My mother handed me a story to read, a short one she said, from her church bulletin in response to a discussion we were having about life in the USA today. Being in a hurry, I didn’t want to sit and read an article, especially one from the St. Brendan Parish Bulletin of all things, but she said it was important to understand what being poor truly entails.
Mom was right.
Written by Gladys Griffin, the church secretary, this article told the story of Elva Morgan from Kentucky. Elva found St. Brendan’s name in a donated book; she was inspired to write explaining her situation, her large family, and the “absolute poor conditions they live in on the Appalachian Mountains.” Gladys was so moved she asked for, and received permission, to add Elva’s family to the annual Parish Giving Tree, and for the past few years the parish has sent small gifts to her family. And, as Gladys notes, “she (Elva) is the only person we have helped over the years, who consistently writes and thanks the people of St. Brendan Parish for the help they’ve given her.”
But the story does not stop there.
This year, with Elva’s permission, Gladys and her husband visited the Morgan home in KY, and for the first time Gladys witnessed true poverty. Not the kind of ‘being poor’ that we hear described daily in cities across America. Not the kind that we ‘treat’ with housing subsidies, food stamps, and heating oil vouchers, or with free public transportation cards and free cell phones. In America, with the plethora of social programs both governmental and private, it is easy to associate these with being poor….until you read what being ‘poor’ truly means. Gladys wrote:
“I could never have even imagined the way these dear people lived….(they) live in a rusted metal box, formerly a trailer… Elva is a widow whose husband was a former logger. With only his pension to live on, Elva lost their house. She raised five children..four sons and a mentally handicapped daughter. One son still lives with and cares for her. Elva had cared for her daughter until recent years when her health deteriorated to the point where she could no longer do so. Her oldest son and family (the son now has cancer) now care for the daughter. Elva is basically bedridden. Her hands and feet are all twisted and crippled. Her sons are all out of work, as they were coal miners. The town is a ghost-town, streets with homes and stores just abandoned. The son who lives at home was babysitting for his 2-year-old niece the day we were there. When it was time for lunch he cooked two potatoes, mashed them, and that was lunch. The trailer is bare and falling apart – a small table with 2 chairs and a bed for Elva is in the living room. Counters and cupboards are bare.”
And yet, as Gladys wrote, Elva was thankful for what she had. She expressed appreciation for the help she had received at Christmas from St. Brendan parish (which Gladys admits is not much…they send a few Wal-Mart gift cards which the Morgan family uses for food and other essentials). She told Gladys that she had had a good life and was blessed with wonderful children. She was thankful for what she was given.
I cannot help but compare Elva’s gratitude for the small acts of kindness from strangers in Massachusetts to the attitude I hear from many bemoaning their lack of ‘things’ that they deem important and necessary for a happy life…the Iphone 5, new computer, an Ipad, the KindleFire, and other such things.
If, during the coming days you find yourself wondering what else you can ‘buy’ to make this Holy Day special, consider this: send a check to St. Brendan Parish in an envelope marked Gladys/Kentucky and Fr. Mullen will send Elva a check from the parish. Elva generally uses the money for groceries she shares with her entire family.
Christmas does NOT just come for one day. When you begin the process of putting the wrapping paper, the cards, and the ribbons away consider making Christmas last just a tad bit longer this year. As Gladys noted, the truly poor need Christmas to come 365 days a year.
St. Brendan Parish, 384 Hartford Ave., Bellingham, MA 02019-1217