I have a long history of eating lunch on Carnation Street. When I was a boy, too young for school, my mother would put me and my brother in the old Malibu station wagon and take us to eat lunch with our father. He worked at JESCO Inc., then, before it moved.
At noon dad would emerge from the metal building, his soldier’s cap turned backward to accommodate his welding shield. We’d all sit in the car eating bologna or Vienna – pronounced like “hyena” – sausage and listening to Paul Harvey.
Tuesday I dropped by the Salvation Army’s lunch line. Pizza and mashed potatoes, a great combination and if you’ve never tried it, you should.
The are few experiences like sharing a simple meal with genuinely hungry people. There’s a solemnity that presides over the table that I know must be the presence of God.
At the Salvation Army people don’t generally say much, just here and there a polite hello, or a nod of the head. There’s no hassle, no judging, no fuss.
As I plunked down with my tray a strong-looking young fellow came in carrying a backpack. He was more talkative than most, the young ones sometimes are, and he regaled the group with his tale of recently having fallen through a roof.
Like a bullpen pitcher he gingerly rotated his arm in wide circles, placing his other palm on the ball and socket as if holding it in place.
“Like to broke my arm,” he said, grimacing.
He scarfed his pizza and cupcake like a Bengal tiger, then settled in to reflect upon the dire financial climate and his precarious living conditions.
“There’s lots of furnished apartments, cheap, in the paper,” another fellow told him.
“Don’t have money for a darn paper,” the young man replied, half laughing, half snarling.
I mixed my English peas into my mashed potatoes and mopped them up with the pizza crust.
Another fellow described to me his part-time job. He unloads cases of raw, cubed rubber and sends them through a furnace to be melted and prepped.
“I get pretty dirty,” he said, adjusting the American flag do-rag on his head and sipping his iced tea.
He was watching every nickel in order to save enough gas money to drive to Fulton and see his son.
Through the serving window I saw the cooks having a good time. Black, white, male, female, jolly people who seemed genuinely to enjoy serving others.
“I used to come to this gym when I was a kid,” I said to the old black fellow sitting next to me. He grunted and adjusted his cap.
“I used to lift weights in that room where the office is now, and at the end of the evening I’d come out here and embarrass myself in a pickup game,” I said.
The old man enjoyed that last part, so I went on. “I was strong and fast but I still managed to be a terrible basketball player,” I told him.
I got self-conscious about talking too much so I waited a few minutes before adding, “And, right down the street, my father used to work as a welder, and, on special days – well, they seemed special to me – momma would bring me and my brother to eat lunch with him.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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