In this Short Story a man teaches his children that asking for something of others when we are in need can be creating an opportunity for others to open the tap of their love and generosity as they in turn choose to give. Sharing a need, and then selfless giving to that need is a core component of the Christian message.
Following a bank forfeiture of the peoples’ accounts, one family experiencing tough times chooses to seek assistance from a neighbour. Initiated by his children following a chance remark the week before, one man braves the ostracism of others and the ire of his wife for seeking help. One neighbourly good deed multiplies throughout a community and helps them to establish closer relationships.
The trigger for these happy events is an empty freezer, and for this family, this comes to symbolise the act of selfless giving when there is need.
The blood curdling scream from the laundry set the hair on the man’s neck on edge. He jumped up and spun around to find out what his wife’s call was about. Obviously something very serious had just happened!
As he raced past the kids, he heard the older boy say mocking to the girl . . . “Mum!” and her disinterested reply, “Yeah!”
“The freezer is empty!” she explained when re rounded the corner. To have an empty freezer was a very serious situation nowadays – especially since the day that the banks had frozen everybody’s accounts.
He worked hard on the computer at home, trying to make ends meet, and to be a good husband and Dad – no, a ‘great’ husband and Dad. That’s why he was always around home. It meant that there wasn’t a serious income like all the rest of the families in the street, but they had a great lifestyle and seemed to get by nonetheless . . . until tonight it seemed.
It was Friday night, and the empty freezer meant that they would be going hungry until Monday when he could do some business to get more food for his family. She knew it, thus her scream. He knew it too and he was worried now along with her.
How could this have happened? Surely there must have been a burglary, but why only take the food in the freezer? Why not the TVs or computers? Plus he was home most of the day and it would be hard to get in and out with the food and not be seen.
His wife was really upset and needed consoling. He came up to her, and tried to placate her. He gave her a big long hug as she let her frustrations out. Why didn’t he have a proper job? Why were they always on the bones of their bums with old cars and an old house when everybody had flash new ones. Yes, she knew that they owned everything they had and the others had huge debts and mortgages but their lifestyles seemed so much more attractive than theirs. She knew that they never saw their spouses except briefly (if they were lucky) when they came home from work, and she was always around her man but it hurt so deeply when the freezer was empty at the start of a weekend.
Her husband kept his silence as she let it all out. He understood that this was what she needed, and just held her and kept on hugging her.
He too tried to work out what had happened. He was sure that they had enough food in the freezer the night before, like his wife was. He was thinking back to one night about a week ago when he had jokingly said that if the freezer was ever empty then he’d take them all next door for food!
Oh, she didn’t like that idea in the slightest, did she? “You’ll be begging from the neighbours over my dead body!” she had made it very clear at the time. He was just staring into space in the laundry when he noticed a puddle of water on the floor. Under a cardboard box that had been there quite a while, with a few plastic bags and towels inside, he could see the corner of a plastic bag, condensation had formed and was leaking out. Not a lot, but just enough that he could see what it was – defrosting frozen food.
His mind went back again to the week before . . . “If the freezer was ever empty . . . ”
The children? Where were they? They were quite nonchalant about their mother’s scream too, when he came to think about it. Hmmm . . . maybe the kids had tried something on?
“Leave it with me dear!” he said eventually . . . and slipped back into the living room. The children never looked up at him and then when they thought he wasn’t looking, they caught each others’ eye and smiled. He knew it now. He knew it all.
He pocketed his cell phone, slipped outside and made a call. Again, from the corner of his eye he could see the curtains move. Yes, the kids were watching him all right!
When he returned to his computer he played a little game with the two sets of little eyes he could feel drilling into the back of his head. He said nothing . . . for a long time. He watched the kids looking at each other and whispering and then get sadder and sadder as they thought that their plan wasn’t going to work.
Eventually, pretending that everything was perfectly normal, he called his children to him and asked them to pop next door and see if it would be OK if they came to dinner with their neighbours that night. This was an exceedingly rare event. It was a treat that they could only remember happening once, but it was something the kids had always talked about.
That time, their neighbour had cooked so much food they could hardly eat it and she had the works – roast pork (the boy’s favourite), cakes (Mum’s favourite), Pavlova (his favourite) and jelly & ice cream (the girl’s favourite) for desert.
His kids didn’t bat an eyelid when he made the request. “OK, Dad!” the boy said simply, and “If you wish!” his sister replied. Something was definitely up if they pretended not to be excited about eating at their neighbour’s place!
Through the window he could see his children race next door and pound on the neighbour’s front door. They went inside and a long time later they came back all excited that they were all going to be having dinner with the neighbour!
“What’s this?” The mother went poplexic with rage. “You what? You went next door and asked if we could have dinner there? Have you no self-respect? Hasn’t what your Dad and I been teaching you sunk in at all. We ALWAYS pay our own way – always and we NEVER beg, from anybody, ever!” she let the kids have it with both barrels.
“But Mum; Dad was the one who told us to go and ask her!” they explained.
She spun her head around and glared at the culprit but he just winked and smiled at her.
The kids watched their parents and chuckled themselves. They knew that whenever their mother got into a hissy fit it just made their father act funny. He’d laugh and play tricks and before long they’d all be rolling on the floor saying or doing stupid things like having a pretend boxing match, or like now, having a pillow fight.
The father slipped out shortly afterwards while they were cleaning up the feathers and made another secretive call.
Not too much later, their doorbell rang and it was the neighbour. The two ladies chatted for ages and then left together. Mum was going over to the neighbour’s house, “Just to keep her company” and all would be fine, Dad said.
Something special happened that weekend. Nobody knows who started it or how it grew, but it seemed that everyone was trying to help everyone else out. Normally people would be stuck in their own homes and hardly ever entered another house on the street, but news of a party seemed to spread and the event of Friday night rolled into a breakfast on Saturday at one house; lunch at another, and dinner at even another. The same thing happened on Sunday and they were all exhausted at the end of a very strange weekend.
“You know Dad . . . since the banks stole everyone’s money it’s like we’ve got so many new friends!” his oldest child observed.
“And it’s like it all started with an empty freezer!” his daughter chipped in.
“Yes, and I wonder where that food went to last week? I hope it went to a good home! the father said.
The children stopped and looked at each other. He could see them debating with their eyes whether or not they should confess to hiding the frozen food but he could see that it was too hard for them. He put them out of their misery and confessed. “I know!” he said. “I know where the food went and who took it out of the freezer.”
The all went to the laundry and lifted the things that the children had hidden the frozen food under. It had all defrosted as they’d all forgotten about it in the events of the crazy weekend. They looked at it all melted but still edible.
“We can’t eat all of that!” his daughter said.
“And we can’t refreeze it now either!” his son added.
The father remained silent, looking on at the defrosted food.
“So there it is!” came a voice from the doorway.
“Oh no! Now Mum knows what happened too. We’re going to be in real trouble now . . .”
“Why don’t you take it around and give it all away to our new friends?” the mother suggested. Our freezer is so full of leftovers that we won’t need anything for a week!
The stories and events that came from that weekend rolled on, day after day and week after week. If ever the father felt that he needed to kick things along a little, he’d wait until Thursday night and let it be known that there was a potential new friend in the street, and that if the freezer was empty . . .
“Dad, would you like me to take something down to the new people tomorrow?” his son was always the first to volunteer for such a mission.
“Don’t you teach our children to beg now!” his wife could be heard preaching from the distance.
“Yes, that would be a great idea and an empty freezer is always the start of something good isn’t it?” the father would muse. If you ‘listened’ carefully you could probably ‘hear’ his wife rolling her eyes and another adventure would start.