Hospitality, Henry, and a Knife-full of Peas

In an upcoming entry, I will write about the famous missionary saying: “That’s different, but it’s OK.” It really is genius in its simplicity and causes me to think about the following story I read two decades ago.  I hope it challenges you to honor the “strange” around you.

“When I was little, we didn’t have much. It was the Depression. But we did have a table full of food because my father grew wonderful vegetables. Lots of hoboes who had jumped from the train wandered onto our property, looking for a meal. More often than not an extra seat was pulled up to our dinner table.

“One summer afternoon I was sweeping the kitchen floor when my father’s voice came through the screen door: ‘Lizzy, set another plate. We have company tonight.’ Our guest paused in the doorway and dipped his head in a gesture of gratitude. ‘Looks like he doesn’t speak much English,’ Dad said, ‘but he’s hungry like we are. His name is Henry.’

“When dinner was ready Henry stood until we were all seated, then gently perched on the edge of his chair, his head bowed and his hat in his lap. The blessing was said, and dishes were passed from hand to hand.

“We all waited, as was proper, for our guest to take the first bite. Henry must have been so hungry he didn’t notice us watching him as he grabbed his knife. Carefully he slid the blade into the pile of peas before him, and then lifted a quivering row to his mouth without spilling a single pea. He was eating with his knife! I looked at my sister May and we covered our mouths to muffle our snickers. Henry took another knife-full, and then another.

“My father, taking note of the glances we were exchanging, firmly set down his fork. He looked me in the eye, then took his knife and thrust it into the peas on his plate. Most of them fell off as he attempted to lift them to his mouth, but he continued until all the peas were gone.

“Dad never did use his fork that evening, because Henry didn’t. It was one of my father’s silent lessons in acceptance. He understood the need for this man to maintain his dignity, to feel comfortable in a strange place with people of different customs. Even at my young age I understood the greatness of my father’s simple act of brotherhood.”

*Contributed by Cori Connors, of Farmington, Utah, to Guideposts, March 1997, p. 36

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