Monday, January 11, 2010


Living in our neighborhood and being a stay-at-home mom, I often have the privilege of seeing our local transients on their way to and from, often to the park. I observe their behaviors, their routines, their tendancies. Sometimes, I even have the joy of sharing a conversation with them.

Bruce- in the warmer months he lives under an evergreen tree at the park. It's one that is overgrown, thanks to the city, and the long boughs keep him sheltered from the wind and rain. In the winter, he usually finds a shelter to stay in. We've talked to Bruce off and on over the last 4 years. He jokingly says he's employed by Waste Management, meaning he goes through people's trash looking for cans to recycle or food to eat. Bruce began drinking when he was a young boy. His mom provided the alcohol. Bruce still has dreams. He has a family that wants to have a relationship with him, but he doesn't want to shame them, so he stays away. Unfortunately, the local Dairy Mart right across from the park recently got their alcohol license, so now he doesn't have to walk so far to get his mind-numbing poison.

Bruce's friend- I don't remember his name, but he and Bruce are often found together. They protect each other, give each other someone to talk to, and share the few possesions they have, one of which is a radio where I can regularly count on them listening to NPR or talk-radio and catching up on current events. I ran into them outside of Albertsons a few weeks ago. Being as it's winter, I haven't recently seen them at the park. I was getting out of my warm car to stop and pick up a DVD from the Red Box so James and I could have an entertaining evening. He was coming out of the store, and a flicker of recognition crossed his eyes as he saw me. I greeted him, and he asked if I had .34 cents. I asked what for, and he said for a beer. I told him no, but if he wanted food I'd buy him something. He said, "no thanks, we have food stamps, but they don't pay for beer". He didn't try to lie or scam me into getting what he wanted. He kindly said thanks anyway and walked away.

Backpack Girl- I don't know her name, and have actually never talked to her. But I see her walk by my house several times a week, presumably on her way to the community center, the bus stop, or the Native American Community Center nearby. She walks with purpose, but has the stance of someone with the weight of the world on her. Rarely do I see a smile or even see her face looking up. This morning though, as she was walking by, she stopped and started running the other direction toward my house. I got up to see what she was doing. My elderly neighbor two doors down was walking her dog, and had tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. Somehow Backpack Girl saw this, though her head was down, and ran to help Miss Bernice. I hate to admit that my neighborly hackles went up as I saw a stranger running toward my elderly neighbor, but what I saw was an arm to help, a pat on the back, a kind word, and a smile. A touch of human kindness, and an act of human decency from someone most blow off as discardable.

(to be continued . . .)

Agriculture and Industry

Agriculture and Industry- this is what both James and my families were made from.

Mine was grape growers in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Hundreds of acres of vineyards to make raisins or concentrate for wine. The structured vine rows, the warm sand between your feet, the dust, the smell of the earth, the heat of the sun. Now they've included almond trees. Oatmeal cookies, carrot salad, nutritious snacks, dinner or dessert wine, almond paste, almond butter, raw almonds, the list is endless really as to the uses of these crops. Planting, pruning, mending, fertilizing, watering, waiting and harvesting. Migrant workers to employ and manage, equipment to maintain and rent, schedules to follow, weather to watch, market prices to pray over. Will the rain destroy the crop, will the fertilizer burn the fruit, will the new vines take root?

James' was commercial salmon fishermen in the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. Work came for about 6 months out of the year. Nets to be mended, boats to tend to, crews to set up and manage, trucks to maintain, clams to dig, agates to find, fishing traps to take care of. Silvers, sockeyes, pinks, clams, and the prize-- a King. Fillets, chowders, pies, canned. Small fishing village out of the way of nearly everything but sheer beauty. Salty fishermen, the clock dictates the catch. To the tenders to be weighed, to the canneries to be processed. Will the fish come this year, as it's all we have for the rest of the year. Paid annually after the season was over. How much can we scrimp and save and stretch?

These are the roots from which our families come, and our roots sink deep. But are they partially severed? Both have grandparents who made their entire livelihood from these trades. Both now have uncles who keep them going, but find work elsewhere too. America has been blessed with land that has fertile soil and can produce generous fruits, and vibrant waters that yield life-giving fish. Yet because of money and politics, those hard-working tradesman are losing their livelihood because corporations buy outside our country and the government regulates everything. But what of the next generation? Will my kids know the importance of these trades that helped raise them? Will the family farm and fishing sites last? Will our children ever understand the quite literally back-breaking hard work and sacrifice required to earn a living and provide for their families? Will they ever know the simple and slower pace of life that comes with working with your hands? Or, will they choose jobs that pay more, require less, aren't as inconvenient? Will they succumb to the society in which they're raised with an entitlement mentality and me first attitude? Please Lord no!! May the rich tradition of our families, not just in faith, but also in work-ethic and sacrifice be passed down to us and our children so that our roots will never be forgotten or wither off and die!!