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Saturday, February 18, 2012

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.

He grinned. "We'll eat like kings," he proclaimed.

I hugged him. "It's a gift 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.

57 comments:

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

I SO remember the days of stretching a piece of meat so thin you could spit through it. Let's all donate something to the food bank today.

Pearl said...

Delores, I completely agree.

Tracy Jo said...

Awesome. Such a great reminder too. Thank you for such a lovely post!

vanilla said...

Too, sometimes another's story is someone else's treasure. Great experience, beautifully related.

Pearl said...

Tracy Jo, thank you. :-) I know we can sometimes get overwhelmed with the need in our country -- and sometimes wonder why people don't provide for themselves, dagnabit! -- but a help hand, where needed, can mean the difference between eating and not...

Karen Mary Butterfly said...

Oh, that story touches my heart. I agree with Vanilla, that story is a treasure.

Pearl said...

vanilla, thank you. :-) It was a hard time, and I'll never forget the small kindnesses, from leftover turkey to pants/shoes people grew out of/tired of...

Pearl said...

Karen Mary, thank you so much. :-)

Robbie Grey said...

That's a very sweet story. Those tiny moments of altruism almost give me hope for humanity.

esbboston said...

I semi-starved all the way through college knowing (hopefully) that there were better days after graduation. I ate alot of tomato soup that had some cheese in it along with Pork 'N Beans. I gradually found other things to tweek the recipe, now many many things for today's Uncle Ern's World Famous Soup. I came up with the name after telling someone about it during a couple trips to Brazil where I met several poor people, several who were poor at a slightly lower level than my poor of just a couple years before that trip.

Deborah said...

Yesterday was pay-it-forward day or random act of kindness day or some such thing. This post re-reminds me and all of us to do that very thing. It's the little things for sure.

Pearl said...

Robbie, exactly. :-)

esb, my friend Mary can no longer eat elbow macaroni, something she lived on for several years...

Deborah, was it?! It really costs nothing to be kind. I'm not always, but I do remind myself, here and there, of my debt to humanity. As my brother says, it doesn't cost anything to give someone hope.

Cindi said...

I'm there. Now. Trying to stretch a little into a lot and hoping it doesn't taste like silly putty. We've had angels appear in our lives in the past, and your turkey reminds me of several that just "showed up" when I thought all was lost. My husband goings fishing to supplement our food, and for a while, we got a few free wild hog kills from post so we "porked" out. I'm always ever so grateful for the good and the bad in our life because without one, we wouldn't recognize the other.

Chantel said...

Apreciation is never inherited or passed down. It only grows from going without. That tang in the back of your throat....it blossoms into something lovely.

Your amazing heart and brilliant humor are testimony to this.

NotesFromAbroad said...

Thank a lot. I just got my make up on and I am ready to go out and now I have to go dry my eyes and start over.

No truer words were ever spoken, It costs nothing to be kind.

love you.

Kate Mohler said...

Very touching and insightful. I like this one a lot!

Roses said...

I remember when I first read that post...and it made me cry then too.

esbboston said...

I wore overalls and Mexican sandals, I think they were called harachis (?), through most of my college days. As a tribute to getting me through those years I wore them under my graduation gown. But I don't think I have wore sandals very much since then, and only one pair of overalls very briefly, I think it was the time I roofed my house.

esbboston said...

Yes, the spelling is huarache, there is even a wikipedia article about them.

Eva Gallant said...

I loved this story. I remember a time when all we had for dinner was blueberry pancakes--because there were blueberry bushes in the back yard. I also remember several days of peanut butter and jelly until payday. What a wonderful person Carla was.

fishducky said...

It doesn't happen often while reading your usually funny post, but today you made me cry...

Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

Pearl, a great post--beautifully written, and a poignant reminder that helping others is a wonderful thing that often has a much greater positive effect than we realize. There is far too much hunger and poverty in North America--that can be remedied, or at least temporarily alleviated by sharing. Thank you for reminding us of that necessity for humanity! ~R

powdergirl said...

Doh! That is the SECOND time I got all teary-eyed over that bird....
I thought I'd make it through this time, but nope. Its a great story Pearl, sometimes you've gotta stick your neck out to be kind. Sometimes it back-fires too, so that was brave AND kind of Carla.

Scarlet Blue said...

That's a heartwarming story.... reminds me of my mum trying to eek the food budget out in the seventies.
Sx

Belle said...

There have been times my cupboard was bare. Thank God for my family who all lived in the same city as I did. They helped me out many times.

Ms Sparrow said...

What a touching story. I remember times when trying to feed four kids was so hard that I'd be fighting back tears at the grocery store because there was so much we needed and so little I could afford.
Does that make us more empathic to others? I hope so!

jenny_o said...

Wonderful post; like others, I teared up over this one.

Kleinste Motte said...

Well you just managed to send me back 62 years, to the post war depression and food stamp era. My family, mom and aunts created some very tasty meals with just carrots and potatoes and a bit of liver sausage made into a gravy. I can still feel their joy when an occasional real piece of meat came their way from a friend. Those meals were more celebrated with thanks.
Hopefully my own kids will be generous to their friends.

Austan said...

Thank you Pearl, for reminding us. We all need to help each other get through this world. That's why we're here. Calling the food bank now.

Alistair said...

Pearl - that's all of life right in those few paragraphs.

Thanks.

jabblog said...

