A Catholic Monthly Magazine


by Maria Kennedy

The quality of being generous – a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected.  Oxforddictionaries.com

This is a modern-day reflection on the generous widow at the temple in Luke’s gospel. As a sensible kiwi girl I have tried to find a balance between irresponsible giving on the one hand and spirit-filled generosity on the other. I have widened the meaning of generosity to include not just giving money but to giving whole- heartedly of yourself.

Barbara looked up from the newspaper and let Roger know. “Anne’s death notice is in.”

“Anne Freeman –the lady who ran the white elephant stall at the school fair.”

“Your rubbish is someone else’s treasure she used to say. Finding things that other people didn’t want, she reckoned it was like getting a free lucky dip.”

“That’s her. She always saw the positives.”

Anne Freeman was the modern-day face of the poor yet generous New Testament widow in the Gospel of Luke who gave all she had to live on for a temple offering. Anne was widowed early in her marriage, left with three young boys to raise, the youngest being under one year of age, after her husband died suddenly of a heart attack. Her sole income was the benefit until the boys started high school and then she managed to make ends meet by working as a checkout operator at the supermarket. After a course she completed at night school, she worked in accounts at the local building supply depot. She never afforded to buy a house. She drove second-hand ex-rental cars. She travelled overseas once and that was on a holiday paid for by her grown sons when she turned sixty.

Anne never remarried but carried on raising her boys with a good mother’s care. That included stretching her limited dollars to keep her boys clothed and fed. When her boys started high school at the Catholic college, she bought their school uniforms second-hand and thought how lucky she was to get them in such excellent condition. She sewed her own clothes to save costs. She kept a vegetable garden. Whenever the boys needed extra funds for their sports trips, she’d be the first standing behind the barbeque for the fund-raising sausage sizzle and every sausage was handed over with a welcome smile and extra lashings of onions if they were partial.

Sausage Sizzle

Sausage Sizzle

But everyone knew and loved Anne for the annual white elephant stall she ran at the school fair. She had a way with her. During the year with every box that got dropped off at her house, she’d make people feel they’d given her the crown jewels. There was something in her open face and smile that expressed gratitude that warmed the giver so much, it encouraged giving. By the time of the school fair, boxes were everywhere about the house – down the hallway, lining the back wall of her small lounge, stuffed under beds and into wardrobes. But Anne didn’t care. It wouldn’t be long before they would be gone and it was all for a good cause. Anne was passionate about the benefits of a good education, and supporting her local school at the school fair was her way of doing her bit. Her raffle ticket purchases reflected this same enthusiasm when she bought not just one ticket but the whole book. This act witnessed by some was sometimes frowned upon with the claim she was spending money she didn’t have to spare. But then her critics didn’t have her skills for budgeting.White-Elephant-stall

The white elephant stall was credited over the years for raising many funds for the school. For not only did Anne have a knack of receiving goods with good grace, she also knew how to sell them on. “Bargain for the home gardener.” Her salesmanship skills became a sport of conquest among the fair goers. The more they delayed, the more she enthused, until every item shone like Gideon’s gold. “You won’t see better, I can tell you that now.” In the end, each customer succumbed and handed over their money. This was Anne’s gift and she gave it to the full.

In fact, Anne wasn’t happy unless she was giving - scones, soup, a jar of jam, a plate of sandwiches. If anyone got sick and Anne heard of it, she’d turn up sooner or later. “Cooee,” she’d say. “Just thought I’d pop in and see how you were doing.” She was the best sort of visitor. She was always cheerful. She knew what was going on in the parish and handed out the news in the same way she handed over items for purchase at the white elephant stall, putting everything in a positive light. Then she would get up and go because she was just on her way to somewhere else. And there was never any need to get up because she was quite happy to let herself out.

Yes, Anne was very much like the widow of the New Testament. Like the widow, she didn’t have much, and like the widow, she gave what she had in full measure.

Barbara looked at her watch distractedly. It wasn’t the time she was looking for. Instead, she was sorting out her thoughts. “I wonder who is organising the cup of tea after the funeral. I know Anne would want everyone to be well fed. I’ll give Deidre a call. We’re going to have to make those tables sag in the middle under the weight of food. It’s the least we can do for Anne after her whole life of being generous to us.”   

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