Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hope in the shape of a tootsie roll

He was wearing a yellow vest and holding a can at the front door of Krogers.

"Oh great, I'm going to have to deal with this every time I go to a grocery store between now and Christmas," I grumbled to myself.

I handed my daughter a handful of pennies. Maybe I can get out of this cheap if I use it as a life-lesson for the little one, I thought. Not very charitable, I admit.

Then, I read the vest: Knights of Columbus. And he was holding big fat tootsie-rolls. And the memories came flooding back.

*****

My grandfather was in the Knights. I remember when I was still a boy and he became a 4th-degree Knight. It was an important event in his life, and I remember my grandmother being very proud. He served the Knights for many, many years in a variety of roles until his health forced him move to assisted living and later, a nursing home. A favorite memory of my brothers and mine is boxes of big fat tootsie-rolls in their freezer, purchased during the Knights fundraising drives, and always there just for us.

He passed away on Long Island a few years ago, far from the parish and chapter, and many years removed from where he'd served. My father and his brothers knew my grandfather had been a regular participant in ceremonies the Knights would perform for deceased brothers, but thought he was too far removed from the Knights by that time to request similar honors. But, they pulled his regalia out of storage and set it on display next to his casket in honor of his many years of service.

Shortly after his wake began, a group of Knights showed up for another Knights' wake and began rehearsing their ceremony. I smiled at the coincidence and let it go, walking back to the viewing room. I was standing with my father and uncles a few minutes later when one of the Knights approached them and asked if they'd arranged for an honor guard. They explained that they had not done so in the belief that because Grandpa had become inactive when his health declined, they didn't want to impose on the Knights. The Knight explained that they'd seen his 4th-degree regalia while passing the room and they wanted to provide an honor guard regardless.

The group came into the room and performed a short ritual and left two Knights behind, standing at attention at the ends of the casket. The men were well into their retirement years, but stood there for almost two hours to honor a man they had never met, in recognition of what it meant to be a brother Knight and a 4th-degree. It was a touching event, and one I will never forget.

*****

I think that sometimes God gives us signs. I've not felt charitable lately, feeling more like I should be asking for charity rather than giving to charity. But, I saw a Knight this afternoon and had a tootsie roll for the first time in a long time, and I know everything will be fine.

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