Earlier this Fall we decided it was time to sell some of the toys the boys, now 23 and 15, had accumulated over their childhoods. There were too many trucks, action figures and games which were no longer needed or useful (this does not include Lego, wooden train sets, wooden castle blocks from Germany or Spiderman toys). The yard sale, such as it was, was a bust, if, that is, you were hoping to make a lot of cash – we made $23.00, which we used to buy pizza that night. On the other hand, it was a great success in a couple of other ways. A lot of little kids came out of the deal with some cheap toys- or free, my boys are kind - and the “blue room,” as we call it, gained a lot of space for activities (please see the movie Stepbrothers for the “activities” reference. Be aware, there is some coarse language in the clip.) The greatest success, though, came due to the apple tree, which is, I have determined, a Haralson tree. This year was by far the best year for apples and I am not certain why that was the case, but it was not just that the apples were numerous, but they were not worm eaten, or rotten, or malformed. The apples looked beautiful this year. More than that, they tasted delicious: juicy, crisp, sweet and tart.
We had been picking apples for over a week when we had the yard sale and we ultimately had picked about seven 5 gallon tubs full of apples. I made gallons of apple cider, and my wife made apple sauce and other baked goods, while we were also eating the apples as snacks and putting them in lunches. There were still a number of apples on the tree, though, when the children from across the street came over to look at toys and mill about. They wondered if they could have an apple, so I picked them some apples. They sat eating their first apples, then second and third, singing the praises of the apples, until one of the girls exclaimed, “these apples are heavenly!” The joy these children had sitting there eating apples was a reminder of what true joy is, in its simplicity and availability to all of us.
Later on, a couple of young mothers with a gaggle of children spotted the sale and soon two strollers with mothers behind them and a group of children were bouncing toward the yard. There was also a grandmother with them, but she did not speak English. The kids were all over the toys, trying to figure out what to get, and they soon came away happily with little toys and trinkets. The grandmother, however, had been picking up windfall apples and she motioned to her daughter to ask whether this was okay. I said it was certainly fine, but that the windfall on the ground was probably “squirrel fall”; the squirrels will nibble at the apples and then let them drop, at which time rabbits will continue to eat at them, if the dog does not get them first. I asked my son to go to the back and fill up a bag with good apples for the grandmother, for we had tubs full of them. She took them gratefully and thankfully.
What made an impression on me, though, was the grandmother’s desire not to waste food, to make use of everything available. I do not think her willingness to pick up the apples off the ground was due to poverty, but due to gratitude for the food that has been given to us. I drive by so many homes with trees laden with all sorts of fruit, which is left to drop and rot. It is, perhaps, a minor concern or issue in the big scheme of worldwide commerce and economics, but it points to an attitude in our world and our place in it. It is a way of saying I am entitled to more, that is not good enough, I want better and I can afford to waste. I want more, I deserve more.
It is reminiscent of St. Augustine the adolescent troublemaker when, with his crew – I believe that is the technical term he uses in Book II of Confessions– he stole pears just to do something bad, just to feel the thrill, just to belong with his friends. They did not need the pears – Augustine says he had better ones at home – so they threw them at some pigs and went away. This is the sort of callous disregard for God’s creation and the things we have been given that allow us to treat things and others with disdain and howl for more and more, what we deserve and what we are entitled to have.
But the Psalmist knows that all of creation belongs to God and we need to delight in the sharing of this goodness and be thankful for all that we have been given:
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100)
Gratitude is what motivates proper use of all that is given to us to use and thanksgiving is what allows us to be appreciative for all that we have and have been given by God. With apologies to Justin Timberlake, what we need to bring back is not sexy, but gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving!
John W. Martens
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