Sun is shining through the windows of my office, making the butter yellow paint on the walls seem to smile. Something about the light and the color takes me back 15 years to a significant happening I’ll never forget.
It was a June day. The day that the yard sale of the century was held in my back yard in Salem, Oregon. A number of us joined efforts to hold a one-day extravaganza to rid ourselves of all our extra stuff! The weather was perfect, the dickering invigorating, and the experience of a collaborative sale a sheer delight.
By 3 o’clock in the afternoon, despite the fact that lots and lots of stuff had sold, there was still plenty of stuff on hand. So we regrouped and decided to offer all that remained for free. We wanted it gone!
Word spread like wildfire through the neighborhood and beyond. Soon the back yard was jammed with people . . . elbowing each other, diving to be first, wild-eyed and hunkered down, stuffing their bags until those bags burst.
Four Hispanic men walked cautiously into the melee. One approached me holding a man’s hat and spoke softly, “How much?” I smiled. “It’s free. Everything is free! Take whatever you want.” His forehead furrowed and he paused. Slowly, with increased volume, he repeated, “How much?” I took the hat, put it in a bag and placed it back in his hands. “Nada!” (My Spanish is VERY limited!) “Everything is free. This is yours!”
Reunited with his companions, he seemed perplexed. They spoke with heads together, then turned to look at me with questioning eyes. He approached next with a tea pot. “How much?” Placing it in a bag, I smiled and gently said. “Nothing. Nada. Everything is free. Please. Take what you need.” He walked away, shaking his head and gesturing his bewilderment to his companions. This process continued with several well-considered items until one man’s eyes fell on the bike with training wheels that my daughter had long since outgrown. He pointed and looked at me. I walked the bike over to him. “You have a bambina?” I smiled, and held my hand to measure the height of a small girl. “Si,” he responded proudly. “For your bambina.” I gently pushed the handlebars toward one of his hands and placed the matching bright pink bike helmet in the other. “Please, take it. For your little girl.”
The four amigos paused at the gate for a long time, with worried faces, speaking softly. They were clearly hesitant to leave the yard, not knowing if this pale, strawberry blonde American woman with the suspiciously ceaseless smile was (a) loco, or (b) setting them up to be arrested for stealing, or (c) actually GIVING all these things to them without expecting money in return.
Finally the designated spokesman came back and spoke imploringly, “How much do we pay you?”
Realizing they were afraid to leave without a financial exchange of some kind, I quickly wrote a pseudo-receipt on a piece of scratch paper listing what they had chosen, signified “Paid in Full,” then signed my name.
“Gracias” they each repeated, tentatively shaking my hand. As they walked down the sidewalk, they glanced around nervously to be sure they were doing the right thing. I waved and called, “Adios.” The satisfaction I felt was indescribable.
At sunset a sound came from my front porch. Opening the door, I saw a sight that brought tears to my eyes. There sat a cardboard box filled with a 2-pound brick of Colby cheese, a package of flour tortillas, a bag of corn chips, two pomegranates, and a child’s drawing of a pink bicycle with careful letters that read: “Muchas gracias.”
True generosity returned from grateful hearts. I was overwhelmed with emotion. To this day, I still am. And so I continue to reflect on it some 15 years later. In gratitude, I ponder it still.
Carolyn, the writer of this particular touching story recently suffered a devastating house fire that destroyed almost all her belongings. PLEASE read what happened HERE.