The Fifth Commandment: a story by Joy Davidman

“Honor your father and mother” Exodus 20:12 //  Deuteronomy 5:16

A story told by Joy Davidman, Smoke on the Mountain, 60-61 which I read in  in Patrick Miller’s The Ten Commandments, 204-205

Joy Davidman & C.S. Lewis


Once upon a time there was a little old man.  His eyes blinked and his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware distressingly, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth.  Now he lived with his married son, having nowhere else to leave, and his son’s wife was a modern young woman who knew that in-laws should not be tolerated in a woman’s home.

“I can’t have this,” she said. “It interferes with a woman’s right to happiness.”  So she and her husband took the little old man gently but firmly y the arm and led him to the corner of the kitchen.  There they set him on a stool and gave him his food, what there was of it, in an earthenware bow.  From then on he always ate in the corner, blinking a the table with wistful eyes.

One day his hands trembled rather more than usual and the earthenware bowl fell and broke.  “If you are a pig,” said the daughter-in-law, “you must eat out of a trough.”  So they made him a little wooden trough, and he got his meals in that.

These people had a four-year-old son, of whom they were very fond.  One suppertime the young man noticed his boy playing intently with some bits of wood and asked what he was doing.

“I’m making a trough,” he said, smiling up for approval, “to feed you and Mamma out of when I get big.”

The man and his wife looked at each other for a while and didn’t say anything.  Then they cried a little.  Then they went to the corner and took the little old man by the arm and led him back to the table.  They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded when he clattered or spilled or broke things.”

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