Just before Christmas, a few years ago, my brother, Tommy, and Thelma, his wife, were sitting around the supper table when they heard a knock on the front door. Most people just come on in, so the fact that the visitor didn’t meant that it was something out of the ordinary. When he got to the door he saw the familiar face of a distant cousin of who lived in a mobile home down the road. He had come to tell Tommy that his refrigerator had gone out, and that since it was the middle of the month, two weeks before his next check would come, he had no way to get it fixed.
He generally works free of charge, always offering his labor, and usually the appliances as well unless it is something that he has to order from a shop or factory. Even then he sometimes absorbs the cost for those he feels are unable to come up with the money. In a given year as many as a hundred refrigerators, water heaters, ranges, washers and dryers will either get his attention or pass through his hands.
So the visitor at the door that evening had come there not just because he needed help, but also because he knew he had no way to pay for it.
“Wait just a minute,” Tommy told him. “Go on home and I’ll be there in a little while to check it out.”
And so he did. Within less than an hour he had determined that the compressor on the refrigerator had gone bad and would have to be replaced. Then, the very next morning, he drove into town and found a replacement for it that cost almost a hundred dollars. A little after noon, the part had been replaced and the refrigerator was back up and running.
As Tommy shoved the appliance back in its corner and reassembled his tools, he explained to our cousin what the repair part had cost, but that his labor was free. With some embarrassed hesitation the man apologized that he really appreciated the work, but that he just didn’t have the money to pay for it now, and might not for quite a while to come.
“Its Christmas,” he explained, “and we’ve spent every cent we’ve got and run in debt for a whole lot more, just trying to get something for our grand youngerns. I don’t know when we’ll get that kind of money again.”
Tommy had anticipated the situation and immediately responded to calm his anxiety. “Don’t you worry,” he said, “you just consider that compressor my Christmas present to you and your family, and you crowd have a Merry Christmas!”
Our cousin was so moved by Tommy’s generosity that his eyes began to moisten and his hands began to tremble as he grabbed my brother by the shoulders and gave him a giant hug. Then, looking towards his wife who was seated in the corner, dipping a stick into a can of smokeless tobacco, he spoke as if to give her an order.
Calling her by name he demanded, “Spit that snuff out of your mouth and come over here and give Tommy a kiss!”
Before she could, Tommy had closed the door behind him.