In the Lectionary

December 16, Advent 3C (Luke 3:7-18)

“If we can’t afford two boxes,” my grandmother said, “we can’t afford one.”

My grandfather never questioned the grocery bill. All other expenditures fell subject to his review, but the grocery shopping belonged entirely within my grandmother’s domain. Papa had good reason to be frugal. Though we never went hungry, we lived on relatively little inside our 526-square-foot home in rural South Carolina. Under these circumstances, Papa kept a tight grip on the finances, even meting out our weekly contribution to the church—ten dollars for the offering plate, plus one dollar for each grandchild for Sunday school. Our offering was by no means a widow’s mite, but neither was it stingy in relation to our family’s income.

As far as I know, Papa never discovered the secret my grandmother and I shared. Every Saturday she and I whisked into town in her faded blue Ford Torino. As I pushed our cart up and down the aisles of the Red & White, she carefully selected food in duplicate—two boxes of cereal, two jars of peanut butter, two bags of flour—until our cart looked like an abstract rendering of Noah’s ark with its produce and nonperishable food items arranged two by two.

Then we’d check out (an achingly slow process involving a hefty stack of coupons), load the car with heavy paper grocery bags, and drive straight to the town’s food bank, where my grandmother would donate exactly half of everything she’d just purchased. She bought my silence each week with a small candy bar, which was not immune to her rule: one chocolate treat for me, one for the food bank.