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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wherein I Get Sentimental About a Bird I Once Knew

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.

48 comments:

That Janie Girl said...

Ahhh, girly.

What a beautiful thing to do. I bet you did amazing things with that bird!

Bouncin' Barb said...

Great story. One that a lot of people could learn some compassion and humility from.

Susan in the Boonies said...

My eyes are full of tears, Pearl.
What a great reminder to share what we have.
It may not seem like much, but it can make all the difference to someone else.
Thank you for telling that story.

Sending you a hug.

Lazarus said...

That's a very nice and heartwarming story Pearl. Too nice, in fact, for me to leave a snarky comment. Damn. I'm glad that you have done well for yourself since those days, but it's always good to remember where you came from. Another great post.

jabblog said...

Wonderful story - and I think you helped Carla as much as she helped you:-)

becca said...

aw sweet post

Buffalo said...

Well done.

ellen abbott said...

Many a night we had cheese and crackers for dinner. And then there were the times I'd call our best friends and ask if we could come over for dinner. Ah to be young and struggling although later we perfected the living hand to mouth. Now we look forward to chinese cat food in our old age. being an artist may be fun, but it doesn't come with a retirement package.

SherilinR said...

man, now i'm all teary over half a bird carcass.

Sarah Has Moxie said...

Beautiful story, Pearl, really, really beautiful. This is one of my favorite posts from you, ever. :)

Linda Myers said...

Nothin' says lovin' like sharing food.

injaynesworld said...

Some of your best writing ever. I loved this. So poignant and relatable.

Kyddryn said...

We have very few rules here at Cassa de Crazy. One of them is "Everbody eats."

It's that simple.

You may not always have as much as you want...but you won't starve. Humans, critters...everybody eats. I won't let anyone do without, unless it's me (and that's MY choice).

It's nice to know there are other folks in the world who feel the same way.

Meanwhile, no one's bottom, under any circumstance, needs to be declared "juicy". I still wonder if the folks wearing those pants realize the image they project. Is a juicy bottom really such a good thing?? I wear hand-me-downs, still - hey, you don't turn down free, plus-sized maternity pants!! - but draw the line at declaring my bottom anything other than covered.

Shade and Sweetwater,
K (whose Someone loves to garden, which is our saving grace come Summer...now, if she can learn to preserve what she cannot freeze, we'll be golden all Winter, too)

Douglas said...

Sweet story of friendship and charity. I never got that close to hungry. I always managed to have enough to eat. Of course, that mostly meant cheap ground beef, some rice or barley and peas (or corn or peas and carrots) mixed together with gravy from powder.

Tracy said...

Oh my, what a beautiful story and I've been poor as well so know how vital and special the gestures of others are.
well done, my friend!

Anything Fits A Naked Man said...

What a beautiful, lovely story. I love how you used the "trash and treasure" theme, so very fitting! You know, I've also suffered some hard, meatless times in my life, back in the day. Now that those days are past, I've often thought about doing acts like this one your friend did, but I've also worried about making the recipient embarrassed or mad. The difference is, your friend risked it, because she knew you could use it. I'm going to remember that, thanks!!

Belle said...

That was so moving. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

HumorSmith said...

Ah damn. I came over all prepared to leave some cute smartass comment and you hit me with this. I love your heart woman!

Sausage Fingers said...

Nice one Pearl, great story.
Is the "Juicy" a marketing option for choosy men? The bums of women are generally to be clocked by us dudes but the "Juicy" tag is disturbing to say the least, as if to say that other lasses have over-cooked dry bums and the "Juicy" ones will be a better option.
Weird eh...

a Broad said...

Ahhh, you usually make me laugh but I am sitting here weeping for the sweetness of this story.
Your friend, you , the boy .. Thank you ..

Symdaddy said...

That story rang so many bells for me Pearl.

A very well told tale of a caring friendship.

Hutch said...

A reminder to us that we may be the only face of God that a person every sees in their life. I remember when the concubine and I were homeless and lived in my sisters basement rent and food free for 6 months. Not that long ago for 2 getting old ladies. We are here to help each other along the way - thanks for reminding us to be brave and offer that help and be gracious in accepting it when offered.

Sioux said...

This post reminded me of my really poor days, which inspired a post (and I included a link to your blog---not that you need it, with almost 800 groupies).

Roses said...

I remember what it's like to be that broke. Being broke and a single parent is one of the scariest feelings ever.

Warm hugs to you and warm hugs to those who love and helped look after you.

Revenge Of The Flipper Kids said...

