From a dead end lane on the north part of town to a well traveled dirt road on the outskirts of town, I was reminded once again today, of the abject poverty that some folks must endure. But more than that, I was reminded of the simple things in life that most of us take for granted and how two very different families, one as poor as the other, create a home that they are proud of and cherish as much as and probably more than someone who has all the riches money can buy.
Ellen and I had been concerned because Mrs. Crews had not been to the food bank in three weeks. After looking up her address, we took a ride to the outskirts of Hastings. After making a few passes we finally turned down a rain soaked, narrow dirt road. Unsure of our directions, the road narrowed even more and we were certain we were going to end up stuck in the rain filled potholes. Then Ellen saw the grandchildren.
The mobile home was probably the oldest one I have ever seen. Sitting in tiny clearing, there were chickens and cats roaming the yard and bunny in a pen.
The oldest girl, who is 8, asked us if we wanted to see her kittens. Proudly she reached into the other side of the bunny pen and pulled out three tiny, meowing newborns. She handled them carefully and snuggled them up around her neck. She told us they were so small, they had to put them up in the pen after all the rain to keep them dry.
Mrs. Crews said they had just come inside after playing in the yard and finding a big mud puddle to jump in and out of, covering themselves from head to toe with the rich black earth. They were smiling at the memory of their adventure, prior to having the fruits of their fun washed down the tub drain.
They don’t have much else out there in those woods. There is a rusted out swing set, a plastic car with no wheels, a couple of flat basketballs and a plastic wading pool, set back in the woods.
Polite, soft spoken and doe-eyed, the girls call their grandmother mama and always answer with a “yes ma’am and a no ma’am”.
The Crews family were fishermen back in the day. But when seining was outlawed, their income fell and hard times soon followed.
Still, I have never heard a complaining word from any of them. The girls were proud of their improvised kitten house, Mrs. Crews snuggled up to two damp-headed girls and said, ” they are real good girls.”
Meanwhile on the other side of town, down a tree shaded road that dead ends into a place that looks places on TV where bodies get dumped, a dilapidated travel trailer is precariously perched on cinder blocks, just over a water filled ditch, past a muddy rutted filled drive. A clothesline is strung across the yard between two trees, held up in the middle by a rake. A thrown away sofa with no legs sits in front of an improvised fire pit and black trash burning barrel.
From behind the trailer comes Marion. We he sees me he begins to dance around the yard, ” you said you was gonna come today and here you are.”
He smiles and ducks his head bash fully when I show him the hotplate. He reaches out to hug me, a big hug from such a skinny little fella.
He waves his arm, sweeping it from one side of the home site to another.
“Well, this is my place,” he says with a proud smile.
I ask if I can look inside.
He bends down and whispers in my ear,” they don’t usually like folks looking around, especially white folks. But there ain’t nobody around, so you can some on in.
The door to trailer is hanging on one hinge; the block steps are rickety at best as we step inside. The is really nowhere to go. Marion stands in one spot and points to his burned out stove. He turns a little and points to a bare mattress in one corner, a few stuffed animals are stacked neatly on top. Then at the other end of the trailer, he points to his “bedroom”. I don’t want to walk to far in and invade his privacy, but as he shows me the corner where he sleeps, he says, “this is my place and I have it all to myself.” the four other men he usually shares the 10 by 20 space with have gone, “up the road.”
Marion feels like he is heaven. We step back outside and he shows me his refrigerator. A compact frig on the outside of the trailer, it is stuffed with clothing where the seals should be and the door is held shut by two heavy cinder blocks.
Marion shows it off proudly, ” it’s a nice refrigerate,” he says removing the two blocks to show me the inside.
” ya just have to set these up there when ya close it, to make sure it stays shut.”
It was no big deal. He was just happy to have it.
He showed me three plush tweety birds he had picked up that day on the side of the road, his ducks, he called them. Then he showed me a plastic flower in a plastic holder that he had found. He took my hand and pulled me in close. “Listen,” he said holding the flower next to both our ears.
“It plays a little song.”
He pushed the button and we listened, our heads together, “can I have this dance for the rest of my life. Would you be my partner, every night.” the little rose crooned.
Before I knew it, Marion had my hand in the air and we began to dance, I twirled him and he twirled me and we both smiled with delight. Dancing at the dead end, among the burn barrels and the cast off sofa, next to the refrigerator held shut with concrete blocks.
We could have been in a ballroom anywhere in the world for just those few minutes. When we stopped Marion said to me, “you know I don’t never mean nobody no harm. I just like to smile and have a little fun.”
Happiness is where you find it. Having a whole travel trailer to yourself with no plumbing and a hot plate and dancing in the yard to a song from a plastic rose to two little country girls at the end of another dead end road, with dirt for a yard, and a grandma who can’t give them anything but love.
It’s all in how you look at. I felt lucky and blessed, not because I have so much, but because two families shared the little they had with me and I felt proud to have been a part of their lives, if only for a few minutes.
Driving home today, all I could do was smile at the memory.