VIOLA - Today, I silently said Thank you many times:
When I had two eggs for breakfast.
When I said, “Morning!” to all my critters.
When my car started on the first try.
When I realized I had four fairly good tires on my car.
When I was able to fill up the tank.
It wasn’t always this easy. For many years, I lived alone with my young child, worrying about not having enough money for food, rent or heat. Just getting her to childcare and me to work or school made my shoulders climb up to my ears and stay there, my hands clenching the steering wheel. I’d whisper prayers that the car wouldn’t explode, run out of gas or blow a tire.
Today, I smiled a lot:
When I woke up with both pups and two kitties on my bed.
When I walked into my bathroom and turned a handle to get running water.
When I was driving to a job that I love.
When I saw the sun shining and an eagle soaring by.
There is a saying, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” I’m not tough–I’m lucky. But, I know tough times. So do you. I also know the feeling of kindness, the feeling of other people reaching out to help. I’ll bet you do too.
Instead of trying to forget tough times, I try to remember them. I’m afraid that if I forget:
I’ll lose compassion for people down on their luck.
I’ll start to categorize people in an unfair way.
I’ll feel more superior, entitled or privileged.
I’ll begin to lose my patience with people.
I’ll stop being grateful.
A few decades ago, my daughter and I were living on North Cape Road in a mother-in-law's apartment. The backyard was long and steep and emptied out onto Highway 100. In winter, I’d use my daughter Jessica’s red plastic sled to slide down the hill, and I’d walk across the highway to the bowling alley, where I worked on league nights as a cocktail waitress. All night, I ran around collecting orders and money, delivering drinks, emptying ashtrays, cleaning up spilled drinks, keeping the bathrooms clean, bringing back the empties, delivering pizzas, and counting my money. I wore a black apron with two pockets. One contained the $50 I was given at the beginning of my shift to make change for my customers. My tip money went in the other pocket. At the end of my shift, anything over the original $50 was mine to keep.
I’ve never been known for my math skills. A few times, I ended up in the bathroom sweating because I had less than $50 dollars in my apron even with the generous tips I’d received. Twice I called my dad from the pay phone in the hallway and explained what had happened. He drove over and secretly slipped me the cash I needed as I made a teary promise to pay him back.
Dragging the sled back up the hill in the blackness of night with no tip money to show for my labor filled me with doubt, fear, and an overwhelming loneliness. I also knew I’d need to hustle in the morning to get to my day job at a photo lab. Still, after climbing the narrow steps to our apartment and sneaking in so as to not wake my daughter while the babysitter left for her home, I found myself saying Thank you and smiling. Jessica had often left me a small handwritten note saying, “I love you, Mom, good night,” and she’d laid out a hand towel, soap, and my toothbrush and toothpaste on the edge of the sink. I’d flop into bed feeling exhausted, but lucky.
One Saturday afternoon, Jessica and I were busy coloring pictures of pumpkins and gourds when a knock on the door startled us. Romey, a man I knew only from the bowling alley, was standing there with a box. Holding it out to me, he explained he was the head of the local Lion’s Club and that every year they made Thanksgiving Day boxes with ready-to-cook turkeys and all the fixings for people who were in need.
My face reddened as I said, “Oh, we’re fine. I work.” Romey encouraged me to accept the gift, saying, “We like to give boxes to people who help themselves. We watch you work hard every week, Jane.” I still wouldn’t take the box—and every year I remember this story with shame.
I wish I could go back and accept the generous gift from Romey and the Franklin Lion’s Club. But my oven didn’t work, I’d never cooked a turkey before or made stuffing from scratch, and I was too embarrassed to admit it.
It’s almost Thanksgiving Day again and I smile when I think of all the people after Romey who have helped me in big and little ways: the Martins, who generously shared their love, bathroom, and running water with me; my friends who lent me their car when mine broke down for the hundredth time; the gift of money from my community when I was hospitalized and out of work...The list is long.
Instead of trying to forget the hard times this Thanksgiving, I like to remember them while smiling and saying a silent, heartfelt Thank you. Yes, I’ve been lucky, and I hope you have been too.
And if we’re doing well, maybe we can hold out our hand and help someone else up. I can think of a few hardworking families who’d be thankful for a box of goodies this holiday season.