I overheard someone on the bus the other day say that one person's trash was another person's treasure. At first, I thought they might've been discussing the metallic moonboots one of them was wearing, so you can imagine my increasing glee when they got off the bus and both of the seats of their pants declared them "Juicy".
It was looking a little trashy to me...
But that got me thinking. I didn't know those people, and I didn't know their story. Surely those boots were better than freezing. Perhaps they both really needed those pants...
I went back to school the fall of my 26th year. The Boy, as he was known then, was four. For the first semester, I worked full-time, took a full load at school, and flirted with full-time exhaustion. One never knows how one appears to others until a cafeteria worker frowns into your face and asks, "Honey, are you feeling okay? You look awful. You look -- well, you look yellow."
Well, yes, I was yellow.
Yellow, with touches of pink, and, increasingly, blue, is my signature skin color.
We were poor then. I paid the bills, of course, but beyond that, there would be some ridiculous figure like $12 to tide us over from one pay period to the next.
When spring came, and to augment our grocery money ($40 every two weeks), I planted a garden in the back: green beans, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and flowers. I'm not sure what I was thinking there, with the flowers, but The Boy wandered in with fists full of them every now and then, flowers for his mommmy, which I pressed between the pages of the unabridged dictionary.
Two days a week, we were "meatless". I would send my son out into the backyard with an ice cream bucket and we would eat mounds of steamed green beans with butter, salt and pepper; sliced tomatoes with little dollops of Miracle Whip on top of them; and cukes and onions in a vinegar/water mix.
By mid-September, however, the garden had ceased producing. Increasingly we had scrambled eggs or oatmeal and toast for dinner. I would sometimes claim not to be hungry so that the food would last longer.
I suddenly had an appreciation for why both my mother and my grandmother claimed to love the chicken necks while offering the rest of the fried bird to family.
I remember the Monday after Thanksgiving. It was a school day, and shortly before the end of it, my new friend Carla approached me. She was well-to-do, her husband doing very well with his own construction company. "You busy after school?"
"I have to pick up The Boy from daycare and then I have homework, why?"
"I have something in my trunk for you."
I laughed. "Like what?"
"Well," she said, "I don't want you to be insulted or anything. You won't be insulted, will you?"
"Hmm," I said. "I don't know. Probably not."
"Then meet me here at 4:30."
At 4:30, we met, and I followed her out to her car. It was cold, with a sharp wind from the north. You could smell the snow that was coming. Carla talked all the way to her car: she thought her husband was cheating on her, her kids were getting bad grades, she felt depressed. I struggled to hear her against the roaring wind.
"... dinner with Larry's family and all and there was just so much food... He doesn't like leftovers, and I just don't know what to do with this..."
She popped the trunk of her car, and there, on a cookie sheet, was the foil-covered carcass of what must've been a 25-to 30-pound bird.
I looked at her, my mouth open.
"Did you go to your parents for Thanksgiving?" she asked.
I shook my head. I couldn't speak. I hadn't had the gas money to fill the '74 Ford LTD for the trip. The Boy's father had picked him up for the weekend, and I had spent the time alone.
"Are you insulted?" she asked. "I thought of you right away. I know you don't have much, and I know you can do a lot with this, can't you?"
I didn't trust my voice. There was so much meat left. I had potatoes. I had some carrots, some onions. With a few more groceries I could make Turkey ala King, turkey sandwiches, a turkey casserole of some sort, turkey soup...
We would eat well for over a week.
And that's when I burst into tears, whereupon Carla, too, wept.
"You're not mad?" she cried. "I know you! I know how you are! You're not mad, are you?"
"Don't ever," I choked, "apologize for helping."
We hugged, and she drove me to my car, whereupon we moved the cookie sheet from her trunk to mine.
Fifteen minutes later, I showed The Boy what was in the trunk.
"We'll eat like kings," he proclaimed.
I hugged him. "It's a present from a friend at school," I said.
"That was very nice," he said. "If we still had some of those tomatoes, we could give her one as a thank you present."
Sometimes, one person's trash is another person's treasure.
And sometimes, one person's trash is a whole family's treasure.
One Last Note
10 hours ago