Ha! I’ll bet you thought I was going to say Lake Wobegon, didn’t you? Maybe not. Maybe Prairie Home Companion …
I’ve learned a lot about foreign places without ever actually going there. We all see the television documentaries and might say, “Oh, Scotland is beautiful. I’d love to see it someday.” For me, at least, this isn’t likely to happen because i refuse to get on a plane. Yes, I know, but I can’t help it. So, for me, the beauty, the squalor, the fierceness of the climate, and the nature of the inhabitants all comes second-hand.
On occasion, i get a more personal glimpse of other places. For instance, I have a friend who came originally from Mexico. She’s been here for many years, and is a proud US citizen, but she still has ties to her growing-up neighborhood. I don’t know exactly where it is, but I know the people are poor and lack access to many of the amenities I take for granted. My friend N is a caring soul; she never forgets.
One day quite a few years ago, N mentioned that she and her brother were taking a truck to Mexico to deliver a load of used clothing and kitchen utensils. I blithely offered to add a few things I no longer wanted. When she came by to pick them up, I was surprised at the fervor of her thanks. Why would anyone be moved almost to tears by a bag of old t-shirts and outgrown pants?
I told N I was embarrassed to be giving her one shirt with a small stain on the sleeve.
“it still has a lot of wear in it, though, so maybe someone can use it in the garden or something,” I told her.
Her eyes wide, she countered by saying the shirt would be a prized possession. I didn’t understand why she could believe that.
“The people there have nothing,” she said. “If we take them a shirt that has all the buttons still attached, with no tears, that shirt gets saved to wear to church. For every day they wear anything to keep them covered and warm.”
“Do you really want me to give you clothes that are this bad?” I pulled a pair of sweat pants from the trash, things I had worn to paint the bathroom.
“You don’t understand. These pants are wonderful! They stretch, so all the ladies in the family will be able to wear them. Besides, they have needles and thread. They can make a design on top of the paint and the pants will be bee-u-ti-full They will be so happy.”
I shrugged, and said, “OK then, let me see what else I have.”
My friend stayed for an hour while I sorted through the rag bag. When we finished, the rag bag was empty and the trunk of her car was filled. N hugged me and thanked me again and again for what I had essentially considerred junk.
“They will use every piece of this. If the clothes get too soiled and torn, they will be cleaning rags. When they get too torn even for that, the people will stuff them in cases to make sleeping mattresses. Many of the people don’t read, and none of them can speak English, so they won’t write to thank you. But they will thank you every day in their prayers, because you are an angel to them.”
I’d never been an angel before.
These days I throw a lot less in the trash. No clothes get discarded unless I ask N first if she can find a use for them. When I find that I’ve somehow accumulated six baking pans of the same size, I clear the cupboard and send most of them to wait for the next trip to Mexico. N’s brother goes there every few months. It’s a long and uncomfortable trip, but the rewards are great.
The people who are likely to read this are at least basically literate and have access to computers. Probably not many of you worry about having enough food to go around when your family sits down to dinner or wonder if the next truck will bring enough rags to make the five-year-old a soft place to sleep. But don’t kid yourself; the poor are with us in every part of the world.
I know I’ll write a story about Mexico some day. I might even manage to drive there and see for myself the great cities and the tiny rural villages. One way or another, I’ll find out a bit about the places I don’t know and the things I don’t know. Just as here in the US, the people are varied and wonderful, and I’d love to know more about them.
In the meantime, I’ll try to be truly thankful that I can eat what I want, wear what I want, and sleep on a real mattress. And yes, I’ll do my best to be a good angel.
I’ll see you again, after the commercial.
In the midst of sorting, storing, donating and just generally cleaning out my mother’s house in preparation for sale, we found a lot of memories from our childhood, as everyone does who takes a moment to linger over the effluvium. It’s a shame that so many people miss treasures because they’re too busy taking care of the “task” to spend a little time on the “opportunity” that is in front of them.
