Turning parsimony into a gift for others

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2017

By Fr. Jonathan J. Filkins

Fred was a constant figure on the streets of Picayune. Known as the “Walker,” he was often seen in his grubby clothes, shuffling along the curb, while muttering to himself about this and that.

Few knew anything about him, only remembering something about him having served in the war, but were uncertain about which one. The octogenarian was unremarkable. In fact, he was so unremarkable, he was almost invisible, and more of a local joke than an actual person.

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While walking in the twilight of a dusky evening, Fred tripped on the pavement in an often-untraveled back road. Falling, he struck his head and blacked out, and lay there for several hours, before a passing car found him and called the police. After arriving at the hospital, the attendants rifled through the unconscious man’s clothes and found two dollars and a social security card.

With the help of the Picayune Police Department, they were able to locate a street address and sent officers. It was as anyone would expect. Dingy, dilapidated and unkempt, the bungalow had seen far better days.

After opening the unlocked door, it was clear that Fred’s life was troubled. From floor to ceiling, with only pathways through the enormous piles, the house was packed with refuse and crumbling plaster. The only clear spot was an easy chair, when Fred seemed to live out his life. Remarkably, there was an address book found on the nearby table.

Back at the hospital, it was not long before the inevitable came  Fred soon succumbed to his injury, as well as age and lifestyle. No one was sure if had any relatives.

A volunteer decided to go through the address book and see what could be found. Most of the numbers were disconnected, some had not heard from Fred for many years, and the rest did not want to be bothered.

So, this lonely man was buried in the community section of a local cemetery, with only the funeral director, and a clergyman present. Fred was quickly forgotten.

Soon, the house was vandalized and became an even greater eyesore. Something had to be done.

A distant relative, in Kansas City, gave permission to some neighbors to get things cleaned up. In their efforts, they found a carefully prepared will, kept in a Mason jar, high on a shelf in a kitchen cabinet. 

Yellowed form age, the sealed document was entrusted to the clergyman who had been at the grave. Upon the opening of the envelope, the astonishment was profound.

In the text was an outline of Fred’s life. He had been a war hero in Korea, and a successful husband, father and provider.  All of it came to an end, when his family was lost in a tragic accident, while he was at work. With his life spiraling out of control, he became an eccentric recluse.

Part of his affectation, was to be unable to spend money, even on necessities. Such was the underpinning of his local reputation. Fred had money, lots of it, but could not bring himself to spend it on himself, or others. Yet, the newly-found will lay out new plans.

In spite of his parsimony, this generous fellow had donated all of his estate to the local food bank and library.

The amount stood at over two million dollars, and provided many years of necessary services to the most needy. Here, the man who held up his pants with a rope, gave everything to those who had, often, ridiculed him.

We, frequently, are so quick to judge those who we do not know and presume their worth based upon an outward appearance, or assumption. Fred’s story is not particularly unusual, for there are many who have so generously given to others, even though they may not have been in the traditional image of a benefactor.

Let us not be parsimonious with our own generosities; in our earthly rewards, emotions and spirits.

Each day, there are opportunities to understand, and to provide to those who are not the same as ourselves, and who may enrich our souls in the encounter.