Picture it….Warwick, RI 1982…..big hair, shoulder pads and all.
Someone from the church stopped by our house to drop off the annual box of food. We were the poor family in a working class neighborhood and living on child support was next to impossible. Having seven children and surviving on so little, we were the recipients of many generous people’s gifts.
We stood around and started to rifle through the box. Much of it was items you would expect, Thanksgiving regulars and other odds and ends. As we looked over the loot, we started to make comments:
“Ugh, Stove Top stuffing”
“I hate canned peas”
“Store brand is so gross”
My mother received help from several sources when we went through this time. She was always grateful and still managed to give back to others. She watched us for a while, listening to us complain and whine about what we had been given for free. I don’t remember what she was doing, cleaning, washing dishes, just sitting….but what I do remember is that at some point, she reached her limit.
“Get your coats on and get in the car.”
There was a certain tone of voice that she used that you didn’t question and we all heard it. The seven of us started to pull on outerwear, some of the older kids helping the younger ones. She asked us to pack the box of food up and put it in the car. We complied, eerily quiet, not knowing what was coming next.
My mother drove us across town, to a neighborhood near the airport. It was down a street that may as well have been on the runway. In Warwick, you learned to get used to the sound of planes overhead. I couldn’t imagine how loud they were this close.
We pull up and parked on the street in front of a house. Mom asked us to get out and to get the box of food. We walked up to the door and knocked. A woman answered the door, greeted my mother warmly and invited us inside.
Their house was two rooms with a dirt floor. I remember seeing a wood burning stove in a house for the first time. The father was a Vietnam vet and was there but wasn’t there at the same time and I could kind of tell that somehow. They had a young daughter who had dirt on her face. The seven of us stood there in silence as my mother made the polite small talk that adults do. We were stunned but observing.
Finally, my mother told the woman the reason we were there. She said that we had some things that they might be able to use for Thanksgiving. The magic was that she said it in a way that made us seem like we just happened to have some left over items from our own Thanksgiving. I remember the woman broke down in tears. She thanked my mother again and again.
I don’t think we stayed long, we were really on a mission. Mom said goodbye and we all piled back into the car. It was silent again but this time it wasn’t the silence of dread, it was the silence of realization.
Mom broke the silence. “Don’t ever complain about what you have. We live like kings compared to some people. Be grateful for what you have.”
This experience is the reason I volunteer today, probably the reason that it even occurs to me to volunteer.
I have been given in abundance, in friends, in family and in material things. I could not wish for more.