By Ellen Nimmo
A couple weeks ago I played a story-sharing game with my workmates. It was a simple way to break the ice and melt ourselves a little more together. The game goes like this: select a drawing and tell a story that relates to the picture.
I chose the ice cream cone. It made me think of a story from my childhood.
Our family was living in Springdale, Arkansas at the time in a slab ranch-style home that was painted white. It faced the road and across the road, a long round rail wooden fence whose boundaries lodged a herd of black beef cattle and a broad bull whose eyes never seemed to blink, but whose muscles would twitch and stir as we gawked in wonder back. The owner of a prosperous chicken empire the bull’s unequal master. In the backyard we had a marvelous treehouse which my dad built and where my brother and I spent hours sitting, devising games and telling ourselves stories.
There was a dip in the gravel driveway and if it rained enough you might have found us all outside, watching the toddler, my sister Jessie, stomping, giggling and otherwise entertaining the entire family. All she needed was a puddle to charm your pants off. Or, at least hers.
One day, my mother called me to her. In a generous tone of significance, she gave me a sum of money (the sum itself I can’t remember). She asked if I would make a run to the store and buy a few items we needed. Bread is the only item on the list I can recall, it very well might have been the only item she requested. I was elated. This was a real grown-up assignment and my mother was entrusting me not only with the money, but with the task. Excitedly, I accepted the mission.
The cash hot in my pocket, I hopped on my bike and made the ride to the store which was a few blocks away. Smirking as I peddled past the indifferent bull. Inside the store I searched and scanned the bread isle to find what looked like the brand my mother usually bought. Wouldn’t she be pleased with my attention to detail? I got the other items, if indeed there were any, and after some quick calculation realized I had money left over. Score! Now, what would impress my mother even further? Why a treat for the whole family! I scanned the store searching for the right thing. Flowers? Nah. Another loaf of bread? Boring! Candy? Too obviously selfish. Ice cream? Bingo.
I would surely be a hero of the household and not even the old bull’s icy stare could chill the joy I had as I exited the grocery store, triumphant and swinging the brown paper bag of calling.
Above and beyond the whole house would applaud, I thought. Hooray for Ellen, she brings us treats from yonder grocery isles!
Mounting my bike with one hand on the helm and one hand holding the bread and frosty treat, I galvanized and gust forth, pride making the pedals whirl. But you’ve heard that old saying? Yes, it echoes through and true. Pride comes before the fall, even when there’s ice cream involved.
First it was only the awareness that the brown paper bag was growing wet. Sweaty, that’s all it is surely. Then, even as I attempted to cradle my gotten goods, the sunshine continued its work. Drip. Drip. Drip. Splat! The gallon of sugar and cream tumbled out of the bag and onto the sidewalk, splitting open its seam and spewing its heated syrup onto my legs and arms as I tried pitifully with hot tears of frustration to salvage the spill. It was no use. By the time I reached home I was covered in sticky evidence and racked with shame.
My mother probably laughed a little, and who wouldn’t? But she also pulled me close, helped clean me up, and forgave the waste and mess. This picture of grace. This memory of trust, blunder, and unconditional love is one of the things I find myself most grateful for this Thanksgiving. It reminds me of who I am and who I want to be. It reminds me of the many moments of trust, respect, care, and grace many human beings over my life time have extended me. Friends, coworkers, community members, neighbors, and always, family. It finds me and I pray you, in a moment of gratitude for past and present alike. For mistakes and lessons and the chance to try again.
And, after all, we still had bread.
I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. -Psalm 69:30