Books before food (and any sort of comfortable life).
Our spotless, white van pulled up into the convenience store parking lot, the light of the sun glaring off of the dashboard and all the shiny silver ornaments. It was the beginning of December, around the time when my mom gets the gambling fever. I could never figure out if it was the growing coldness or her endless boredom that made her go into such a frenzy every year, but when she got it, it could sometimes get on my last nerve.
“I’ll be right back, Jenna. I just want to pick up a few things.”
And a few scratch-off tickets, I thought to myself. I sighed and pulled out my brand new iPhone to text back my friend whom I was talking to. As I was done, I placed my phone back onto my lap and looked up to see a man carrying over a dozen sacks of green onions. His clothes were tattered and torn and he had a scraggly beard full of wiry hair. There was a dirty beanie on his head and it was obvious that he had not showered in days or maybe even weeks. I watched this man curiously; after all, I wasn’t sure what he was doing.
A man in a long truck pulled alongside our van’s left and a young man got out. Immediately, the man with the onions walked up to the man from the truck and asked him if he would like to buy some. The man politely declined, but it was apparent that he was uncomfortable talking to such a disheveled man. A few seconds later, a couple came out of the convenience store and again the man asked if they would like to buy his green onions. They too declined, along with some snickering teenagers and an annoyed woman.
The man looked down at his onions and then up at the lucid blue sky. When he brought his eyes back down, they met with mine, and in them was a deep sadness. I smiled at him and he smiled back, genuine warmth in his grin. At that time my mom came out of the store, and yet again, the man approached another potential customer, but was again rejected. My mom got into the van, the onion man standing by her door. As he started to walk away, my mom pulled out a crisp twenty-dollar bill from her wallet and rolled down the window to get his attention. He came back to the driver’s window and she placed the money in his hand, but still rejected his onions when he offered them to her.
“Are you sure you don’t want any? Maybe to cook with or to decorate a dish? I can’t take your money if you won’t take anything in return.” He put his hand back up to the window to hand the money back but again she rejected him and insisted he take it. He looked down at the money like it was fool’s gold and he couldn’t believe it was really in his hands.
“Ma’am, I don’t think you can understand what this means to me. I was laid off of my job almost a year ago and I have no family. I’ve lost my house and everything I owned except for the clothes on my back and the hole-ridden tent I sleep in at night. I’ve been trying to make money by selling these onions, but no one seems to want these damn things.” He chuckled lightly and smiled a rather nice and hearty smile. “May I shake your hand? Please, that’s all I ask that you take.” My mom put out her hand and he clasped it in his, tears forming in his eyes. He reached for my hand, which I gave him also, and by that time the tears had rolled down his cheeks, revealing the skin underneath his dirty face. “God bless you and your family. And may you have a wonderful Christmas.”
I never saw the onion man again after that. My mom says that God sends down an angel at some point in our lives to test our kindness and generosity. That year she also said that maybe God happens to like green onions.