“Give me your shoe boxes, please!” – A True Story
In 1944 the Japanese overran Burma cutting off Allied supplies to the Chinese. General Vinegar Joe Stillwell was busy constructing the new “Burma Road” starting in India. I drove truck for the US Army.
On one trip, while halted for some reason in the streets of Calcutta, a woman jumped on the running board of my flatbed truck.
“Give me your shoe boxes, please!” She begged while knocking on my side window. There were hundreds of boxes of boots on the bed, held there by side racks. I tried to ignore her because we had orders not to give anything away. Riots had erupted when this happened; hungry, poor people.
Shoe boxes, what in the world does she want shoe boxes for? As the knocking and pleading continued, I turned to see a little lady with wide, tender eyes. The eyes even pleaded, Give me your shoe boxes!
I rolled the window down, “You know I can’t give you anything.”
“Just your boxes, you will throw them away anyway. Please. The boxes, please!”
“I can’t give you the boxes; they all have boots in them.”
“Please come with me.”
“I’m the driver and can’t leave the truck; we’re in a convoy.”
“You’ve been sitting here for hours. There are guards all around. You will hear the convoy start up. Come with me, please. I need to show you something.”
I looked around, guards were everywhere.
I glanced over at my buddy riding shotgun. Grinning, he shrugged his shoulders and nodded in her direction, “I’ll honk when we start up.”
She hopped down, expectantly. I opened the door and stepped down, reluctantly. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to a nearby building.
Reaching the door, she paused and looked up. Her eyes seemed to search my soul. I felt uncomfortable. Why? She slowly opened the door. Entering into the semi-darkness she led me to the center of the room. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. My anger started to rise when I realized she had somehow talked other solders into giving her boxes. There were hundreds lining the walls, shoe box after shoe box.
I noticed other women scurrying around, bending over these boxes. I moved closer.
“Oh, Lord!” My cry was so loud all movement around me briefly stopped. She had been gathering throwaway babies off the streets of Calcutta. My eyesight blurred from welling tears.
Wordless, I turned and practically dragged this little lady back to the truck, followed by at least a dozen women. I ordered my buddy out of the truck and grabbed two guards, “Help me get these boots out of the boxes. Give the boxes to these women.”
My misty glare sufficed an answer.
Within minutes we had the boxes emptied, and the boots tied together by their laces. With the last box emptied and gone, my buddy asked, “Who was that feisty, little lady?”
“I don’t know. She called herself ‘Sister Teresa’.”
Decades later I thanked God I had opportunity to have met this “Sister” who later won the Nobel Peace Prize as “Mother Teresa”. To me, she was already a “mother” in 1944.
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