I opened a can of soup for a late lunch today—and it sent me back thirty years. Because I can’t open a can of soup alone in my apartment without thinking of Jimmy.
Jimmy was a small, frail man with a constant three-day growth of gray whiskers and the distended liver of a chronic alcoholic. I was bartending at a neighborhood dive in Lubbock, Texas, where my own party-daze wanderings had landed me for a while. Every day around one o’clock Jimmy would amble in, and I would take down his personal beer mug that hung above the bar and fill it with Budweiser. (If you bought a personal mug for a few bucks you got 16 oz. draft beers for the price of 12 oz. in perpetuity. In this joint the ceiling was covered with them.)
Come about five o’clock, one of the bartenders, often me, would assume our unofficial duty of escorting Jimmy across the street to his humble apartment. And depending on how drunk he was, he or I would open a can of Campbell’s soup, which was probably his main, maybe his only, meal of the day. Sometimes I’d sit a few minutes while the soup heated.
One time, and only once, Jimmy started talking about the war. It wasn’t much of a talk. As usual he was barely coherent, and he mumbled for maybe a minute about the Pacific Theatre and the horrors he endured there before his emotions stopped him from continuing.
I don’t recall what I did then. Maybe turned down the soup and told him I’d see him tomorrow. Certainly in my youthful ignorance and whacked-out frame of reference about drinking it didn’t dawn on me that he might need help. Nor did I know that such help even existed. AA was far more underground back then, and “recovery” wasn’t yet part of the cultural conversation.
But I did see the tears on Jimmy’s cheeks before I left, and have remembered them from time to time over the years. And I think of the uncounted costs of war (and how I never had to serve). And how fortunate I’ve been to have the resources and support I’ve had. And I’m grateful that I am able to eat more than soup. And most grateful that I’m not alone.
And if you are a part of Neighborhood Church, you’re not alone either. Because if you or someone you know is in need of some meals, a ride or escort somewhere, a sympathetic ear, visits at home for you or a family member, or many other forms of support, an experienced Pastoral Care team is ready and eager to assist you. These caring folks can also provide confidential referrals to community resources that can help with issues of addiction, mental/emotional/physical health, family well-being, crisis intervention services, and more. Simply contact the church office to leave a message for Lyn Munro, our Pastoral Care Ministry Coordinator. Or of course, be in touch in touch with our ministers, Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson or Rev. Hannah Petrie.
I wish I’d had the presence of mind to try to help Jimmy back then. I sometimes wonder who he was before the scars of war and mugs of Bud combined to undo him. While no doubt he’s long gone, he lives on in my desire to help as I can now—and in meals of canned soup as evening approaches.
Peter Farriday, Ministerial Intern