Since today is Easter, I find myself thinking of another Easter Sunday I experienced 46 years ago in the spring of 1975.
I honestly can’t remember a lot of the details to it. But I was a freshman at Virginia Tech and did not have a car. This meant on holidays if you wanted to go home, you needed to hitch a ride with someone, because there was no cost-effective way to go from Blacksburg to Norfolk. Easter fell outside the spring break that year, so it was really just a 3-day weekend, and I decided to remain on campus.
Whether it was Blacksburg, Norfolk or New York City didn’t really matter in terms of what to do that Sunday morning. It was still Easter, so I got up and went with a friend to a local church. Not surprisingly, it was crowded the way Christmas and Easter always are, and being college kids, we dutifully pursued and found seats just about as far in the back as possible. No need getting too far up front and risk having people you’d never met come up to you and try to start a conversation.
But as the service concluded, that strategy failed. A nice woman asked the two of us what we were doing for Easter lunch, and rather than say “going back to the dorm, eating mystery meat at the dining hall and then taking a 3-hour nap” I just said “I’m not sure.”
She, however, WAS sure about what we would be doing.
She invited my friend and I to join their family for lunch at their nearby home. At first I wasn’t sure, but then I realized it was a church, and if she was going to rob us, she’d have waited until we were out in the parking lot. So I said yes, and we ended up being treated to one of the great meals of my life. All the vegetables tasted incredibly fresh and were superbly prepared.
At one point I must have looked like a real yahoo, because when tasting the mashed potatoes I said out loud “these are so good, they taste like real potatoes” while they all looked at me like I had grown a third eye. Let me confess right now that I was raised a city boy by a Dad who could cook Italian as well as anyone, and a mom who couldn’t cook her way out of a paper bag.
She handled the meals that were not Italian and they were rough. Because of her technique, I lived my entire life up to that point only eating mashed potatoes that came out of a big blue box. She’d buy these large cardboard containers of flakes at the commissary on the Navy base, boil some water and mix them up. That was the only way I knew them, and it never occurred to me someone peeled potatoes, cooked them, then mashed them while adding milk and butter.
It’s kind of like if you’re not Italian, you may have grown up in the 60’s thinking ravioli out of a can with a cheesy looking guy from Italy in a chef’s hat on the label was how it tasted to everyone. I know the first time my wife consumed my Italian cooking, her reaction was similar to mine with the mashed potatoes.
We all laughed about it and swapped stories about growing up in different environments and different parts of the state. Nobody tried to convince anyone about anything, and we just told stories and learned from each other. Other than our faith, we had nothing in common. They were just a family helping out two college kids, and the college kids had an unexpectedly wonderful afternoon.
After the meal, we went back to the dorm and I pursued that 3-hour nap. We returned to a routine of going to Sunday services on campus, so we never went back to that church and never saw that family again. I couldn’t tell you their names if my life depended on it.
But the memory of their kindness will stay with me forever. They showed me that day that you can talk about your faith all day long and probably none of those words will ever be remembered. Or you could put that faith into action by reaching out and helping someone…and 46 years later it just might still serve as a shining example of the right thing to do.
So if I could, I’d invite every one one of you over to my house for a meal that won’t have ANY mashed potatoes in it, but will still impress you enough so you leave for home with a smile on your face.
Since I can’t, I’ll just leave you with this memory. And pray one day we can all get back to showing each other the same type of kindness that I received on an Easter Sunday long ago.
Happy Easter, everyone.