The parson arrived a half hour after the Soup Supper Monday had opened. He supper had started back during the economic crisis and was often filled with folks who couldn't afford the groceries. At the soup kitchen, which often included more than soup, everything was free.
Gradually, as the economy improved, those in desperate need of the meal dwindled in numbers. But Florence was always there. Florence was a complicated person. She couldn't manage the little money she got from Social Security, and, as a consequence, within two weeks of receiving her check she'd be in search of funds. Florence was smooth. She never said she wanted anyone to give her money directly. Rather, “Hey, that mechanic that looked at my van said I needed a new radiator. I've been saving my money. Anyway you guys could give me the thirty I short?” Or, “You know they say there's a cold front moving in. My heat is on the blink. But they have those little space heaters on sale across the street. I could get a good deal over there. I only need twenty-five. It sure would save me from freezing to death.”
Every Monday night it was always the same. One time, however, Florence had become so vocal the parson got distrubed. “Florence, do you see all these people who don't go to church here?” She looked around and acknowledged she did. “Don't be hitting them up for money, Florence. They're guests. Just dont' do it.”
She told the parson okay and added it wasn't a problem because she thought she had enough anyway.
Two days later the parson came upon one of the town's homeless. He was one of the five or six men who lived under the bridge over the railroad track on Highway Forty-One. “Frank,” said the parson, “that's a good looking coat you've got there.”
“Yeah, it is,” said Frank, “Florence went out and hit up some people at some church and bought all of us a new coat for the winter.”
As the parson entered the fellowship hall he immediately looked for Florence to find out how much she was in need of in order to get it over. Florence wasn't there?
“Where's Florence?” the parson asked.
“Haven't seen her tonight,” said one of the ladies who'd prepared the meal.
The parson sat at one of the tables and began to consume his. “Hey, Parson, where's Florence?” asked the next one into the Fellowship Hall. The next person entering asked the same. And the next.
The parson finished his meal, packed up a box of carryout containers, and headed out to deliver meals to the homebound. A little over an hour later he returned. He entered and scanned the Fellowship Hall. “Florence didn't come tonight?” he asked.
“Nope,” nobody has seen her,” replied one of the young people.
Again and again people asked about Florence. Finally, the “head cook” looked at her watch and said, “Okay, that's it. I'm going to go by her place and check on her.”
Twenty minutes later she returned. “She's not there. Her neighbor said she was taking a short vacation.” The parson couldn't help but compare Florence's fundraising abilities with his own and judged himself coming up short.
“Well, thank God she's okay,” said more than one.
The parson smiled to himself. “Funny,” he thought, “how much you can miss the most aggravating people once you've grown to love them.”T