|This deceptively simple-seeming yarn bubbles with the quirky character of our corner of the Southwest. And, as you'll see, there's a moral to it, too.|
The Gift Comes Full Circle
Sometimes when you cast your bread upon the waters, you don't have to wait long.
by Gordon Solberg
1. The Gift Goes Out
One cold January evening (Jan. 13, 1988, to be exact), my neighbor Bob Clark and I were up in the Truth or Consequences, NM, area moving some beehives. It's lonely in the desert at night. You can freeze to death out there if you're dumb enough. The winter stars are so close, they glue themselves to your eyelids. Coyotes cry inside your skin and won't let you go. Our bodies picked up on these subliminal vibrations as we loaded the hives into the truck during the last fading rays of twilight, and now even the lull of the truck and the warmth of the heater weren't enough to overcome the message the penetrating stillness had programmed into those hungry centers at the centers of us that cried, "Fill me! And only a burrito will do! Hot! And with fries!" (Or in my case, onion rings.) So we decided to stop at Ray's Drive-In in T or C on our way home for a couple of burritos to fill our guts with something thick and hot to drive away the chill from our souls.
There we were, sitting in Ray's parking lot, chomping down on our burritos and talking about typical, or in Bob's case, not-so-typical topics like God and prayer and prayers being answered, when all of a sudden, with impeccably melodramatic timing, came a rap-rap-rapping on the window beside me. I turned, rolled down the window, and looked into the tired blue eyes of a man not too old but already gray by now, a man accustomed to the down side of life, a man just getting through his life the best way he knew how. I instantly knew that he was going to hit me up for money.
His spiel was straight and direct. He told me that he needed a couple of dollars to buy a little bottle of whiskey to get him through the night and would I be interested in buying a can of tuna and a can of Vienna sausage from him for two dollars?
I was impressed by his honesty and directness. And yeah, I could relate to where he was coming from, having been in my version of the similar predicament earlier in my life: Sometimes life seems very, very hard and sometimes only the sweet oblivion of unconsciousness will do. So I instantly seized my opportunity to bestow a little blessing upon him. Not just any blessing, mind you, but that one special blessing that would send him onward along life's highway with a smile in his heart and whiskey breath on his lips.
"Tell ya what I'm gonna do, brother," I told him theatrically. "I'm gonna give you two dollars! What do you think about that?" Let me tell ya, his mind just blew as I pressed two dollar bills into his palm!
You could sure tell that he wasn't used to having his prayers answered so directly like that! You should have seen the expression on his face! His jaw dropped and he just couldn't get it back up! He was a sight to see.
Then he started talking about the Baptists. (This being a Wednesday night, they were having their prayer meeting right across the street at that very moment.) "I just came from there," he said, gesturing to the church. "The Baptists are always saying, ‘Jesus did this, Jesus did that, Jesus said this, Jesus said that.'"
"Yeah, but how about now?" I said, completing his thought for him.
"Yeah, how about now!" he agreed. Then he said, "The people in heaven must be like you."
"Yep!" I agreed, having learned years ago to instantly accept all honest compliments.
After attempting to get me to at least take the can of tuna, he thanked me one last time and went on his merry-enough way, heading for the nearest liquor store at full warp speed.
Bob and I looked at each other with amazement. "Wow, we were just talking about prayers being answered and stuff like that, and look at what just happened: I answered this guy's prayer," I observed with evident amazement.
"I think you just passed a test," Bob said.
It sure seemed that way. There was a particular vibration in the air.
2. The Gift Returns
After finishing our burritos, we drove six blocks to the Marshall Bath House to deliver 36 quarts of honey to a man who had called me unexpectedly several days before. Belching occasional burrito belches, Bob and I continued to discuss the "answered prayer" incident, bringing in related topics like gifts and blessings and good karma. We pulled up at the bath house and this bright-eyed old coot opened the door and stepped outside almost before I got the truck stopped.
Bob and I got out, introduced ourselves, and loaded the honey into the man's truck. "I'm giving all this honey to the Indians," the old man said.
GIVING all this honey to the Indians? Well, you could have knocked us down with a feather! Because Bob and I had just been talking, not only about gifts and blessings and good karma, but about how God can tailor-make any conceivable situation right there on the spot to teach us just the exact right lesson that we need to learn at that exact precise point in our lives. It's downright uncanny, is what it is, and now here was a blatant example of just such a lesson being played out before our very eyes in "real time mode," and we knew it while it was happening!
Then the old man and I went inside, leaving Bob alone with a cigarette.
"It's good that there are people like you doing things like giving honey to the Indians," I gushed, reinforcing him to the max. Being a capitalist, I hastened to continue, "It works out to $108, but you can have it for a flat $100." Such a deal! Not only was I giving him a good-karma discount, but I wasn't charging him for delivery! Lucky for him I had been needing to come to T or C anyway to move those hives.
Then the old codger and I flowed in deep tandem powerglide together for a few minutes as he waxed philosophical about love and marriage, and made some interesting but not necessarily accurate observations about my second ex-wife, who was quite a personage in T or C, being town librarian and all. But then the conversation quickly waned as he crashed into the shallows of superficiality and convention, and I lost interest.
"It's a long drive back," I said.
"It sure is," he agreed.
Bob and I got back in the truck and started to leave. When we were already well-nigh underway, the old geezer yelled out the door for me to stop, so I aborted my motion-initiation sequence and switched to "standby" mode as he came out the door with a bag in his hand.
"Would you like some walnuts?" he asked.
"You bet!" I replied, and at that moment I realized that my $2 gift to the wino at Ray's Drive-In had already come full circle.
P.S. It was a lot more than $2 worth of walnuts.
Moral: God doesn't keep count.
Gordon Solberg is a beekeeper who has lived on the bank
of the Rio Grande near Radium Springs since 1973.