No more tabs!

Charlie owned and operated “Dodd’s Market”, a small neighborhood grocery store. I started working for Charlie when I was thirteen. I loved working at the store and I loved being around Charlie. Those really were “the good old days” of small family owned businesses and corner markets. Charlie knew most of his customers by first name and many of the “regulars” stopped by just to shoot the breeze.

Charlie was always cutting up, always joking around. He was a strong man with a grip like a vice. Our daily ritual was Charlie stretching out his hand and saying, “Put her there.” My challenge was to shove my hand as far back into Charlie’s as fast as possible, before he got a death grip on my fingers. After clamping down on my hand he would stomp on my foot and push me backwards. It was all I could do not to fall like a tree. He wouldn’t let me go until I cried, “I give!” And Charlie was no respecter of persons, he was more than willing to extend the same challenge to any kid who entered the store and many accepted and many fell.

My first job was carrying out the produce and displaying it outside, at the front of the store. In the morning I’d carry it out, and in the evening I’d carry it back, 50 cents each way. Charlie gradually added responsibilities as I proved myself. I thought I’d arrived when he allowed me to check out customers. In retrospect, I think it was the first time I felt like an adult, like a man.

I can see that old manual cash register with the pop-up numbers and pop-out money drawer, in my mind’s eye. I remember the cardboard box filled with “tabs” that we kept on a shelf under the register. Many of our “regular customers” would place their items on the counter and say, “Put it on my tab.” I’d pull out their tab and enter, by hand, every item they purchased. There were no credit applications to complete, just their word, their promise to pay. On pay days, they’d usually settle up or at least make a partial payment.

Robert Frost, in his famous poem, “The Road Not Taken”, wrote, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, yet knowing how way leads to way, I doubted that I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence.” Life took me down another path. I went away to college, Charlie was forced to sell his store for the construction of a high rise apartment building and he eventually died of cancer.

Several years after Charlie’s death I saw his son, Tom, at a football game. We reminisced about “the good old days” of working together at the store. Tom told me that Charlie had several boxes of “tabs”, thousands of dollars worth of unpaid accounts, when the store closed. Charlie had every legal right to demand payment in full, but Tom told me that Charlie just threw them all away and said, “No more tabs!”

When I think about the mercy and grace that God extended to me, I think of Charlie. I was saddled with a debt of sin and shame that I could never repay. Like Charlie, God had every legal right to demand payment in full. But, Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, paid it for me. Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished,” an ancient accounting expression meaning “Paid in full.” In other words, “No more tabs!”

Are you saddled with a spiritual debt you can never repay? Well, I have some “good news” for you: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9). No more tabs!

Now, on a practical horizontal plane, is there someone who you’re keeping tabs on? Are you harboring resentment and bitterness? Jesus said that when we refuse to extend mercy and forgiveness to others that we are “delivered to the tormentors” (Matthew 18:34). And bitterness is such a waste of life, a waste of time. So what do you say? Why not “throw away the tabs”, just let it go, and move on?

Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center – Hospice and can be reached at hardinl@somc.org or 740-356-2525.

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Straight Paths

Loren Hardin

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