A Beautiful Flower in an Old Pail
He was no taller than my eight-year-old," I thought as I stared at the
stooped, shriveled body. But the appalling thing was his face, lopsided
from swelling, red and raw.
Yet his voice was pleasant as he said, "Good evening. I've come to
see if you've a room for just one night. I came for a treatment this
morning from the eastern shore, and there's no bus 'til morning."
He told me he'd been hunting for a room since noon but with no
success, no one seemed to have a room. "I guess it's my face...
I know it looks terrible, but my doctor says with a few more treatments...
" For a moment I hesitated, but his next words convinced me: "I could
sleep in this rocking chair on the porch. My bus leaves early in the
I told him we would find him a bed, but to rest on the porch. I went
inside and finished getting supper. When we were ready, I asked
the old man if he would join us. "No thank you. I have plenty." And he
held up a brown paper bag.
When I had finished the dishes, I went out on the porch to talk with
him a few minutes. It didn't take a long time to see that this old man
had an oversized heart crowded into that tiny body. He told me he
fished for a living to support his daughter, her five children, and
her husband, who was hopelessly crippled from a back injury. He
didn't tell it by way of complaint; in fact, every other sentence was
preface with a thanks to God for a blessing. He was grateful that no pain
accompanied his disease, which was apparently a form of skin cancer.
He thanked God for giving him the strength to keep going.
At bedtime, we put a camp cot in the children's room for him. When
I got up in the morning, the bed linens were neatly folded and the
little man was out on the porch.
He refused breakfast, but just before he left for his bus, haltingly,
as if asking a great favor, he said, Could I please come back and
stay the next time I have a treatment? I won't put you out a bit. I can
sleep fine in a chair." He paused a moment and then added, "Your
children made me feel at home. Grownups are bothered by my face, but
children don't seem to mind." I told him he was welcome to come again.
And on his next trip he arrived a little after seven in the morning.
As a gift, he brought a big fish and a quart of the largest oysters I
had ever seen. He said he had shucked them that morning before
he left so that they'd be nice and fresh. I knew his bus left at 4:00 a.m.
and I wondered what time he had to get up in order to do this for us.
In the years he came to stay overnight with us there was never a
time that he did not bring us fish or oysters or vegetables from his
garden. Other times we received packages in the mail, always by
special delivery; fish and oysters packed in a box of fresh young
spinach or kale, every leaf carefully washed. Knowing that he must
walk three miles to mail these, and knowing how little money he had
made the gifts doubly precious. When I received these little remembrances,
I often thought of a comment our next-door neighbor made after he left
that first morning. "Did you keep that awful looking man last night? I
turned him away! You can lose roomers by putting up such people!"
Maybe we did lose roomers once or twice. But oh! If only they could
have known him, perhaps their illness' would have been easier to bear.
I know our family always will be grateful to have known him; from him
we learned what it was to accept the bad without complaint and the
good with gratitude to God.
Recently I was visiting a friend who has a greenhouse, As she showed
me her flowers, we came to the most beautiful one of all, a golden
chrysanthemum, bursting with blooms. But to my great surprise, it was
growing in an old dented, rusty bucket. I thought to myself, "If this
were my plant, I'd put it in the loveliest container I had!" My friend
changed my mind. "I ran short of pots," she explained, and knowing
how beautiful this one would be, I thought it wouldn't mind starting
out in this old pail. It's just for a little while, till I can put it out
in the garden."
She must have wondered why I laughed so delightedly, but I was
imagining just such a scene in heaven. "Here's an especially
beautiful one," God might have said when he came to the soul of the
sweet old fisherman. "He won't mind starting in this small body." All this
happened long ago -- and now, in God's garden, how tall this lovely
soul must stand. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.