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Saturday, December 01, 2007

What Symbols Are On My Mailbox ??


I've just started reading a book that I've had on my bookshelf for a long time. An Hour Before Daylight by Jimmy Carter is a trip down memory lane from his rural boyhood in Georgia. And today, I ran across a scenario that I fell in love with. Let me set up the scene for you: This story is about tramps who would happen along the dirt roads while Jimmy was growing up. The tramps would make stops for food or help at various home along the road.

"When Mama was home we never turned away anyone who came to our back door asking for food or a drink of water....One day the lady from the next farm came to visit, and Mama commented on how many tramps she had helped that week. Mrs. Bacon said, "Well, I'm thankful that they never come in my yard." The next time we had some of the vagrant visitors, Mama asked why they had stopped at our house and not the others. After some hesitation, one of them said, "Ma'am, we have a set of symbols that we use, to show the attitude of each family along the road. the post on your mailbox is marked to say that you don't turn people away or mistreat us." After they were gone, we went out and found some unobtrusive scratches; Mama told us not to change them." -- Jimmy Carter, An Hour Before Daylight

So, I've been considering today who it is that comes to my back door. Not literally, but figuratively. Are there "symbols" on my mailbox that indicate that people are safe to ask me for help? Do I welcome those that struggle? Those who may need a hand up. Being the philosophical soul that I can lapse into from time to time, it's a perfect time of year to be introspective and ask these questions that deserve an answer. Do I turn people away or mistreat them? I'm afraid that the answer hasn't always been as positive as I'd like it to be. But the road of life still runs in front of my house. I hope that the next person who shows up at my back door will receive the help that they need.

20 comments:

Christopher said...

You know, that's the first time I've heard that story about the signs on the mailboxes. I agree with your thought process 1110%. I"m actually sitting here after reading it thinking about strangers and neighbors and feeling pretty damned good about myself though!

I hope you don't mind if I link and extrapolate from your post on my own post later ... I've a long flight and this may be a good thought process to fly with.

-C (http://christopherc.wordpress.com/)

Doug said...

I think things were different when Jimmy Carter was growing up. Nowadays, many of those coming to your door asking for charity are in no need of charity.

That being said, a few weeks ago a kid from the neighborhood came by selling magazines to fund a school trip to London. I didn't need/want any of his magazines, so I gave him $20. Whether that $20 ended up in his trip fund, I'll never know.

Timmy said...

Wow. I woke up in a funky mood this morning and then I read that. Thanks for giving me something to think about this morning.

And yes times have changed and I doubt most people have someone coming to their back door. You're correct though. What kind of aura/vibe do we present to people that let's them know they can come to us for help.

bardelf said...

Cool post, Lewis. I remember my grandmother telling me that tramps used to also come to their rural NC home during the Great Depression. She would feed them, too. I wonder if there were markings on my grandparents' mailbox.

I think, based on my very limited knowledge of you, that you would help anyone you could, Lewis. You're a good man.

Matt said...

Thanks, Lewis. This is just what I needed to read today.

I've read about the symbols that were posted near friendly homes. I remember that one is a crude stick-figure of a cat. I agree that times have changed, and I don't open my door to most people (and there are always scams going on in my neighborhood), but I know you don't mean this literally. We should all be conscious of what symbols people attach to us.

Steve said...

"I hope that the next person who shows up at my back door will receive the help that they need"

That sounds so sexual :P

Seriously though, I think it's important for all of us to spend time reflecting on who we are and if it matches up with who we want to be.

Blair said...

Wonderful post as always....it really makes you stop and think....are there symbols in our neighborhood? Are we being good neighbors?

Nathan said...

I love it when I read something and I get goosebumps, because it means I haven't just read it with my eyes, but I've also felt it in my soul.

Thank you for sharing that. I think that's wonderful.

D. Sherman said...

That's really a beautiful quote. Thanks for sharing.

Lemuel said...

Your questions are thoughtful and timely. As you note this isn't just about mailboxes nor "tramps", but it is about our attitude toward others and our willingness to be open to their needs, physical and emotional.

Let me just say, that every time I have visited your "door", I have been nourished.

Jim said...

There must be a mark on my car. People ALWAYS ask me for helpful directions. Even when I had Canadian plates in Los Angeles.

Breenlantern said...

That is a beautiful post and sentiment, and something sorely missing from this season and life in general.Thank you for this.

Laurie said...

I have my house numbers and a
flag on mine. I would take in
every outcast teenager and truly
homeless person but my hubby says
I wouldn't know when to stop.


Also, no, I don't have to make cake
and ice cream for all those. My
mother in law makes one cake for
my hubby, son and father in law.
I order a cake for the boy if he
wants one. My mom and aunt don't
eat cake so I pretty much luck
out on that.

eliot said...

hey, found ya via nathan exposed. great post!

- eliot
dailybriefing.wordpress.com

Steven said...

Thanks for sharing an insightful post....."Knock knock."

WAT said...

I will help the older man or woman who looks frail and unable to work. It's the young ones that I worry about. Drugs and lazy to work I ask myself? Maybe I'm too cynical.

Yeah, Portland sounds like an awesome town, but won't a nearby volcano there blow up and bury all you guys? LOLOLOLOLOL!

Greg said...

It does make you think about your neighbors, how you treat them, how they treat you and how people are perceived in the neighborhood. Great post, Lewis!

Dave2 said...

I think we're all marked in some way. Those who live in kindness just have marks that are more noticeable to those in need.

Ur-spo said...

i was taught in sunday school that we should always help strangers and 'bums' as they could be angels in disquise who will testify on the Judgment Day how we helped out our fellow man.

D-Man said...

Dear old Jimmy. I truly enjoyed his 'Our Endangered Values.' I'll check this one out, too. Do you think the Bushes helped the hobos?

Times have changed, but I think your "symbols" are shown to all just by being your wonderful self.