The heavy monogrammed duffel bag landed with a thud on top of the red plaid quilt covering his four-poster wooden bed. Out of the duffel side pocket, Marshall grabbed his latest ESPN sports magazine. Stepping on the heel of each loafer, he kicked them off and shuffled barefoot out into the spacious hallway and down two flights of stairs.
Into the kitchen he strode opening the fridge and poured a tall glass of peach iced tea. Tea in hand, he stepped out onto the clay tile of his dad’s smoking porch to unwind on the first day of spring holidays.
Marshall S. O’Neil III’s grandfather, M. Stanton O’Neil, Sr., had grown up impoverished. Through timely real estate investments, however, he gradually worked his way up the economic ladder to live in complete luxury by his late twenties. As a result, he ingrained in his son, M. Stanton O’Neil, Jr., a strong work ethic and compassion for the less fortunate. In carrying out his legacy, Marshall’s dad had been faithful in raising his son in like manner.
Underneath the ceiling fan on the side porch of the grandiose home, Marshall placed his tea on the glass-top table beside him, rolled up his button-down sleeves and lay across long ways with his knee hiked up on the antique wicker swing. He began feasting on his favorite article, the Tour de France, which he held upright on his chest while his big toe swept along the tile.
Beside the colorful action photos, a clan of school children caught his attention. Trailing home they paraded along the distant sidewalk lined with blooming pear trees planted down along the bottom hill of his front yard. He paused leaning up on one elbow and observed them intently. Snapshots of youth passed before his eyes: pairs of tennis shoes, sagging book bags, swinging pony tails, lunch boxes and waist-tied jackets. As he stared, the images transported him back in time to his own days in elementary school.
Through his mind flashed memories of his well-groomed classmates in their navy and khaki plaid uniforms chasing one another across the manicured soccer field, others squealing down the wavy slide and some competing against each other for height on the high swings. All well-to-do children in Marshall’s hometown attended Hartwell Academy which held treasures of forgotten memories of his favorite years.
His vivid recollection contrasted sharply, however, with the hues of gray and brown the children in front of him carried. The dirty faces, dingy clothing and soiled belongings surprised and disturbed him. He reasoned that the children must be on their way to catching the bus to the south side where families apparently didn’t care to clean themselves or their clothes. How do parents let them out of the house looking like that? he thought to himself, straightening the collar of his shirt.
“Geez,” he said out loud. As he pondered, he took note of the changing weather which seemed to have taken a hazy turn from the radiant sky he enjoyed that morning looking out the window of his descending flight.
Hank, the yard man, and his crew blasted their mowers, blowers, and edging tools out in the back of the property slowly making their way around to the front, the equipment blasting louder as they approached. When they finally appeared one-by-one making their way around the porch, Marshall shuttered discreetly at the unusually dingy appearance of the crew’s uniforms as they completed their maintenance without noticing him.
Since he was young, Marshall had secretly monitored Hank’s management of his employees and recognizing in him the admirable work ethic his dad had taught. Marshall often daydreamed of one day hiring employees of his own to manage. He knew well that Hank ran a tight ship, his men always sporting professional forest green jumpsuits with crisp white trim. Today, however, they appeared unexpectedly dull, the crisp white collars and side stripes looking beige, completely out of character for Hank‘s high standards.
Hank? Slacking off? Man, he needs to get his act together, Marshall concluded shaking his head.
Scanning the elegant, masculine ambiance of the dark wood on his dad’s porch and the elaborate landscaping surrounding it, Marshall relished his privileged upbringing and the freshly laundered clothes he wore every day. I could never sacrifice clean uniforms for my men, he thought to himself.
“Scusi” chirped Isabella, the house maid who lived in the small furnished guest house out back. She had just returned from a six-week trip home to Italy to help care for her elderly mother who lived with Isabella’s sister, Loretta, while Loretta and her husband visited his family in Wales. Catching up on her daily rounds, Isabella dusted, vacuumed, and organized the O’Neil home thoroughly.
“Don wan in-rupt you,” she apologized for the intrusion, wiping down the glass table and large painted, antique bird-cage on the chest behind him. Then she swiftly covered the clay tiles and center Persian rug with the vacuum and disappeared into his dad’s adjacent study, closing the narrow double doors behind her.
Now that’s how to do it right, Marshall thought to himself admiring her immaculate work compared to the lingering images of the unkempt clothes and uniforms. Reaching to the side table, he enjoyed a drink of peach iced tea then placed it back on the cork and wooden coaster.
Quietly, the maid snuck back out on to the porch while Marshall had lost himself in the dramatic details of international cycling. While standing on her tip toes to clean the tall windows enclosing the porch, Isabella’s apron shifted side to side as she cleaned the glass. Marshall glanced up noticing the strength and endurance she held in her vigorous efforts to remove the six weeks worth of cigar smoke residue. Up and down she sprayed and back and forth she wiped. Streak by streak, she brought the brilliant day back in to focus for Marshall.
As she passed in front of him spraying and wiping her way around to the corner wall of glass, Marshall pinpointed the last straggling group of children walking home from school. Yet, this group appeared to stand out from the others. The brown and gray hues he noticed with the first group of children had vanished. Meanwhile, Marshall spotted Hank easing down the long, cobblestone driveway in his large, white crew cab. His workers quickly loaded the last pieces of equipment in to the back of the truck before jumping in one after the other, their uniforms surprisingly looking as fresh as ever.
In the back of his mind, Marshall heard the distinctive deep voice of his late grandfather echoing choice words, “Man looks at appearances, but God sees the heart.” A pang of conviction seized Marshall. He slowly slumped down against the arm of the swing.
As Isabella finished wiping down the last pane, she swirled around toward Marshall with a smile of satisfaction, the spray bottle in one hand and the rag in the other, which she held out in large gesture toward the windows displaying her finished work.
“Bellissimo!” she announced theatrically.
“Si,” Marshall forced acknowledgment of her accomplishment, and the obvious clarity it brought.
“Tardi,” she replied, tucking the bottle under her arm and grabbing the small vacuum, and vanished behind the double doors.
The spotless panes glared at Marshall while the knot of conviction in his gut swelled to the size of a grapefruit. With the growing grimace upon his face, he couldn’t help but slowly release his grip on the glossy pages. They fluttered and landed with a slap on his seared conscience.
1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?