Thursday, December 14, 2017

Entertaining Angels Unawares... A Christmas Story

 It was late December and our children were still little so naturally we were broke. Christmas was coming and although we were not extravagant, we still provided special food and thoughtful gifts for all eight of them. We were entering the on ramp on I-40 to drive home from a grocery excursion and saw an elderly gentleman standing on the side of the hi-way, leaning on a wooden crutch. He was about 75 with a stubble of beard, dressed in ragged clothing, wearing an old gray hat. His belongings were in a small stained bag, and he had an old woolen blanket pulled tightly about him. I felt sudden sadness upon seeing him and asked Michael if we should stop. He said no because we had three of the children with us and he would have to squeeze him in the backseat with them. He said that surely someone would pick the old gent up for me not to worry. And yet both of us felt a nagging sadness at the old man’s plight.

The following morning we realized we had forgotten some necessary items and again made the twenty mile run to the adjacent town. It was overcast, drizzling and a very cold blasting North wind made conditions miserable. As we drove I asked Michael if he thought someone had picked up the old man. He promised me that surely someone had. We bought the last of our necessities and had only forty dollars left as we entered the on ramp.

Sweet Jesus, he was still there! How could he still be there? We stopped just beyond the old man and Michael got out of the car to help him to his seat. He settled in and I turned the heater to warp while he began thanking us. He said he was trying to make it the Indian Pueblos in New Mexico where he knew he could stay for the winter. He was Canadian and had served in WWI for the US but had been denied benefits due to his citizenship status. He had fallen on hard times and just needed a bus ticket to get on his way but could find no help in getting one. He had been standing on the side of the road for many days.

Michael suggested that we take him 15 miles to the Travel Plaza where all of the truckers stopped for gas and that perhaps he could find a ride from someone there. He gratefully accepted the idea and said he was warming up a bit. Michael stopped at the plaza and pressed our last forty dollars into the gentleman’s hand as he helped him into the building.

As we drove away we kept feeling a nagging worry and so after unloading our bundles, we drove the seven miles back to the plaza to check on him to see if he had gotten a ride. Our inquiries were met with puzzled looks for no one knew what we were talking about. No one had seen him... not the people Michael had nodded to as he opened the door, not gas attendants nor any the truckers. Only we had seen him and I have often wondered if he was there as a holy test for us... a test of our humanity, our faith, and to show our children by example how to generously love.

As this recession deepens, let us remember that many times our sense of compassion, our sense of brotherhood and our ability to unconditionally share with those less fortunate than ourselves may be tested.

And let us remember:
‘Forget not to show love unto strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares‘. Hebrews 13:2

Monday, December 11, 2017

Glorious Grapefruit

Grapefruit growing in clusters like grapes!

With the arrival of Christmas just days away, the historical significance of fresh fruit cannot be underscored. Common in tropical climates, citrus fruit was rare and exotic in the twentieth century, and often children wished only for an orange for Christmas. By the 1950’s gift boxes of fruit and nuts were a special and much appreciated gift and are still presented to business acquaintances.   

Among the most popular citrus fruits is the grapefruit which has an interesting past. An ancestor of the grapefruit, the pomelo (Citrus maxima, or Citrus grandis) originated in Asia where it was discovered by Captain Shattuck of the East India Company. He took seeds from his travels to Barbados and planted them in 1696. It is one of the four original citrus species and the grapefruit as we know it is love the child of a polemo and a sweet orange.  Unnamed for several centuries, it was eventually called grapefruit for its unusual habit of growing in clusters as do grapes.

The grapefruit was originally called ‘forbidden fruit’ and was first documented by Rev. Griffith Hughes in 1750. In his book entitled ‘The Natural History of Barbados’ he lists it as one of the seven wonders found on the Island.

The fruit was brought to Florida in 1842 by Count Odet Phillipe, a settler of French descent who also introduced cigar making to what is now the Tampa Bay area. The climate was perfect for growing citrus and the Count was later joined by Kimball Chase Atwood who founded the Atwood Grapefruit Company in the 1890’s. The largest grapefruit company in the world, the Atwood Company produced 80,000 boxes of fruit annually and discovered the pink grapefruit in 1906.

In the early nineteen hundreds the fruit became so universally popular that silver companies began producing grapefruit spoons, which are tapered to allow the bowl to slip easily into the segments of fruit which surround the cored center.

A spectacular Christmas dessert is broiled grapefruit. For the dessert, cut the fruit in half, core and cut 2/3 around each segment leaving 1/3 intact to secure the others. Douse it with a smattering of Cointreau (an orange flavored liqueur), sprinkle with brown sugar, place a scarlet maraschino cherry in the center and broil until the brown sugar bubbles. It is an elegant show stopping finale!

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Christmas Tree


 The lovely evergreens have begun their seasonal show and it is always impressive that they chose winter, as the world is encased in frosty slumber, to appear their finest. Bearing fruit or berries despite the cold of winter, they have always been considered quite remarkable and were an important aspect of ancient pagan rituals.

The Romans considered evergreens symbols of fertility and used them to trim their homes for the New Year while northern Europeans hung them over doors to ward off evil spirits that were believed to stalk the winter landscape. German and Scandinavian people had long made evergreen wreaths to celebrate the Winter Solstice and over time were included in their celebrations of the birth of Jesus.

It is said that Martin Luther began the German tradition of decorating trees. In about 1500 as he was walking through a snow covered forest, he was struck by the beauty of dusted evergreens shimmering in the moonlight. So enamored was he by the natural beauty that he placed a tree inside for his children, decorated with lit candles symbolizing the starry sky and honoring Christ's birth. Following this tradition, the church began to include a tree for Christmas and by the mid-1600’s it was decorated with apples to symbolize Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden.

About this time German Christians began bringing trees into their homes and soon they began to decorate them. Their tradition arrived with Hessian immigrants to the colonies and overcame the austere (and unpopular) Puritan belief that ‘all work and no play’ included banning Christmas celebrations.

In 1832 Charles Follen, a German immigrant and professor at Harvard, decorated the first American Christmas tree to share with his family and friends. And in 1846, a young German Prince Albert presented his new bride Victoria with her first tree and thus the English Victorian Christmas was born. Word of decorated Christmas trees spread rapidly and was embraced by almost all Christian cultures; it remains today a universal symbol of the holiday season.