Fruit for Hernando

Hernando yawned as he leaned forward sleepily, pulled his sock over his bare foot, and wiggled his foot into his tennis shoe.

His mother stirred the oatmeal one more time, then tapped the spoon against the rim of the pan and turned off the burner. “Is Inez up?” she asked as Hernando entered the kitchen.

Hernando yawned again. “She’s still in the bathroom.”

“Inez,” Mother called, “breakfast is ready.” Placing a saucer over the top of the steaming pan of oatmeal, she sat down at the table.

Inez breezed into the kitchen and slid onto her chair. “Morning,” she greeted.

“Morning,” Mother and Hernando both answered.

Mother smiled lovingly at Hernando and Inez before bowing her head. “Dear Heavenly Father,” she prayed, “we thank thee for another day and for all the blessings it will bring. We thank thee for this good food and ask …”

When Mother’s humble prayer was ended, Hernando opened his eyes and reached for the Bible on the stand behind him. He opened it to the bookmark and began to read from 1 Timothy 6:6 [1 Tim. 6:6], “But godliness with contentment is great gain.

“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”

He began to close the book, but his mother frowned. “Was that three verses?” she asked doubtfully.

“Sorry,” he muttered, finding the place again and reading, “‘And having food and raiment [clothing] let us be therewith content.’ That’s three verses,” he said.

Mother nodded once then got up and served the oatmeal and passed the milk.

“Oatmeal again?” Inez complained. “Why can’t we ever have eggs?”

“Be content with what you have,” Mother told her, looking a bit hurt. “There’s a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and food in our stomachs. We do have eggs on Sunday,” Mother reminded her, “and there are cheese sandwiches for your lunch today.”

Hernando glanced up. “Is there any fruit?” he asked hopefully. When Mother shook her head, he just shrugged to show her that he wasn’t complaining.

Hernando stacked the newspapers neatly at the corner where he worked each day. He glanced to where a bus was pulling up to the curb. As a stream of early commuters streamed sleepily from the door, he rushed forward with a number of papers under his arm. “Paper! First edition!” he cried out, waving one in the air.

A gray-haired man reached into his pocket for change, handed it to Hernando, and took a paper. “Thank you!” Hernando said, then turned to yell again, “Paper! First edition!” until the sidewalk was empty. He sat on the remaining papers and pulled his collar up against the morning’s dark chill.

“Hernie,” his buddy Tyler shouted excitedly from his shoeshine stand down the street, “Margaret’s giving money away again! She must have gotten her welfare check yesterday or something! Come on! She’s right around the corner at the bus depot.”

Hernando frowned. “Someone should stop her, but I can’t leave my papers!”

“I left my stand! Come on!” Tyler hissed. “We have to get in on this!”

Hernando glanced along the deserted sidewalk, then followed Tyler to the corner. When they got there, a police officer was gently leading Margaret to a patrol car.

“Too late!” Tyler groaned. “They’re taking her home again.”

Hernando smiled. “That’s good.”

“What’s good about it?” Tyler barked. “I got a dollar last time. What’s the matter with you—don’t you like money?”

Hernando grinned. “Sure! But not enough to take it from a confused old lady! You shouldn’t accept money from her, either.”

“You’re the one who’s confused! Your mom cleans offices, your sister works in a bakery, and you sell newspapers! Are you too good to take money from heaven?”

Hernando grinned. “If it were from heaven, I’d take it.” Hearing the screech of air brakes, Hernando knew that another bus was arriving, so he hurried back to his stand. Grabbing another stack of papers, he called, “Paper! First edition!”

Later Hernando hurried along Twentieth Street. He pushed the door of an office building open and took the steps two at a time. In Dr. Daily’s office his mother was singing at her work. When she saw Hernando, she smiled and shut off the vacuum cleaner. “All done?” she asked.

Nodding, he handed her his tip money. “I’ll go home for my books and lunch, then be off to school.”

She counted the change that he had given her. “Please stop at Myerling’s and get milk,” she said as she pressed the money into his hand. “Make sure it’s fresh, and don’t forget to close the refrigerator tightly. Be good, and have a nice day.”

He kissed her, then went back outside and down the street.

At the store, Hernando checked the date on the milk before taking it to the counter. As he waited to pay for it, his hand brushed a basket of pears. His mouth suddenly watered. He thought of how long it had been since he’d had one. He looked at Mr. Myerling, who was busy bagging groceries and talking to an early customer. Behind the meat counter, Mrs. Myerling was grinding meat with her back turned. How easy it would be to slip a pear into my pocket! he thought. How good it would taste … Then his mother’s words came to his mind: “Be good.” Swallowing hard, he turned his back on the basket of pears.

When the other customer finally left, Mr. Myerling turned to Hernando.

“Morning, Hernie,” he said. “I didn’t know if you’d stop by this morning, but I’ve been hoping you would.”

“You have?”

“I have some things for your mother,” Mr. Myerling explained. He put the milk into a sack behind the counter. “This bag of sugar split, but I taped it shut. And the labels on these cans are coming off from being on the shelf for a while, but I’m sure the food inside is still good. As for the fruit, it has some bruises, but it’s still good for fruit salad or for baking. Just be sure to put it into the refrigerator for your mother.”

Hernando’s face brightened as he took the sack of groceries. “Thanks, Mr. Myerling!”

“I’m glad you can use it.”

As Hernando entered the apartment building and climbed the stairs, his heart was singing. We might not have much, Hernando prayed silently, but what You give is always enough. Thank you, Father, for always providing.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Joe Flores