A lesson in book judging
“Never judge a book by its cover.” – Mill on the Floss, George Eliot, 1860.
Many decades ago, when I was a young teen, a gentle knocking came on our front door and my mother got up to answer it. I peeked around the dining room door to see who it was. A dishevelled old man graced our doorstep, hair like that of a scarecrow, shoes with string for laces, an old jacket around his body and a cloth sack over his shoulder. He asked in almost a whisper “could I have a drop of water?”
Several beggars roamed the housing estates in those days and you’d have at least one come knocking in any given week. The smell of alcohol would often announce them before they’d even reached the open front gate. If spotted early they would be shooed away at the window, or given a sharp “not today” before they’d even opened their mouth.
But not this man. I had seen him before and remembered that my mother would speak with him. This time she invited him into the hallway while she went to the kitchen. He saw me at the dining room door and smiled. I was transfixed, and returned a hesitant “hi“.
My mother soon returned with the glass of water and something in a paper bag that she handed to him. A sandwich? Then she pressed something into his palm, which I believe was some money. He took one small sip of the water, said “thank you, that hits the spot“, handed back the glass, saluted his forehead with two nicotine-stained fingers and bade his farewell as my mother closed the door.
I turned to my mother, “he lied about needing the water.”
“Yes,” she said, “he didn’t need the water, but he needed his dignity. He’s a good man who has fallen on hard times.”
Knowing that other such callers would be rapidly despatched, I asked her “how do you know he’s a good man?” I expected a “just because” kind of answer, but instead she opened the front door and told me to watch. The man was now two or three doors away, standing back from another front door and obviously being told there was nothing for him. He saluted softly and walked back to the front gate, and despite the rejection he closed it gently behind him.
“That’s how I know,” she said.
Categorised as: LUE