Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Easter I Learned about Sharing

Portions of Till the Storm Passes By, Book One in my Alaskan Waters trilogy, were inspired by my years growing up in a children's home.

 Shortly after my sister was born and I was four years old, my parents were asked to take over the operation of the Bethel Beach Children's Home in Juneau, Alaska, when the matron retired. My dad worked for Alaska Coastal Airlines as boss of cargo to support our family and the home. My mother cared for as many as thirteen children, nine of them under five. Two were babies in cribs. Often, she had no help.

Our family & the children at the Bethel Beach Home c. 1951
On the positive side, we never lacked for playmates. We loved to play in the sandbox in the huge yard surrounded by woods on three sides and the beach on the other. Dressed in bathrobes, old clothes, and mop tops, we organized silly parades down the curved gravel driveway. In the winter, we snuggled into our snowsuits and made snow angels, built snow forts, and had snowball fights.

Whenever I wanted to play school, I had a ready group to instruct. I was usually the teacher. I'd set up my mother's Sunday school flannel board and recite the Bible stories using her flannel-graph figures.

And many hands made light work where chores were concerned. Every morning before going to school, we children made our own beds and dust mopped the floors of that big old house while Mother made breakfast.

Growing up in a children's home, though, was often a challenge to me as a young child. My parents were the houseparents. One-on-one time with them was scarce. I was old enough to remember when I didn't have to share them with so many. I missed it. One time, I asked Mother to set my hair so it would look extra special for school photographs the next day, but she didn't have time. I learned to set and style my own hair very young.

Somehow my parents were able to feed us well, but candy and desserts were rare and strictly rationed. We looked forward to special occasions when we received treats: trick or treating at Halloween, the Christmas program at church where we each received a stocking-shaped net bag containing an orange (fresh fruit was a treat in Alaska in the early fifties), a few chocolates, some hard candy, and an assortment of nuts, and my favorite, Easter baskets full of dyed hard-boiled eggs, candy eggs, jelly beans, and chocolate bunnies. Each of us had our own basket of candy to eat as quickly or as slowly as we chose. That was heaven to my sweet tooth.

One Easter Sunday afternoon, a new child came to live in the home unexpectedly. There was no basket prepared for that child. All the candy had been precisely divided among us children. Back then, stores were closed on Sundays.

So, Mother gathered us children around her and explained the situation. She asked each of us to give up a few pieces of our candy to the new child. "I'm not forcing you to do it," she said. "The decision is yours. I want you do to it because you want to."

Without hesitation, my little sister quickly offered up some of her candy. So did the others. But I struggled within myself. I wanted to make the child happy, but I didn't want to give up any of my candy. I also felt ashamed of myself. I knew the words of Jesus: "to give is better than to receive." Finally, I added some of my candy to the pile.

That week, an unexpected package arrived from my Philadelphia grandparents. They had sent us several one-pound fruit and creme chocolate covered eggs--special Easter eggs for which Philadelphia was noted. That Easter I learned that you can't out give God.

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