Two Chickens and a Cabbage

Br. Jerry Smith is a Capuchin friar and social worker who connects our guests to the resources they need.

The call came at 3:50 pm, ten minutes before closing time on a Friday afternoon. The  caller identified herself, then declared that she had known Brother Booker and Father Matthew, both revered figures associated with the House of Peace for many years. “That gives you an idea of how old I am,” she said.

“Rebecca” * then launched into a sad recitation of her woes. She said that she is disabled, dependent on her brother to bring her the provisions she needs in order to meet her special dietary needs. But alas, the brother was recently involved in a traffic accident, and his car is currently undriveable. Rebecca stated that she had been on the phone all day, unsuccessfully trying to find an agency or a church willing to bring her two organic chickens and a cabbage, so that she “would have something to eat over the weekend.”

Having experienced a number of satisfying, positive interactions with people earlier during the day, I was in a good mood, and decided on the spot that I would assist this lady. It occurred to me that perhaps I was being “set up”, but then I concluded that an elderly woman invoking the memory of Brother Booker and Father Matthew was unlikely to be scheming to rob me, or worse. So I agreed to pick up the brother (who lives near the House of Peace), drive to Outpost Natural Foods, purchase the chicken and cabbage, and deliver them to Rebecca on who lives on 40th and Teutonia.

I found Rebecca’s brother, Harold, to be delightful. He gave me an earful about Rebecca, though, who he described as demanding and controlling, and insisting that “everything be organic.” He indicated that he shops for her at least weekly, sometimes more frequently, and that when he cannot do it, she is on the phone calling around the city, telling people that he “will not do it.” But what can I do, he said with a laugh, “She’s my sister.”

The two chickens and a cabbage turned out to be just a starter, as during a couple more phone calls Harold received instructions as to a substantial number of additional items he was to purchase. And the hour that I had expected this mission to require was quickly turning into a second one.    

But at last the shopping was completed, and we were on our way to 40th and Teutonia. By the fact that Harold directed me there via a series of short cuts convinced me that yes, indeed, he has made this trip many times. Upon arrival, Rebecca was gratified to receive the groceries, and despite my protests, insisted that I take $10 “for gas.”

The return trip with Harold to his home was very pleasant, as we talked about Milwaukee, childhood experiences, and mutual acquaintances. And the following evening, as I enjoyed dinner with my Capuchin brothers in our friary, I imagined Rebecca at that moment feasting on chicken and cabbage in her home on 40th and Teutonia. 

*Names and locations changed to protect privacy.