Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Amideutsch Lunch Counter
Grantville, Early December 1632
Johannes Vorkeuffer squirmed uncomfortably from the examining gaze of Louis Garrison, the restaurant owner. Why did the Americans from the future have to be so big? A man that size should be a blacksmith or laborer, not a tavern keeper.
“How old did you say you are?” the big man asked.
“I am sixteen, Herr Garrison.”
The man frowned at him. “You should be in school then, not out trying to get a job. Do your parents know you’re here?”
Johannes felt the grief rush through him. “My parents are dead, Herr Garrison.”
The big man’s expression instantly became compassionate. “I’m sorry. Do you have any family here?”
“I have an older sister and a younger brother and sister.”
“Who takes care of you?” Garrison asked.
“My sister, she works at the laundry; but it does not pay enough. So, I look for work so I can help.”
Johannes sat quietly; he could see the big man was considering him.
Finally, Garrison smiled. “I’ll tell you what, Johannes; I think I can find some work for you.”
Johannes felt both joy and relief. “Thank you, Herr Garrison; I will be a good worker; I promise.”
“Hear me out first. I can only give you a few hours a week and it will be simple work to start, mostly labor around the building. I can’t afford to pay you a lot, but it’s the same starting wage I give everyone. You will also stay in school; your work hours will only be scheduled after school. Plus, I want to speak with your sister. I won’t be hiring you unless it’s cleared with her first. Do you understand?”
“Of course, Herr Garrison; I will tell her you want to speak with her.”
Garrison smiled at him. “Good. I also provide a meal every time you work.” He stopped and looked Johannes over. “When was the last time you ate, Johannes?”
“I had a small piece of bread this morning,” he answered truthfully.
Garrison’s smile turned into a frown. “Tell you what; some of the sidewalks around the store still have snow on them. Why don’t you take a shovel and clean them off? Then you can come back in and get that meal.”
Johannes felt his stomach rumble in anticipation. “Of course, Herr Garrison; I will get it done very quickly.”
Andreas Muller watched as his partner, Louis, handed the shovel to the boy before turning back to the counter. “Another foundling you’re taking in, Louis?” he asked.
“You saw him, Andreas, how thin he is. I’ll bet he hasn’t had a decent meal in months, maybe longer.”
Andreas acknowledged the question with a nod. “Yes, that is probably true, just as it is true for half the people you have hired here. The world is full of hungry people, Louis. I think it is a very charitable thing you do for them, but this is a business, not a charity. You cannot afford to feed everyone who comes through the door with a sad story.”
“No, I can’t Andreas, but I will help those I can.”
Andreas examined his partner for a moment. “Louis, you are a good man, but why do you do this? You know that many of them only come in for the free meal; they only want to take advantage of your generosity.”
“Yes, Andreas, I know; but at least I get a few minutes or hours of work from them first. Besides, I guess you could call what I do a family tradition.”
“Your family did the same thing?”
“As far back as I can remember,” Louis answered. “My father and his sister and brothers all did it. I asked my father about it and he said it was because of what his father had done.”
“Did your grandfather own a restaurant as well?”
Louis shook his head and smiled. “No, Andreas. My grandfather was a farmer and not a very prosperous one either, especially during the Great Depression.”
“It was a terrible time in my country’s history. At its worst, one of every four Americans was out of work and many had trouble feeding their families. My father grew up during that time and he told me stories of only having watered-down soup to eat at times. But he also told me of how my grandfather never turned anyone away from his table. People would come by his farm looking for work, but, of course, my grandfather could not afford to pay them. What he did was offer to trade a meal for work. Sometimes the person would chop wood, fix a fence, or even just sweep off the porch, but my grandfather would always find a job for them so they could have a meal.”
“Your grandfather was a good man.”
“Yes he was, a great man. And he did all that while raising a family and putting them through school. Every one of his children finished high school and was successful. I wish I had known him better, but he died when I was very young.”
Andreas could tell his friend was feeling the sadness of lost family. “So, it is because of your grandfather that you take in those in need?”
Louis shook his head slowly. “He sparked the tradition in my family, but that’s not the real reason I do it. The reason I do it is because of something that happened to my father.”
“Your father took in the less fortunate as well?”
Louis nodded again. “In a way. He often let people work for a few hours to earn a little money. Sure, many of them were only looking for a few dollars so they could buy their next drink, but my father never judged them. He told me he got honest work for honest pay; what they did with the money wasn’t his business.
“But there was one time in particular that will always stick out in my mind,” he continued. “It happened not long after I was out of high school and starting to make my own way. A young man named Bobby Washington, came into my father’s furniture store looking for a job. Now Bobby was pretty well known in the area. Although he was only eighteen, he had been in trouble with the law for years. He was a known gang member and had committed many crimes.”
Andreas interrupted. “If the boy was so bad, why was he not in prison?”
