Accepting entries through Feb. 1st. Winner announced mid-February…
As you may know, I am spending the month of January in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.
The “Long Ago: Community” series is also a contest. The winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana. So breathe deeply into a cherished memory of yesterday and today and share with us here. We all seek community somehow. Let us know how community finds its way back to you. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject. Please enjoy this lovely piece by Jody Casella who blogs here. yrs. Laura
Someone’s Golden Boy, by Jody Casella
When I was seven years old my mother dragged me along on an errand to the bank downtown. In the lobby there was a display of what seemed like hundreds of dolls, each dressed in a different, lovely (to my seven-year-old eyes) outfit. A lacy ball gown. A hula skirt. Flowery nightshirt and bathrobe. It took a long inspection for me to realize it was the same doll wearing different clothes. I stared at the display longingly while my mother went about her banking business and when we left I pestered her for one of the dolls.
“Sorry,” she told me. “Those are for needy kids.”
I’m not sure I understood what that meant except that I couldn’t have a doll. And I didn’t understand it later when that Christmas, I DID get one of the dolls, the one dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. That was the year my father died and my mother was instantly a young single mother with three kids under the age of seven.
I really liked my Red Riding Hood doll. It was clear to me when I opened it that Christmas that it was the best doll from the bank lobby display. I don’t know who donated it, who sewed the darling jumper and cape and hood. It was a small thing but it meant something to me, a needy kid who didn’t know she was needy.
I’ve been thinking about that anonymous sewer lately, now that I am a million miles away from the little girl I was. Today I’m not wealthy, but certainly comfortable, living a privileged and blessed life by most people’s standards, in a small, privileged, blessed community in Ohio. I’ve got a wonderful husband and two beautiful and brilliant children. I take this life for granted, going about my day to day activities, rarely coming into contact with “needy” people and, truthfully, rarely thinking about them, unless you count writing a few donation checks to worthy charities and my yearly volunteer gig at a Christmas party for under-privileged children.
Last spring my husband and I drove our son up to the college of his dreams for a pre-orientation. We attended a few of the parent activities, mentally patted ourselves on the back for our son’s accomplishments, then left him to do his thing and took a train into New York City for a couple of days to do OUR thing. We had a blast, walking around, seeing the sites, and reconnecting with each other–parents of a soon-to-be-off-to-college boy.
One of the sites on our list was the new Ground Zero Memorial. We walked there on the last day of our trip, taking our time, hitting the neighborhoods along the way, eating a nice lunch, stopping at Starbucks, and finally arriving at the church at the edge of the site, the church that somehow was left standing after the towers fell. My husband went off to find tickets, but I lingered around the church. There was a person on the curb, leaned up against the iron gate, obviously a vagrant. He held a sign and something made me step closer.
“Please help me get home to Ohio,” said the sign.
The person holding it was a teenaged boy. He was half-asleep. Or maybe he was on drugs or drunk. That was what the cynical part of me was thinking. The mother part of me, who had just dropped off a Golden Boy son at college, teared up. Oh my God. What had happened to this boy? How had he come to be on a street corner in New York City with swarms of tourists literally stepping over him? Who was waiting for him back in Ohio? Could I help him? Should I?
Here’s the thing about my husband and me. We NEVER have any cash on us. It’s almost a joke. We are the people who have to write a check at a toll booth. That moment in front of the clearly in need boy, I had eleven dollars in my pocket. My husband had nothing. We knew we needed ten dollars for the train ride back. I looked over my shoulder at the Starbucks. Could I buy the kid a cup of coffee and a Cranberry Bliss Bar? But it was hot outside and we had just walked like, fifty blocks to get there. We were tired. We had our tickets to go into the memorial site. We needed to move on. No one else was even paying attention to this kid, this vagrant.
I am ashamed to say that I bent down and put one crumpled dollar bill in the boy’s hand. We looked at each other, and I said, “I’m sorry I can’t give you more.”
On the long drive home to Ohio my son chattered about all the cool things going on at the college, the awesome people he met, the interesting classes he would take. My husband and I were thrilled for him. Our son’s dreams were coming true! But I couldn’t stop thinking about somebody else’s son back at the church. I should’ve given him the eleven dollars at least. My husband and I could’ve hit an ATM on the way to the train station. I should’ve gone over to Starbucks. The Cranberry Bliss Bar would’ve been better than nothing. Forget that. I should’ve gone to an ATM and taken out enough money to buy him a plane ticket back to Ohio. We could’ve freaking DRIVEN him back to Ohio.
Why didn’t we help him when we had the chance? What was wrong with us?
I asked my husband this question. We lamented our actions but then started to rationalize. Maybe the boy wasn’t a needy Ohio kid. He was probably a scammer, a thief, plunked out on the sidewalk purposely manipulating out-of-town tourists.
But we can’t know that. And does it even matter?
I know we live in a country that likes to divide people into groups, label others as takers. It’s true there are takers. But I think that labeling helps us, the blessed ones, the lucky ones, feel better about ignoring those who are genuinely in need. Not only that, we mock them, show disdain for them, assume the worst. Or maybe it’s just that there is so much need that we don’t even know where to start, whom to help. We’re paralyzed. Easier to look away, to step over the kid on the street corner. There are so many of those needy people, and he’s not even the worst off.
A few hours from Ohio, some guy stopped us at a rest area and said he needed just a few dollars for gas to make it to his destination. Obvious scam, my husband and I thought, but we dug around for change and gave it to him. A few weeks later we found out that someone we went to school with died, leaving a daughter in college and in need of money for books. We wrote a check immediately and sent it to her. This Christmas we spent more time buying presents for kids we picked for our volunteer gig than we did buying for our own kids. When I heard that an acquaintance’s home was damaged by the recent hurricane, I mailed her a Home Depot gift card.
It’s not enough. It will never be enough. But once upon a time I was a needy girl who received a donated doll for Christmas, a little thing that meant a lot, and I will never step over someone else’s Golden Boy again.
YA Writer on the Verge
THIN SPACE– Sept. 10, 2013
Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster