From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Lessons My Mother Taught Me

et us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

1 John 3:18

It was Christmas time in Puerto Rico. A lady, a friend of the lady and a little girl were among the many people with a long list of gifts to buy for Three Kings Day.

They were shopping in an elegant, large mall. With life’s great irony, this luxurious building was located next to one of the island’s poorest government housing projects.

After a long, exhausting morning of gift buying, the three of them decided to get a bite to eat. They went to a small cafeteria on the first floor of the fancy mall. The very small eating place was packed with people carrying bags with assorted gifts. The lady, the friend of the lady and the little girl were standing in line choosing between empanadillas, alcapurrias, rellenos de papas and more, when they heard a sweet and shy voice. It was coming from a skinny, dirty, dark-skinned boy wearing a ragged blue shirt. He was extending his small, empty hand toward the lady. He said:

“Señora, I am hungry. Could you spare some coins so I can buy some food?”

Without a moment of hesitation, the lady looked inside her huge black purse and grabbed as many coins as she could fit in both hands. Without counting, she placed the coins in the boy’s outstretched hand. The lady always gave, so this action did not take the little girl by surprise. She was used to the lady’s acts of kindness. As the coins were being passed from the lady’s hand to the boy’s hand, the little girl continued debating to herself between having a bocadillo or a pizza empanadilla. The friend of the lady did not find the lady’s behavior as common as the little girl did. The friend of the lady called the lady foolish and naive.

“Do you really believe that the boy was hungry?” she said. “Do you really believe that right now he is spending that money on food? How can you be so trusting?”

By this time, with orange trays full of food in their hands, the lady, the friend of the lady and the little girl were trying to get through all the hungry Christmas shoppers toward the only empty table in the small cafeteria. Once they were seated, the lady turned to her friend:

“So what if he does not spend the money on food?” she said. “It’s Christmastime. Let him get a brand-new toy or a comic book if that’s what he wants.”

The friend of the lady continued telling the lady how she still considered her foolish and naive.

Her reprimands were interrupted by the skinny, dirty, dark-skinned boy wearing a ragged blue shirt. In one hand, he was carrying an orange tray with a white paper plate on it. On the plate were a small chicken leg and a buttered biscuit. He was extending his other hand for them to see a dime, one nickel and two pennies. Then he said with his sweet, shy voice:

“Señora, I did not have enough money for a soda, see? Can you spare just a little more?”

With a wonderful, bright smile on her face, the lady got out of her seat and walked with the boy to the food counter. There she bought him a large soda, French fries and a piece of chocolate cake for dessert. Years later, this episode is still fresh on the little girl’s mind.

I am that little girl. I do not give skinny, dirty, dark-skinned boys money when they ask for some. I walk to the closest food place and buy them the whole meal, French fries and all. You see, I am afraid that I will not give these boys enough money for a soda and they might not have the courage to come back for more.

These boys owe those meals to a lady once called foolish and naive.

I am proud to call that lady “Mom.”

Marta A. Oppenheimer

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