I don’t write vignettes very often, and I don’t think I’m very good at it, but maybe this little piece will interest a few folks to whom my normal fare doesn’t often appeal.
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She was what you might think of as a “little old lady,” and she lived diagonally across from me, through the backyards. I suppose she was 75 or so when I met her, and she’s presumably passed from this life. Her first name was Pauline, but I called her “Mrs. Shuck.” I could see Mrs. Shuck’s back porch from mine. And I crossed paths with her over a mulberry tree in my yard.
I happened to be renting a two-story brick house from a landlord whose memory and judgment I had some reason to suspect at that point.¹ He was new at the business and didn’t know how to handle some things. I later learned that I was probably on the upper end of his clientele, and my house, being owned by his parents, was sort of ancillary to his normal operation, so it wasn’t always on his radar.
Let’s rewind for a minute to pick up the mulberry trail. . . . After springtime Sunday school in Wilmington, Delaware, we young kids would make our way to the little hill that bordered the property on the north. There was less rush in life then, and families hung around longer, giving us kids plenty of time to play under the willow tree or to roll grapefruit-sized “monkey balls” down the hill. We also picked and ate the mulberries from a tree on that hill. Fresh berries are always good things!
Now back to my rental house and a rejuvenated phase in my own life. The Heartland sky was big and beautiful, and the surrounding farmland, as charming as it was productive. I can still recall the fresh, local cucumbers from that first summer in Kansas. And when spring kicked into gear the following year, I was delighted to find that my backyard had a mulberry tree. What could be better than fresh, free berries? Just like on the hill across the parking lot at Cedars! I wasn’t exactly a kid in a candy shop, but I remember picking and eating while mowing the lawn. I don’t think I baked a mulberry pie, but I probably put some berries in my fridge.
Enter the villainess of the story. [Cue mock-sinister music.] At some point I became aware that Mrs. Shuck didn’t like the mulberry tree. She groused about the robins pooping purple on the fresh sheets she had hung on her clothesline. Well, maybe use your dryer, I probably thought. Sorry, but the tree is 50 feet away from your clothesline, and it’s not in your yard. I was busy in a new teaching job, and more or less forgot about the issue, unaware that my landlord was seriously entertaining this lady’s complaints. One afternoon when I returned from work, though, I found that the tree had been cut down! I called to find out what was up, and the landlord confirmed that he had indeed cut the tree down in response to Mrs. Shuck’s complaint.
I was miffed.
This was before I had developed an abiding cynicism about people with clout, but really . . . who was this meddlesome woman who had the clout to get into my business and rob me of the fresh mulberries?
Within a day or two, realizing that fruit of mulberry tree was not written into my lease, I cooled down and wrote a note of forgiveness to Mrs. Shuck. I had been mad, and I guess she knew it. I delivered the note to her door, and she received it graciously. She explained and apologized for the offense, and we had a little get-to-know-you chat. She later wrote me a note of her own after attending a concert in which I performed, and she wished me well.
I vaguely remember that Mrs. Shuck was a Christian of some stripe, but I don’t remember her church affiliation. And whether she was or wasn’t doesn’t really matter in this context. (I’m stupid but not stupid enough to think that the Jesus-follower’s forgiveness ideal is applicable only to interactions in which both parties are Christian. No, it’s more of a mantra—an M.O. for every interaction.) At first, I think my forgiveness toward Mrs. Shuck was through gritted teeth, as it were. (Remember Stephen Keaton of the old Family Ties series as he uttered the name of Mallory’s questionable boyfriend Nick?) But at least I tried to act my way into forgiving her for robbing me of mulberries, and she appreciated it.
Now, I again have a mulberry tree in my yard—next to my driveway, in fact. Poetic justice, you might say. And now, my little pickup truck is almost as white as Mrs. Shuck’s sheets. The bird poop stains on both vehicles are abhorrent little masses of disgustingness. My neighbor acknowledges the nice shade but also wishes this tree had been cut down years ago.
Mrs. Shuck, I understand better now. And I forgive you better now, too.
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In anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:34-35, NET)
Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. (Col 3:13, MSG)
¹ In signing the rental agreement, I had made sure the fireplace was operational and eventually bought some wood in the fall. I checked the flue carefully, and it was open. I started my first fire, but smoke billowed into my family room. After throwing water on it and opening the windows, I called the landlord. He had forgotten that the chimney had been bricked in—completely closed at the top! A few other, minor things occurred in the first year there, indicating that my landlord was not completely on the ball, but I left on very good terms.