Louis shook his head. “That’s not the way our justice system worked. Bobby had been underage when the crimes were committed, so he was treated differently. He had been in jail a few times, but as a minor his punishments were not as severe. Besides, although he committed many crimes, none of them were very serious, mostly breaking into buildings, vandalizing cars, that sort of thing. Anyway, when Bobby applied for a job, everyone tried to tell my father not to hire him.”
Andreas nodded. “That makes sense. It is wise not to trust a dishonest man.”
“That’s basically what we all tried to tell my father. But my father told me something about Bobby. Bobby had a younger brother, only about ten years old. One night while Bobby was running with his gang, his little brother followed him. Bobby didn’t realize it. The gang was going to rob a store in another gang’s territory, to prove they were stronger. Just as they got to the store, the rival gang appeared and a gunfight started. Bobby was at least smart enough to find cover and he was unharmed. But a stray bullet found his little brother. The boy died in Bobby’s arms.”
After a moment Louis continued. “My father had known Bobby for some time and he told me that something had changed in the young man after that. Before that, Bobby had always been an angry young man who blamed the world for his problems. But when Bobby watched his brother die, it seemed he began to direct the anger inward, that he was angry with himself for what he had done. My father believed that Bobby blamed himself for his brother’s death, that Bobby felt it was his fault that his brother had been there that night.”
“The death of someone close can change a man,” Andreas said.
“Indeed it can, and my father believed that Bobby had changed. He hired Bobby to help move furniture and to load vehicles. It turned out that Bobby was a good worker, so my father gave him more hours and more responsibility.”
“Did he keep working for your father?”
“For a while,” Louis answered, “but while he worked for my father during the day, he went back to school in the evenings. Bobby had dropped out and my father encouraged him to go back. It wasn’t long before Bobby had earned his GED.”
“So this Bobby got his education and became a good worker; that is a good story of redemption Louis,” Andreas said.
“Yes, it is, but that’s not the end of the story.”
Andreas was intrigued. “What else happened?”
“After Bobby got his GED, he seemed to want to work even more. He told my father he was saving up for more school. After a few more years, he quit working at the store so he could pursue more education.”
“He became a scholar then?”
Louis shook his head. “No, although he did become a serious student; he had another goal in mind.”
“What was that?”
“In a moment, my friend. There is another chapter in the story. Several years later, my father was working late in his store one evening when he had a heart attack.” Louis shook his head sadly. “We kept telling him he needed to quit smoking and working so hard, but he never listened to us.”
“Did he die?” Andreas asked.
“No. I’m happy to say he didn’t, but it was close. The clerk he was working with at the store called for an ambulance and they got there in time. I didn’t find out for a few hours what had happened, but I rushed to the hospital as soon as I found out so I could be there for my mother. When I talked with the doctor, he told me that my father had almost died, that he would have died if not for the efforts of the EMT.”
“EMT?” Andreas interrupted.
“Emergency Medical Technician,” Louis explained. “They have specialized training to help a person until that person can be taken to a full doctor. As I said, my dad was saved by the efforts of the EMT. The doctor said this EMT never gave up and didn’t stop until my father was under a doctor’s care. I later found out that EMT’s name. It was Robert Washington.”
Louis nodded. “Yes, Bobby. The young man I had advised my father not to trust had just saved his life. Bobby, the former delinquent and gang member, took the money he saved from working at my father’s store and used it to study to become an EMT. He was now helping people instead of hurting them. It was at that moment that I realized my father was doing more than just being charitable; he was actually giving the people he helped a chance. That’s why I do what I do, Andreas. If I can help just one person the way my father helped Bobby, it will all be worth it.”
“Has anyone you helped ever turned out like Bobby?” Andreas asked.
“Nothing as drastic as Bobby’s story, but I have managed to talk a few kids into staying in school. And I’m sure I’ve helped a few people through a tough time until they got back on their feet.”
Andreas sat for a few moments, taking in the message from his friend’s story. As he thought, he realized that Louis had given him, a former mercenary, a chance as well. He placed his hand on Louis’s shoulder. “Louis, what you are doing is a good thing. I’m sorry I questioned you.”
Louis shook his head. “No, Andreas. It’s your place to question me. You’re my partner and my friend; I trust your advice.”
“Just promise you won’t bankrupt us.”
Louis laughed. “Not to worry, my friend, I like to eat too much. But, as long as I’m in a position to do it, I will help all that I can. Like you said, many will just be taking advantage of my good nature to get a few dollars or a meal. But sometimes . . . ” He paused while pointing to the front door.
Andreas looked where his friend was pointing. Young Johannes was holding the door for two elderly women as he helped them across a slick patch on the walkway. He made sure each was safely inside the restaurant before he closed the door and went back to shoveling snow.
“Sometimes,” Louis continued, “you’re giving a chance to someone who deserves it.”