by Sean Connolly
Most evenings a group of men are sitting, listening to music, playing cards and drinking beer underneath a scrubby pine tree in a dirt front yard on Dove Street in Allendale.
Missionary David Zimmel used to walk by often. Sometimes he’d be carrying a plate of food—his contribution to a common meal at the Bowars or the Reinhardts, who live next door to where the men gather.
“Where you goin’ so fast?,” one of the men would call out, if he saw the food.
David would stop, show him the salad or bread he was carrying, offer the man some, and then the man would refuse. This friendly verbal dance continued each time David went by with food, with call, response, offer and refusal, until one day last spring when David was carrying a pan of Special K bars. (They are normally made with Special K cereal, peanut butter and corn syrup, with melted chocolate and butterscotch, but this time David had substituted bran flakes for the Special K.) The man said he’d like to try them, so after dinner David brought him the leftover bars.
A few months later, David was walking by again when he heard a familiar voice. “Hey, man, when are you gonna bring me some more of those bars?”
“When do you want them?,” David asked.
“Tomorrow?,” the man suggested.
David was reluctant, explaining that he’d have to go to the store to get the ingredients, and that the bars could be kind of expensive to make.
“How much we talking?”
“Five or ten bucks.”
“That’s it? That’s nothing,” the man said. Then he walked to his car, brought out a crumpled $5 bill and gave it to David.
Several days later, David returned with a full pan of the bars. The man appeared to have forgotten about his request, but his face lit up when he saw them. He and the other men ate them eagerly.
That day the group included a neighbor from across the street, Oscar. He’s a strong man, a landscaper by trade, with a huge voice and a history of being unfriendly to the mission team. Nathan Barrett recalls when Oscar cussed him out in that booming voice, as he and some other team members were helping someone move out of a nearby house. “You’d wave at Oscar and he’d look the other way,” recalled Gerry Deakin.
When Oscar found out David had made the bars, he couldn’t believe it. He told David he’d like to hire him to make some for a family reunion he would be hosting at his house.
“What if I teach you to make them?,” David asked.
The next day, David brought another set of the ingredients over to Oscar’s house. He had never been inside before, in spite of many years of attempting to befriend Oscar, including numerous offers to have Action volunteers work at his house. Oscar had always refused.
David joined Oscar and his wife Vanessa in the kitchen, and they made the bars—a simple job that took about 20 minutes. Oscar also showed David his new refrigerator and asked if he knew how to hook it up to the water line.
The next weekend, David and Joe Bulger spent the day connecting the refrigerator, laughing with Oscar as they made trip after trip to the hardware store, trying to find the proper pipe fitting. Oscar told David that the Special K bars had been a hit with his family and that everyone wanted them at their next gathering.
David soon left town for two weeks, but while he was gone Oscar walked across the street to where the Bowars and Reinhardts live. Both families have young babies less than a year old. Oscar saw Ben and Kathleen Reinhardt and stuffed a $10 bill in Ben’s hand, telling them he wanted them to buy a toy for their son, Luke. Then he told them he wanted to have them and the Bowars over to his house for a barbecue.
Oscar also visited the Bowars, giving them $10 for their twins and inviting them to the barbecue.
John Bowar says he has observed this friendliness growing in Oscar. It appears to stem from little gestures: from the Special K bars, from the caramel rolls the Bowars delivered at Easter time, and from Oscar seeing John and the twins taking a walk. One day Oscar took out the Bowars’ trash. Another evening he offered to stand watch while Colleen Bowar brought in some groceries from the car, wanting her to know she was safe.
Nowadays, Oscar doesn’t look away when a mission team member greets him, but points out John to the other men when John is going by, saying, “Hey, that’s my neighbor.” John, for his part, calls him “Uncle Oscar,” wanting his kids, even at their young age, to see their neighbor as part of the family.
“When I called him Uncle Oscar, he just got this huge grin on his face,” John said.
Most recently, Oscar gave the Bowars another gift for the twins, $20 this time. “I’m gonna be their godfather,” he told Colleen. “And I’m gonna be a really good godfather!”
Special K Bars
• Microwave 1 cup sugar and 1 cup corn syrup in 30-second intervals until sugar dissolves.
• Mix in 1 cup peanut butter.
• Mix in 6 cups Special K or other crispy cereal.
• Press into greased 9x13 pan, and put pan into fridge or freezer to chill.
• Microwave 1 to 2 cups each of chocolate and butterscotch chips in 30-second intervals until melted. Stir and spread over bars.
• Refrigerate to allow topping to set before serving.