There but for the Grace of God...

December 17, 2009

My Shameful (Non)Secret: Episode I

I like to think that I am a reasonably responsible person. In my mind's eye, this includes things like taking out the garbage on the regular basis and keeping the snow cleared from the sidewalks. Okay, so The Captain actually takes care of those things, and God Bless him for it, because realistically, if it were left up to me those particular chores might not get done. I do write out the bills every month, though. I also keep the house clean, do the cooking and organize our lives. I'm not so good with the birthday cards.

There is one area of life maintenance at which I fail miserably. Well, there's actually more than one, but for this first installment, I feel compelled to focus on the one, due to a situation that evolved the other day.

My car. It's a mess. It's a cluttered, dirty, crumb riddled mess. It's a giant black whole, into which things go in and never come out. Until I go on a road trip and realize I need to clear out the clutter to make room for things like The Captain, luggage and the dog. In those instances, it's a mad dash to get the garbage cleared out, so I can see what useful things are actually residing in there. Everything gets loaded into garbage bags and set inside the back door for processing when I get back, because invariably, I have waited until the last possible minute to do this.

We have just such a trip coming up next week, when we'll make the sojourn to my parent's house, nine hours down the road, for Christmas. The other day, it occurred to me that I should get a jump on the car issue. I couldn't bring myself to actually clean it out, but I did motivate myself to take it for an oil change. Despite the lack of order and cleanliness in the car, this is the one car related chore that I take care of on a regular basis. I think that's because it's a great diversion from actually having to clean out the car itself. I have a moment of clarity that allows me to see just how disgusting my car is, and I feel compelled to act. That feeling results, more often than not, in either a trip through the oil change place or a trip through the car wash, whichever is currently most appropriate.

So, being winter and only 10 degrees, my intention to get a jump on the car thing resulted in a trip to the oil change place. I love my oil change place. It's a local place, but still a drive through. I drive in. They change my oil, clean my windshield, give me coffee, check my lights and fill up my fluids. All for around $32. It's wonderful. There's this thing they like to do, though, that drives fear straight to my heart. They like to oil my door hinges. All four of them. Eeeeeeeek! As you can imagine, this involves them actually opening my doors and seeing what is in the back seat. Unacceptable!

I tell them when I pull in, You don't need to oil the hinges. They nod and start their routine. I have to watch them, though, because their routine is so ingrained that they reach for that door handle without really thinking about it. As they start to open my door (they always start with the driver's door) I hold onto the window casing firmly saying, Uhm, you don't need to do the doors. This gets me an Oh, yeah. But for the duration of the event I'm on edge, watching their every move lest they reach for one of those door handles while my attention is elsewhere.

Well, my car is particularly dirty at the moment, due to, well, I was going to make up an excuse, but truly, it's due to shear laziness. I suck. Anyway, it's dirty. So, we go through the usual Don't do the hinges, nod, really, please don't look into my car, oh, yeah routine, but I'm getting increasingly agitated and paranoid that they'll actually look in my car. I'm watching them with hawk eyes. No move is escaping my notice. They probably think I'm enthralled with their looks and charm, I'm watching them so closely, but whatever.  It's necessary!

I'm so incredibly focused that when they ask me to turn on my headlights and then my high beams, I'm stumped. Jarred from my careful observation of their every move, I can't for the life of me remember how to turn the damn lights on. I'm looking intently at the dashboard, the console, and my steering column wondering how in the world I could have forgotten how to turn the lights on. I flip a few switches, because the last thing I want is for the to know I've forgotten how to turn them on. My thought process sounded something like this:

OMG, how is this possible?

How do I turn the stupid things on?

Wait, could this be early onset Alzheimer’s?

I'm only 30. It can't be. Can it?

What's he doing back there?

Is that a can of lubricant in his hand?

Crap, lights. Okay. I got nothing.

The nice man ended my suffering by saying, That's good. Can you step on the break and use your turn signals? God bless him. I, of course, remembered how to turn the stupid lights on after he asked me to move on to something else, but.....Hey, wait a minute. I never got the lights turned on. Why did he give me the okay?

This is when I realized that my hawkish watching wasn't flattering. It was just creepy. It's true. I made him uncomfortable to the point that he wanted me out of there so badly, so quickly, that he ceased to care if my car was functioning properly. My embarrassment knew no bounds that day.

I'm happy to report that I'm over it. But my car is still a mess.  And I still have a road trip coming up.  Car detailing is affordable, right?

December 16, 2009


My family was a receipient of a lot of charity during my childhood. We were poor. Powdered mild, peanut butter and cheese from WIC were staples for the first six years of my life. My parents had a plan, one that certainly didn't include five kids, but it fell apart. Dad had polio as a child and was told he was sterile as a result. Mom got pregnant during their honeymoon. Then mom went on birth control and proceeded to get pregnant three more times, while on the pill. True story. So, dad got a vasectomy, which they found out had corrected itself when mom turned up pregnant with baby number five. You can imagine the tension in the house as that situation evolved.

Dad was in the navy, but was medically discharged when it was discovered, 2 years into the gig, that he was color blind. Mom was in nursing school at the time. Dad got a job working a machine in a factory. Then he got a second job making and delivering pizzas at night. Then he got a third job doing handiman and painting projects on the weekends. Mom finished nursing school and started working at the local nursing home. Dad gave up the job at the pizza joint.

They were good, hard working people, doing everything possible to support their family.

When our pastor showed up at the door on Christmas Eve when I was seven, with hand me down bikes that had been donated and fixed up by memebers of the church, it surely wasn't expected. But it was appreciated. When the ladies aide got together and made a blanket for each of us children, it wasn't expected, but we loved those blankets, still have them, infact. When bags of clothes would appear on the front porch, filled with cast offs from the older girls and boys at church, we'd put on impromtu fashion shows and make our selections with excited anticipation. When boxes of groceries, containing foreign foods like Count Chocula cereal and Chef Boyardee, found their way into our kitchen, we thought we were having gourmet feasts.

We were poor, and we knew it. We knew it, but we didn't own it or really even comprehend it, because it wasn't a condition that had anything to do with us. We were kids. We accepted what we had, because it was all we knew. Did we have wants that weren't met? Sure. But we never had needs that weren't met. Mom and Dad worked their fingers to the bone to enusre that.

So, when these gifts, this charity, would show up on our doorstep, we were astounded. It was a surprise every time. It was exciting. It was like magic. Not an expected or anticipated part of our existance, but a little miracle every time it happened.

Here's something else it was for us. A learning experience. We learned first hand what the generosity of the human spirit can do for a child, a family. When we were finally old enough to understand that the giving was charity, we felt humbled. Our church family was not an affluent one. But they took care of their own. They nurtured us.

Consequently, all of us kids are givers in one way or another. Soup kitchens, adopt a family, battered women's shelters, Children's Hospital, Habitat for Humanity... the list goes on. We have first hand knowledge about the joy and sense of community a little charity can offer a child. It says, We see you. We care about you and your well being. You're worth our time and effort. You belong.