I know it's not quite the same thing as a young mom with a son but I remember WELL being a student and working two jobs and still not having any money for anything. I'd survive on bread that was marked down and other final sale items like tins of baked beans and corn. I could make a jar of peanut butter last for weeks. And the times where you wonder if things will ever improve. I'm still budgetting like crazy but at least these days I can afford a pizza now and then. :) Your story made me all teary.

Have you noticed that the "juicy" pants wearers are usually the least juicy members of society? Like people who have vanity plates that say things like "H0TT1E" are usually the people who break cameras with their fugly.

GYPSYWOMAN said...

oh, a beautiful story - and a familiar one - to me, at least - and like so many of your stories, it reminds me of one of my own when i was an undergraduate - a single mom with 5 little ones, splitting everything 6 ways was always a challenge - a couple of semesters i worked for a little lady as her personal assistant - she was very wealthy, but older and unable to drive herself any long due to her vision etc - so she hired me to read to her, pay her bills, write notes to friends, etc - and, she also had a fortune sitting in her yard - several huge pecan trees that bore pecans as if they would never bear again - needless to say, we picked pecans every week - now - do YOU know how many different ways there are to prepare pecans? i do! 10,001~~~
great story, lady, as always! ;)

Jhon Baker said...

That is a wonderful story, I have always loved being on the side of giving but Buddha knows I've been on the side of receiving, I can only hope I am as gracious now with giving as I was with receiving then.

Gigi said...

Oh Pearl! You've ruined my carefully applied mascara. Many hugs to you - just because.

Simply Suthern said...

Been on both sides of that. It's good for everyones hearts.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Beautiful story. I love what you said to her... never apologize for helping. My eyes teared up, too.

Sarah said...

What an uplifting and heartwarming story. It reminds me of growing up, and helps me remember what an awesome woman my mom was to be able to stretch a dollar until it screamed. Thanks for sharing with us.

Shawn said...

Very nice & thanks for the kind words
Shawn

Jerry said...

If you had to stumble, I'm glad it was my place that you landed. I promise, landings are always soft there.

That said, I sighed and rolled my eyes a little and figured that the least I could do was read your words -- a bit of payback. You did read mine.

What a delight -- the kind of story that warms the cockles (whatever that is) and everyone's heart. I know it captured mine...so I'm here to stay.

Warmest wishes,

Jerry

On My Soapbox said...

Wow. What The Boy said was really humbling. When I was a kid, my parents were in dire straits at one point. For Christmas, someone brought us a turkey and some little gifts. I cried. Fast forward about three decades, and I paid it forward. I cried again, but this time it felt great!

powdergirl said...

For chrissake Pearl,
You got me with that one.

Tempo said...

Beautiful story and a beautiful lesson Pearl!

imbeingheldhostage said...

Oh, this post hit me right in the gut. Thank you for sharing this story! We've been there too and also had some lovely people reach out. It's amazing the goodness that's in the world that goes unheralded.

Maundering mutterer said...

One farm I worked on - I ran out of food. Somehow the news got out and all the workers - simple folk who I had no language in common with - started giving me food: fish caught in the dam, a pumpkin, a bag of tomatoes. It's wonderful when people care like that.

Donna B said...

I was a single Mom with two daughters. Your post brought back memories and filled my eyes with tears. Those times make us stronger and determined. Beautifully written. Poignant. Such an illustration. I am certain many can relate.

lgsquirrel said...

Pearl,
this was a beautiful post. I was in tears by the end. Really. And it takes a lot for a macho squirrel like moi to admit it. My appreciation to all single moms. My heroes.

BECKY said...

Hi Pearl. I'm a new follower, by way of Sioux first of all, and then a reminder from Linda O'Connell this morning. Love your blog, why you little....!

Tammy said...

Oh, my. This is just lovely!

Gaston Studio said...

Simply a beautiful post Pearl and so glad you shared it with us. And so glad you had the good sense to accept the bird!

Karen Lange said...

Linda O'Connell sent me over, and I'm glad she did! What a wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing it. Have a wonderful week!
Blessings,
Karen

SeaD said...

Oh Pearl, you just made me cry (at work, no less). That was a beautiful story, told beautifully. As usual. Thank you for that.

Irish Gumbo said...

Every so often, you come up with a post that just takes me by surprise, and is so, so good. The universe is a strange and wonderful place.

I got it. Every lovely word.

(You better be careful, Pearl, you'll get a reputation for knowing how to write...:))

River said...

What a wonderful friend Carla was. I got quite choked up reading this.
You were right to plant flowers among the vegetables, they bring the bees you need for pollinating the veg.

Louisiana Belle said...

*sniff, sniff* This post was so touching.