only empty chair. Mrs. McCandless plunked down a cup of tea in front of her and then began to empty the box. Mrs. Hubicki and Mr. Sanchez exclaimed over each item as it appeared as though Frannie had delivered something priceless. She just didn't understand how they could be so happy with such a poor selection. They swiftly divided the contents between them and contentedly settled down to planning their Christmas dinner.
"You'll come, too," Mrs. Hubicki said firmly. "I know you have no one to spend Christmas with. No one should be alone on Christmas Day."
"I can't horn in on your dinner," Frannie protested, while thinking they had little enough to eat already!
"You will be here," Mr. Sanchez pronounced softly. "We are all family here."
Frannie shook her head in amazement and silently abandoned her quiet, solitary plans.
"What shall I bring?"
They looked at her with shocked expressions. "Oh, no," Mrs. Hubicki replied quickly. "You've already brought us a feast!"
"That? That's not a feast!" Frannie said disdainfully. "There's no turkey or ham, no sweet potatoes or dressing, no pie…"
Mr. Sanchez shook one finger at her in admonishment. "Frannie! God blesses all food! You will come day after tomorrow and see!"
It snowed Christmas Eve with huge fluffy flakes falling softly just as Frannie returned home from the joyful, candlelit church service. But Christmas Day was vary cold and bright, sunlight glittering back from the new snow. As time drew near for Frannie to go upstairs to Mrs. McCandless' apartment, she removed the two pies she had prepared from the oven and slid in a pan of fresh yeast rolls. When they were done, she slipped on her shoes and carried the pies upstairs.
Mr. Sanchez answered the door with a wide smile on his face. "Frannie! Welcome! And Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Sanchez. Please ask Mrs. McCandless where I should put the pies. I have to run back down and get the rolls."
Mrs. Hubicki appeared in the door to the kitchen. "Pies? And rolls? Frannie!" She shuffled slowly over to Frannie and took a pie, while Mr. Sanchez relieved her of the second one. "Hurry back! Dinner is almost ready!"
Frannie rushed downstairs, grabbed the rolls and bounded back up the stairs to Mrs. McCandless'. Mr. Sanchez had left the door ajar for her, so she carefully nudged it open and slipped inside. Out in the kitchen, she could hear the cheerful chatter of her elderly neighbors and suddenly, she was glad that they had invited her to their dinner.
In a very short while, they sat down to a beautifully arranged feast and much to Frannie's amazement, it was a feast. Mrs. Hubicki's old soup tureen held a delicious pink beet soup. Mr. Sanchez had prepared a spicy, tasty cornbread and bean pie. Mrs. McCandless presented a light and fluffy salmon asparagus puff.
Mr. Sanchez watched her as she tried each new dish. "Frannie, God gives us the tools and supplies," he said quietly. "What we do with them is up to us. We chose to honor the food you brought to us by using the creative talents God gave us. It would have been just as nourishing if we had just eaten the food out of the can. But this tastes better!" He sat back from the table, patted his flat belly and declared, "Now! It's time for pie!"
Copyright 2008 Anny Cook
Reminder: Tuesday, December 14th is my monthly chat at Love Romances Cafe. Please check the info box in the upper right corner for the url and information! I hope you'll all join us for an evening of excerpts and conversation!