by Denise Marks
His dark skin was a stark contrast to our family members. I assumed he was a worker at the state park looking for a shaded area to rest on his lunch break. That became suspect when an hour later he was still seated at a picnic table on the far edge of our rented pavilion. His occasional glance toward the prepared food and personal items nearby alerted me something was amiss.
The morning had started with intermittent rain and overcast skies which didn’t seem promising for our annual Christmas in July family picnic at the Millennium State Park. We had a Jeep loaded with enough burger meat, hot dogs and side dishes to feed 60 plus people. I crossed my fingers the current weather would eventually give way to sunny skies.
My husband Chris navigated through the state park to locate our rented pavilion, situated at the bottom of a grassy incline Great, I thought. Not only do we have to carry heavy tubs of food and supplies down a precarious slope of wet grass, I have to do it in flip-flops. Water skis would have been a safer shoe choice.
With the arrival of family, sounds of laughter and chatter rebounded inside the pavilion. It didn’t take long for my disposition to lighten as everyone offered to lend a helping hand. Food was plentiful, almost to the point of excess, as three generations gathered to celebrate family. When overcast skies gave way to sunshine, lawn games and water activities dominated the day.
Yet, midst all the activity, my attention remained focused on the lone man seated in our pavilion. Why had he stayed so long? What were his intentions? I felt ashamed for thinking the worst, but better safe than sorry when clueless to a person’s identity. And so, I asked my grandkids to discreetly move electronic devices and purses to a more secure area before we walked to the beach.
The grandkids and I returned from the beach to find the unknown man gone. I was about to breath a sigh of relief until I caught a glimpse of him congregating with family members. My husband called out to me as I approached the group,
“I want to introduce you to someone. His name is Lonnie.”
As I offered a friendly handshake, I couldn’t help but notice the sadness in his eyes. They seemed to reflect an untold story of homelessness, hunger and loneliness. It was a family event and I didn’t have time to explore why a man who appeared clean-shaven and relatively well-groomed lived as a vagrant in a state park.
Chris had also noted Lonnie perched on the outskirts of our family event. In kindness, he introduced himself and asked, “Is there something you need?”
Glancing downward, Lonnie replied, “I’m hungry. Do you have any food to spare?”
“Of course,” said my husband as he handed Lonnie a plate and invited him to share with us.
Several servings later and a trail of cookie crumbs throughout the pavilion was evidence Lonnie had enjoyed his gifted meal.
From the outskirts of the pavilion, he watched as our family played lawn games. I sensed he wanted to be a part of our family surroundings, but was apprehensive to engage himself in any of the activities.
At the end of the day, Lonnie disappeared just as discreetly as he had arrived and I couldn’t help but wonder if Lonnie called the park his home. There were so many unanswered questions about this gentle man. The only thing he disclosed that day was his need for something to eat— and he did so with humility.
Since gifts are not exchanged at our Christmas in July gatherings, we didn’t expect the heartwarming gift Lonnie left with us. He gifted himself. His presence was an unspoken reminder that not everyone has food, family, friends or shelter. When blessed with more than enough, pay it forward.
These questions would never be answered, but we received the gift of a different perspective. If we were to ever meet again, I would say to our new friend, “Thank you Lonnie for spending a few hours with our family. Your presence was the best Christmas gift ever.