It's the holidays, which means we pay special attention to charity and indulge in goodwill. We're faced with our own good fortune and must reckon with others' lack of it.
This memory is just that: my adolescent realization that our family of five, plus a Golden Retriever, squeezed into a tight three-bedroom ranch, had it better than most.
But the meaning I take away is deeper.
There's really no reason for this story to appear in a holiday guide, except that it happened around Christmastime. I have similar memories in every season, as do my brothers, of our parents helping those less fortunate. This memory, and others like it, are constant reminders that we should do good always, and that I continue to fall short.
I was 11 or 12 and living in St. Louis, where I grew up. In the week before Christmas, my dad and I went to the Shop 'n Save down the road — sent to get eggnog and rent a movie for the family to watch.
A man with chapped lips and a coat that was too big for him stalked through the dark parking lot as we walked inside. Head down and hands clasped, he approached shoppers on their way out. I couldn't hear exactly what he said, but my father and I both took notice.
We purchased more than what we came for, and walked out with bags bulging with food. I looked, but the man had disappeared. My dad's old pickup rumbled to life, and we rolled slowly up and down each parking lot aisle. Finally he appeared.
The man was standing between two cars. I assumed he was hiding from the biting wind. My dad rolled down the window.
"Are you hungry?" he asked.
Head still bowed, the man answered: "Yes, sir."
I reached in back to find something we could spare.
"Meet me at the cafe across the street," my dad told him.
We pulled up to the Corner Coffee House — where it had become a tradition for us to meet each year with family and friends to exchange presents and drink milkshakes.
That night, the man ordered a turkey sandwich and a Diet Coke. He told my dad that he couldn't go home because of a spat he'd gotten into with a family member who then threw him out of the house. So that night, he ate alone.
I don't remember the movie we watched, or anything else after we arrived back home. I've since wondered what happened to the man — if he stayed warm. If he ever went back home.
Each time this memory jumps into my head, I wonder the same, and I'm reminded to do good, always. ♦
Mitch Ryals is an Inlander news writer who moved to Spokane two years ago from his hometown of St. Louis. He returns every year to spend Christmas with family and friends.