That is such a lovely story. It made me cry, just like the one about The Boy giving you his pocket money to pay the bill. You're a star - and so was Carla.

Joanne said...

Thanks for writing this. I've been there, but can't write about it. I had more gas in my tank than my BFF and drove her to welfare and forced her to sign up for food stamps so she could eat, as well as her little boy. How we laughed--she could buy squeezable margarine and I could only afford it in sticks!

Thanks again. The world is an amazing source of good deeds.

Lo said...

WONDERFUL POST......WONDERFUL COMMENTS.

But I am sad that any of us have to remind ourselves to be kind.........we (most of us) are so damned lucky we should be giving thanks and giving anything that is needed every damned day of the week.

Love 'ya, Pearl.

The Elephant's Child said...

Tears here. Thank you for a beautiful emotive post.

Buttons said...

Oh I love this I can so relate to this story and I love being the one that am able to open my trunk now and be the giver instead of the receiver. What goes around comes around. Life is great when we all care about each other. Your son is a generous loving soul wanting to share his tomato.
A excellent story and so brings back memories a story everyone should read and take note. Never say never. B

jadedj said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it. Compassion is the greatest of human traits. There is no question in my mind regards that.

Jayne Martin said...

Like so many others, I can relate to hungry times in my life. I never had a child to worry about though and can imagine few things worse for a mother. You clearly attracted kind and generous friends because you are a kind and generous person yourself. A beautifully recounted story, Pear.

Georgie Horn said...

2 comments to your story.
1. with 6 kids, 2 adults, my grandmother and living on an enlisted soldiers salary--my mother claimed she "loved" the chicken neck. All these years later, I get it!
2. My little brown eyed girl and I struggled as you and the boy(how old is the boy, maybe we should introduce them? We would have $50 for groceries for the month. Meatless meals, soup days, leftovers, etc.

Thanks for the story!

Gigi said...

This post restores my faith in humanity. Just when I think the world has gone to hell in a handbasket and we might as well call it a day - I see a post like this.

Jo-Anne's Rambling said...

Reading this made me get all chocked up, now I have never been on the recieveing end of such a generous gift but I have been the giver many times over, I will often have a clean out of my kitchen cupboards and pass food stuff onto my sisters I did it a lot when they had young children to feed............it always made me feel good to be able to help

Linda O'Connell said...

Gee whiz, you got me. I have been on the receiving end and the giving end, and could so identify. The tomato made me cry. Send this to Chicken Soup for the Soul, seriously. They are looking for positive stories right now.

Happy Frog and I said...

I wasn't sure what to expect from the title (prison, jazz, eagles?) but your post really moved me. I can't imagine what it was like to be in that situation and what a wonderful friend you had who helped just when you needed it most.

R. Jacob said...

I remember many a meal of bread and milk or bread and noodles. Living on a bushel of apples we had picked because there wasn't much else. Making hamburgers with bread added to stretch the meat, water added to a ketchup bottle so we wouldn't waste any of it.

I remember it all.

Saimi said...

Wow Pearl, you made me cry! What a beautiful act of friendship and service. Thank you for giving her the opportunity to serve. You both were blessed!

River said...

I still love this wonderful story. You did the right thing planting flowers with the veg. the flowers will bring the bees to pollinate the veg, happy eating for everyone. Plus, flowers are a feast for the eyes.

Murr Brewster said...

Oh my. And tonight I was just ruminating on how to help a friend who cannot bear to be helped. I still don't know, but I expect to dream about a trunk turkey tonight. I hope I don't screw up the dream as usual.

Steadfast Ahoy! said...

That you planted flowers along with the veggies made me smile. I think that shows hope and defiance on your part, not giving in to despair. I am so glad you got a turkey for Thanksgiving and that you are transparent enough to share this personal story. I love reading what you post every day helping us see another side of every story.
Rosemary

Susan in the Boonies said...

I remember this post: it made me bawl like a baby.

Stop draggin' my heart around, you naughty Pearl of great price, you!

What a wonderful gift you were given!

Mr. Charleston said...

Most all of us old farts have a tale like this regarding school. Mine involves a bag of navy beans, rice and the rest baby food. It pisses me off that I could finish a 4-year degree in 3-years married with child while my step-son is still farting around working on a 4-year degree in going on 8-years. But that's another story.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

You've made me laugh plenty of times. but today, you made me cry. What a beautiful post.

ThreeOldKeys said...

How do I post a comment that is wordless in appreciation? Maybe like this:

[ _________________________ ]

Nessa Roo said...

I love that Carla, I really do! (Except that my Carla is named Sandy and she comes bearing gifts of toilet paper and laundry soap, but they must be sisters or cousins or something!)

Rita said...

I remember when my son was little saying I wasn't hungry, meat being a luxury, leftovers (before microwaves), reusing coffee grounds, not having milk the last week of the month, having to wash clothes without soap, and worrying about running out of toilet paper. And I remember the little things people did here and there for us. You never forget. I donate whenever I can.
Wonderful post!! What a dear friend she was. :)

Pat said...

God bless Carla - and you for not getting uppity.

The Bug said...

Well you've made me cry at work again...

Amanda said...

A lovely story. 2011 was not a banner year for me, and my job now is to pass on all the many and varied kindnesses that came from sometimes unexpected places. This stor reminds me of those kindnesses.

Perpetua said...

Pearl, I've just found your blog and giggled my way down the page, but this post left me with a lump in my throat. I know I'm going to enjoy your blog so much.