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PORTSIDE  December 2011, Week 1

PORTSIDE December 2011, Week 1

Subject:

A Visit to the Food Pantry

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Date:

Tue, 6 Dec 2011 22:57:55 -0500

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 A Visit to the Food Pantry

 By Jeanne Bryner
 Working-Class Perspectives
 December 5, 2011

 http://workingclassstudies.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/a-visit-to-the-food-pantry/

 I went to visit my daughter today to the food pantry.  It's
 my first time ever. It's twenty-five degrees outside and
 sunny.  We arrive before 9:30 AM, already the line is fairly
 long leading to the three-bay garage building.  My daughter
 seems to be feeling her way, not really sure how to proceed.
 Yesterday during our phone conversation she told me, "You
 sit in the car, drive   through and they load everything in
 your car."  But that's not really the way it happens.

 For a long time we wait in the cold, not really moving, and
 she has to be at work by 11:00 AM.  She rarely calls, so I
 want to share the morning with her no matter what she's
 doing. Regularly, my husband takes food to our small town's
 pantry, but I've never been there.  I don't go.  I don't
 offer to work there either, and I could.  I really could.

 Inside this whale's belly my daughter and I struggle to
 speak.  These days everything I   say makes her feel
 defensive.  I believe she has depression, maybe she dislikes
 her life and displaced anger is not uncommon.  What mother
 wants to see her child's arms flailing?  It is difficult for
 both of us.

 My eyes are open and looking into the faces of America.  The
 elders are here.  Some with their scarves and hats and
 mittens, and others, like me, dressed wrong for this
 weather.  At the parking lot's perimeter, there are odd
 pieces of cast-off furniture: a brown corduroy couch,
 loveseat, mismatched dressers, and a nice old-lady chair
 letting the shade sit there first and then the sun.  To our
 left there's a box of knit caps - in Appalachia, we called
 them toboggans - for babies.  Off to the right, there's a
 table of coats with a "one per family" sign printed with a
 black sharpie on a piece of cardboard.  A big swell of odd
 clothing lies on a picnic table by the shed, and folks
 constantly look sideways as they pick through it.  Milling
 around there's a heavyset woman with her little boy in a
 toboggan with a red-face and camo sweatshirt, which is not
 nearly warm enough for this morning.  A small boy in a tan
 raincoat carries a pair of white tennis shoes he found on
 the table to his mother, and there's a bag of broken glazed
 donuts being passed down the line.  Everyone is welcome to
 eat as many as they want.  It feels like communion.  Yes.
 Our faces shine in the light, and we are, however slowly,
 making our way to the altar.

 My daughter knows she must not miss work.  I point to the
 man who seems to be in charge.  I say, "Go tell him you have
 to go to work, and ask if I can stand for you and get the
 food."

 All this time she has struggled to think of things to say to
 me.  I'm just sort of numb.  Up since 6:00 AM, I've already
 scrubbed floors, started laundry and picked up a house
 suffering from clutter.  She tells me, "Did you hear about
 the boy on his bicycle at the lake last night?  He was hit
 and killed.  They are reopening Natalie Wood's case after
 thirty years."  Really?  I want to say, but I'm quiet.  Why
 must death always be at the center of our lives?  Last week
 didn't I go to three funerals?  Wasn't one of them a good
 friend to my daughter?  A good-hearted man with a terrible
 disease, only forty-five years old and gone

 forever.  She leaves the line to speak with the man in
 charge.

 "Let's go Mom; I'm taking you home for a scarf and gloves.
 You can get your car.  He said it's okay for you to get the
 food."  I nod and move out of line.  In silence we walk to
 her car.

 She tells me, "I'm leaving the apartment unlocked.  These
 are the only keys we have.  Here's a paper you will need to
 get the food.  I love you Mom, and thank you, thanks for
 doing this."  A sound comes into her voice I have not heard
 forever, she leans over, and gives me a kiss.  "I love you,"
 she whispers.  "Live well," I answer.

