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Monday, February 25, 2013

Wherein I Get Sentimental About a Bird I Once Knew

This Saturday was "Galentine's Day", i.e., a full-day drink-fest (with food!) with 16 of my favorite people and the men that eventually came to pick them up.  Pearl will be back to writing daily as of tomorrow.  In the meantime...

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".

Trashy?  Or treasure-y?

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, thank you.  I am 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 mommy, 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.

The Monday after Thanksgiving 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, in the daycare parking lot, 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.


Jackie said...

OK...I cried.
Beautifully written.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

I remember this one from your previous posting....it still made me cry.

joeh said...

Oh you are a gem...is a pearl a gem? Well you are anyway.

Susan Williams said...

In the words of Charlene Darlin' on The Andy Griffith show: "Oh, Pa. This one always makes me cry."

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om

Have been there and done that, as the saying goes. Memories like this are what keep things real.

You are real, Pearl, and we love you for it.

jenny_o said...

One of your best, Pearl. A heartbreaker and an uplifter, all in one.

And it's so sweet that the Boy was thinking of a thank you gift. A kindly young un indeed.

Joe Pereira said...

Very touching and beautifully written. Thanks you

Susan Kane said...

Oh, I am out of tissue. What a poignant remembrance.
I know the place between penniless and barely hanging on.

Esther Montgomery said...

Hurray for friends!

esbboston said...

I remember being poor and in college.

Joanne Noragon said...

A great story, every time around. We used to have three colored meals. Three colors of vegetables. And we said, beats going hungry.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Ah, this one always tears me up!
Also: "sliced tomatoes with little dollops of Miracle Whip on top of them; and cukes and onions in a vinegar/water mix."
Mmmm...you just described supper (not "dinner"!) almost every night at my grandparents' house, each August/September, when the garden "came in." *sigh*
The things you learn, from folks who lived through the Depression! Ever had a lettuce sandwich? Dollops of Miracle Whip? Lots of salt? Surprisingly, frugally, yummy.

Kana said...

Another crier over here, too...gahh, you tearmonger!

Your from-the-garden all-veggie dishes sounded so appealing - appetizing, more to the point - and I DON'T LIKE VEGETABLES, so that's pretty much amazing. I also hate tomatoes with an unreasonable zeal, and I was STILL half-tempted to get out the Miracle Whip and give it a go. You are a word wizard! Such power - too bad you use it for tearmongering! *sniff*

Eva Gallant said...

What a beautiful post!

Roses said...

This remains my favourite post of all time.

Thank you my darling for treating me.

vanilla said...

Great memories of blessings in hard times. One family's surfeit is another family's blessing!

Gigi said...

I remember this one! And yet, I still found myself with tears running down my face and gulping back sobs.

It seems that whenever we need it most, a friend shows up to help us along.


Lin said...

wow. Sweet story, Pearl. Been there when I was growing up.

Daisy said...

Very sweet story, Pearl. Can someone pass me a tissue. I seem to have something in my eyes. ♥

HermanTurnip said...

Awesome post! Honestly, it brought a tear to my eye. Gotta love friends who keep you foremost in their minds!

Cloudia said...

you act silly,
but we know that
great heart
is at the root
of it.

ALOHA from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
~ > < } } ( ° > <3

Rose L said...

A wonderful story. Sometimes it is difficult to accept help from others. I am glad you were accepting and appreciative. It is easy to be appreciative but sometimes it is hard to accept a gift. In the last year I have learned to accept. People want to help and allowing them that chance and privilege is good for them as well as you.
Not sure what I am saying makes sense to anyone but me.

Stef said...

You never know, right? You just never know. What a blessing!

Jo-Anne Meadows said...

I loved this the first time I read it and I still love it sometimes we are taken back by the kindness of others and look back at our parents are realise how much the gave up for us.........

The Elephant's Child said...

Tears from this sentimentalist as well.
I hope you are ok.

River said...

You have the most wonderful friends.
I remember the scrimping days, we ate a lot of baked beans.

Indigo Roth said...

The Boy sounds like a smart kid, I must say =) This is a great tale of kindness, Pearl x

Suldog said...

Wow. Truth - I was misty there at the end. Great story. And the last sentence is as good as it gets.

Pat Tillett said...

That was both uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. I grew up very poor and and I really felt this.