Friday, February 10, 2017

"I Brought Candy For The Kids!"

Our playground is built on a long slope along the side of the Fremont Baptist Church from whom we lease our space. The church offices are located above the playground, accessible via a boardwalk walkway, so we have a view of everyone who is coming and going. We see church staff and congregants, but most of the traffic on any given day is comprised of "Pastor Gay's men," our neighborhood population of people (not all men, but mostly men) living rough, stopping in to ask her for prayers, money, advice, and other sorts of help. They made us nervous when we first took up residence, and sometimes they still do, but for the most part, we've come to view them as fellow members of our community and take pride in the small part we play in the vital service of Christian love that Pastor Gay provides.

The children largely ignore them as they pass by overhead, but last week, one fellow arrived carrying five large, festively festooned cans in addition to his regular rucksack. Boy, we noticed that!

"I think that guy has candy!"

"That's a lot of candy!"

"Maybe he's bringing it to us!"


The cans were indeed decorated as if they contained sweets of some kind, but I figured the man was just using them to carry some of his belongings or something. I joined the kids in their game, enthusing about this magical man with buckets of candy. It crossed my mind to trot out the stranger danger warning from my own childhood -- "Don't take candy from strangers" -- but bit my tongue, especially since he was ignoring us. If he heard the kids' remarking on his haul, he didn't let on, passing into Pastor Gay's office and, in turn, out of our imaginations.

Shortly thereafter, the man emerged from the offices no longer carrying his cans, which rendered him once more invisible to the kids. I was standing near the walkway. As he passed, he leaned over the railing, spread his arms, and said, "I brought candy for the kids!" I answered, "Really? Thank you." Then he said it again, "I brought candy for the kids!" There was joy in his expression.

Later, when I spoke with Pastor Gay, I learned that they were, in fact, unopened supplies of caramel popcorn and maple candies, and that the man had claimed them at a food bank, thought of us, and dropped them by. The pastor and I agreed that there were more deserving places for these treats to go, but I asked her for the cans when they were empty.

As I've reflected on this, I'm reminded of an incident from a couple years ago, when a rough-looking guy who I'm now pretty sure was the same man as the one last week, approached me as I watched the kids from outside the playground fence, "Do you want some more toy trucks?" I replied, "Sure, we can always use more toy trucks," a response I meant as breezy, friendly conversation, not expecting anything to come of it. After all, how could this guy, a man living on the streets, come up with toy trucks?

The following morning there were a half dozen metal, gently-use construction vehicles on the playground. Of course, I worried they had been stolen from a neighbor's garage. Later that day the man showed up again. I said, "Are those new trucks from you?" He proudly said they were. I tried to not sound accusatory when I asked, "Where did you get them?" He answered, "Up the street," then I think he realized what I was asking. "I didn't steal them or nothin'. There was a sign that said "free."

I thanked him, then he asked, "Can I watch them play a bit? I'll stay right here." I stood with him as we watched the kids enthusiastically embrace their exciting new toys. He watched and nodded. If he wasn't the same man as the one last week, the joy in his expression was. Then he said, "I guess I'll be on my way." 

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