 Now, I must remember the way back to the food pantry.  I
 forget one turn and wind up near the railroad tracks.  I
 turn around.  When I see the chicken house sign, I know I'm
 on the right path. But I have lost my place in line.  This
 is the story that keeps   happening to all of us, but didn't
 I read somewhere the last shall be first?  And that white-
 haired man in his warm green coat, didn't I hear him tell a
 tall boy wearing an orange knit hat, "Yes, yes you can stand
 for your grandma and your mother."  And didn't that boy grin
 at me saying, "They had to go to the car.  My grandma is old
 and my Mom has a neurology disease. She has MS.  She can't
 stand too long."  I saw his grandmother's pale face under
 her stocking cap, watched her wobbly gait steadied on the
 arm of her daughter who is younger than me.

 In our long line there's not one person of color because
 this is the north end of our county, but I know ten miles
 down the road people are waiting/wanting/hoping the wind may
 die down and quit blowing them like leaves.  Odd sizes of
 baby diapers sit under a sign that says, "Please do not take
 for relatives or friends." You must think only of yourself.
 These are the rules for survival.  Everyone in line knows
 the rules, but one package of diapers doesn't have a size
 marked.  Like a crystal ball, mothers lift it up and try to
 guess its mystery.

 Against the gravel, I stomp and stomp my feet. Without
 thinking, I am learning this new dance.  About twenty people
 have arrived since I went to get my own car.  I check to be
 sure the paper my daughter gave me is in my pocket.  For her
 scarf and gloves, I am grateful.  The newcomers are mostly
 women.  Elderly. White hair, walkers, and canes.  Oh Lord, I
 think, who will carry their food inside when they get home?
 I step out of line, go to the place where first we started.
 "Do you remember me?  I was just here with my daughter.  She
 had to go to work."

 "Yes, I remember you.  You were with the woman in a black
 coat."  And the tall boy in his orange knit cap nods and
 smiles.

 "Well, would you mind if I step back into line here?  I have
 to get my mother-in-law to physical therapy by noon."

 "Sure.  Jump right back in here," the woman replies.

 A first-grade boy swings the bag of broken donuts.  He stops
 in front of us.  "Want a donut for a penny?" he asks.  His
 mop of brown hair and grin are contagious.  We start
 laughing. All of us.  It ripples up and down our line.  "An
 entrepreneur," I comment.  The woman behind me says, "Yes."
 Our laughter and this cold, hurting air starts an old man's
 chronic cough.  We watch him struggle.  We hear his phlegm
 rattle and somehow it chokes us all.

 We are about twelve feet from the white door.  A lady in a
 mauve coat opens it every so often and says, "Three of you
 may come inside now.  Bring your numbers."  I think of
 heaven. I think of all the people who must wait their turn.
 People here are not grumpy.  Lord, they are pleasant.  All
 these volunteers who have been here for several hours
 setting this up and the woman with black-rimmed glasses who
 checks me in with her big ledger, the woman who saw my I
 don't know what to do next look and leaned closer to ask me,
 "Is this your first time?"

 "Yes, yes.  It's my first time.  I'm here for my daughter.
 She had to go to work."

 "Tell me her name."

 "Julie.  Julie Brown."

 There's a box with note cards she thumbs.  It looks like my
 recipe box.  "Here she is.  Now, just find her name in the
 book.  Sign her name with your initials after it.  Give me
 your number."  She sounds like my second grade teacher, and
 I do just as I'm told.

 My number is four.  There are four people in my daughter's
 family.  Two of them are children.  "We have another four,"
 a man yells to his co-workers in the back of this huge
 unheated garage.  And bags of food are placed into a deep
 plastic wheelbarrow.  My number four lies in there too.  It
 feels like I've hit the jackpot at a quarter casino machine.
 A man pushes my wheelbarrow toward the produce.  Cabbage,
 green peppers, onions, acorn squash, apples and ten pounds
 of potatoes get carefully loaded.  Someone hands over a big
 frozen turkey, a small roast, juice drinks.  Another voice
 tells me to take a jug of laundry detergent.  Every voice is
 cheerful.  The wheelbarrow aches under its weight.  "Lead
 the way," the man smiles at me.

 "The tan Chevy, over there," I say, choking on something I
 can not name.

 His cheeks flush from the cold, and both our bifocals help
 us to see everything more clearly.  Together, we lift and
 load what has been given into my car.  "Have a happy
 Thanksgiving," he says.  "God bless you, all of you," I tell
 him.  Our words stir the air like church bells calling us
 back to something we once knew and must never forget.

 [Jeanne Bryner is a poet, a former emergency room nurse, and
 a community affiliate of the Center for Working-Class
 Studies .]

___________________________________________

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