From Mom’s kitchen we saved a whisk, a thing shaped like a toilet bowl brush that she used for sixty years to create fabulous lighter-than-air meringues for pie and the chocolate cherry angel food cake that appeared every year for my birthday. The finish on the handle wore off, of course, many years ago, but the whisk still worked as long as she had the strength in her arm to use it. She always said the result was better than doing it with the mixer (absolutely right, Mom) and if you didn’t do it right, why bother?
There was her muffin pan, just like everybody else’s except that this one baked hundreds and hundreds of muffins for her to give away, including innumerable batches created from the excess zucchini from my garden each summer. Sadly, it sat unused for the last year of her life; she couldn’t trust her arm any longer to lift it from the oven. My sister took the bundt pan, I got the old glass orange juicer. There isn’t really room in our homes to store the things, but we’re just not quite ready to give them up.
I went down there alone the other day to work a little more, and I almost missed the best things so far. One of the nightstands in the bedroom was stuffed with photos and recipes, all mixed together. Some of the things were in plastic bags, some were paper-clipped, and some had disintegrating rubber bands attached. I found these things at the end of a long day, and I thought I’d just put them all in a box and sort them another time. Well, it’s very difficult to do that. You spot the first picture and it brings a smile. When you lift it, you can’t help but see the one underneath, and so it goes until the whole bedspread is full of pictures and the daylight has faded. Oh, darn, I was going to get so much finished today . . .
But wait! Inside one of the plastic bags was a frail, yellowed newpaper clipping–my mother’s wedding announcement, 1939. Oh, she was lovely. And in the bag with that piece of my history I found another piece–my grandmother’s wedding announcement from a newspaper in Blair, Nebraska, 1908. I could hardly bear to touch them for fear that they’d fall apart, but they were as strong as both the marriages. I’ll scan them into the computer, nice clean images to attach to family trees and such, but not ever the same as the originals.
For today, the treasures are mine alone. Tomorrow the family will gather at Mom’s place for some more furniture moving and such. I’ll just casually bring out the box and mention that there might be something in there of interest. Chances are we won’t get much done in the way of heavy lifting, but I don’t think anyone will mind.
I’ll see you again, after the commercial.
As far as I’m concerned, there is pure joy, after a long and stressful day, in sliding into a hot bath with a paperback book at hand and soft music just audible in the far corner of the room. Note: If you’re a shower person, you might as well leave now, because you’ll never understand.
There’s more to a bath than just getting your skin clean, although I have to say that is one benefit, too. But the soothing, warm cuddle of the water is the delight of the thing. A bath should be approached seriously, with proper attention given to the ambient temperature of the room, the size and fluffiness of the waiting bath towel, the choice of bath salts or bath oil or not todoay, thank you. And I want a half-hour, minimum. The prune-y look will go away quickly (honest!) but the comfort stays with you until the world creeps back in.
My pink bathroom is pretty, now that we’ve replaced some rather extravagant dark pink wallpaper with a gentler, abstract flower pattern. There’s a tall, white wicker etagere near the faucet end of the tub; I’ve put some towels there, just in case I forget to set one out, and some paperback fluff (the stuff you can read without thinking, you know), and a big basket of bath goodies that someone gave me long ago. It’s utilitarian, but pleasing to the eye.
One day last year I felt that I particularly needed and deserved my cozy bath time–I don’t remember why–and I got everything set just the way I wanted. The room was warm, the water was perfect, the music was Chopin, and the book was an old friend. I slipped into the tub and leaned back to rest my head on the edge of the tub. Then, as I settled into the familiar bath-read pose, I glanced up at the etagere and there, stuck to the underside of the topmost shelf was a sticky note that said Somebody loves you. Pure, unexpected bliss!
The note is still there. I check every once in a while to be sure that I add a drop of glue when it needs it. It’s a secret between him and me. I know he loves me; he says it a hundred times a day, although not necessarily in words. But that day was a special joy. He told me later that he’d put the note there several days before and I just hadn’t looked in that direction yet.
Wow! The love is all around us, if only we take a moment to find it. Who needs Valentine’s Day?
I’ll see you again, after the commercial.