He stunk like sweat, cold, wet dog, and tree bark.
His white hoodie was a dingy shade of brown, his ears a shade of alarming red indicative that perhaps he had needed some ear coverings before he had headed to the yard some 3 hours before. I made a mental note and filed it under #MomFail… Sensory Kid needs ear muffs.
He had piled the back of my minivan with numerous giant trash bags full of leaves. Had it not been 36 degrees out I might’ve rolled the windows down for a bit of fresh air and olfactory relief from the stinky teenage boy and his delivery. As we meandered down the road to my Mama’s house I strategically breathed through my mouth and made an attempt at conversation.
“So Bud you’ve worked really hard. I’m sure Grandmother sure will appreciate all these leaves for her compost garden.”
“I hope so and I hope she pays me for getting her so many.”
He has a way with words that keeps frills to a minimum, finds mindless chatter obsolete, and states what he sees as the facts; he leaves little room for argument. He is what some would consider blunt. I’ve come to realize over time that he simply states what is, and his monotone way of doing so can be misinterpreted as rudeness and even disrespect.
I nodded and responded with the truth, “Well Grandmother is a woman of her word and if she said she would pay you, then she will.”
He simply said, “Good.”
When we arrived at Mama’s she wasn’t home. She had run an errand. So he began to unload his bags near her back gate, adjacent to the area where over the summer he spent a day digging holes. She still compliments and comments on his hole digging skills. She wanted to plant some shrubs or bushes or something but the rock hard red clay proved a difficult foe. She had tried all manner of methodologies to penetrate the earth, but she admitted her senior strength lacked the ability and employed her strong, young, grandson to do the job.
He likes to work, if he know exactly what to do and how he is to do it, and he prefers to work alone. Despite the sweltering temperatures over the summer he confided in me that he liked digging all those holes, and when he took a break Grandmother had Lemonade and Fudge Rounds for him for a snack. Two of his favorites, a combo I find repulsive, lemons and chocolate, just the thought makes my tummy churn a bit more than usual.
About the time he had unloaded the last bag and relieved my already tired ol’ minivan from its added load, my Mama arrived home. He was elated to see her so we took a moment to visit with her. Scattered about were the beginnings of what would become her house decorated for Christmas. (I love it when she decorates. She was farmhouse style before it was a thing. She can put together a styrofoam elf, a sprig of holly, and a Santa ornament she has had since 1984 and turn it into a vignette worthy of Southern Living.) She keeps her Christmas decor stored in her attic. Her tree is at least 9 feet tall, I mean, maybe not really, but it sure seems that way.
As we visited a moment he came too close to her, she made a face, covered her nose with her shirt, and I laughed.
“Shoo, he’s stinky.” I laughed again at the obvious statement.
“I know. I had ride over here with him, but he insisted on making your delivery tonight.”
She laughed, and I commented on it beginning to look a lot like Christmas. About that time she said, “Hey Shel, can you help me get some things down from my attic?”
He was happy to help although from the never-changing tone of his voice the undiscerning ear would not have known that. We have learned to read him, to know what Autism tried to make unknown. We have learned what joy looks like, and sadness. To the untrained eye well, they look the same. We know how frustration manifests and satisfaction appears. Those of us close to him do not always get it right but for the most part we do. Time and training have taught us that.
As he helped his Grandmother with her tree he did so relatively quietly. He spoke to Grace, Mama’s older Doxie, who has a knack for naps and snoring. She had come to investigate the commotion and soon settled on a rug next to her Master. She seemed unconcerned as her oddly smelling Master’s grandson hauled faux greenery to and fro.
When we got back in the car to head home I said, “Straight to the shower while I get supper ready.” In the dark I couldn’t tell if he’d nodded but I knew he had heard and understood. As we drove on I heard him talking to himself; he was holding a wadded up bill in his hand. I was unsure of the monetary sum but was sure of one thing, come Sunday morning a part of it would leave his hand and be placed in an offering receptacle.
Many times I will look to my left and wadded up in a tight fist I can make out the color of money. He holds it tight because he literally holds everything tight, not because he is stingy. I’ve often wondered if the money counter person gets exasperated as he or she has to unwad the crumpled bills he regularly puts into the offering.
“Halfway there, but this should be enough to buy presents for Charlotte and Maggie.”
I almost wrecked the minivan I was navigating into my neighborhood. What?!
He had worked like crazy, stunk like stink, was filthy from head to toe just so he could buy his sisters presents?! I clarified.
There was a pause.
“This is for me to buy Maggie and Charlotte’s presents. I already have some,” (hole digging money I presumed) “but I needed a bit more.”
My heart felt like it might burst. I understood fully the verse in the King’s word that says in 3 John 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
His sisters are adopted, they do not share his genetic makeup, one of his sisters drives him mad some days and one he has known as long as he has known any of us. When we brought him home from the hospital she pointed at him from across the room and declared he was a dog. She was 14 months old and I reckon from her perspective he was sort of dog-like. Noisy, oddly smelling, he slept a lot in a cage, or crib, depending on one’s perspective.
If you’d‘ve asked me I’d’ve figured he was saving up for some random Lego dude or a particular book, or those awful candies in a toxic barrel he likes. I could not have been more wrong.
As I meandered home and he talked of his surprise Christmas plans, I was reminded once more what Christmas is about. What Christ Himself represents. How He was about Compassion rather than consumption. Giving rather than getting. And Need rather than Greed.
May the very essence of Christ and Christmas fill our hearts and homes this year.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17