Flying home from Charleston last evening, the stranger next to me asked me what I did for a living. I told her and we talked about our careers for a bit. The conversation moved from occupations to Thanksgiving. I told the stranger the following story as it was fresh in my head and in my heart.
Once upon a time last Saturday, a handful of people – mostly Millennials except for me, the lone Baby Boomer, traveled to a house in rural South Carolina. A house that was falling apart. A house that had a screened in front porch minus the screens. A house with broken windows and doors. A house that some would have condemned long ago. A dilapidated house that was home to seven people…six children I’m guessing between the ages of five and 13, their loving grandmother and one pit bull. A house with holes in the walls from being kicked out or punched out for one reason or another. A house that was filled with debris, dog feces, dirty clothing, cockroaches, stench, filth, laughter and love. The grandmother was in a robe – it was about 10:00 A.M. when we arrived. The care project was divided into work that needed done immediately.
Clean the pantry shelves, remove debris and put new boards on the shelving.
Fix the holes in the walls and closets by installing new drywall.
Install new screens on the front porch.
Hang new blinds in all the windows of the house.
Clean – everything and everywhere.
Throw out junk and debris.
The task I was initially assigned was to help clean the pantry area and get it into a condition where the family would know what food they had – or didn’t – and provide some semblance of organization. Once that task was completed, I was then asked to go into the grandmother’s room to clear a path so the new blinds could be installed.
I enlisted the help of one of the boys – for the sake of this post, I’ll call him Sport – he told me he liked sports and rattled off his favorite teams. I asked him if he had ever heard of the state of Iowa or The University of Iowa Hawkeyes – nope, he had not. I thanked him for his honesty and for not confusing Iowa with Ohio or Idaho. Our work together continued. He picked up garbage about two feet deep along side of the bed and tossed it into the large black sack I was holding, then we traded tasks. I would sweep, scoop and dump as he held the sack. We found a pretty bracelet, a one dollar bill, Winnie the Pooh and assorted children’s books, among other things.
As we worked together, we chatted. Sport and I hauled the first of many sacks of garbage out through the yard. I told him I was afraid of the pit bull and he told me not to be. I asked him to walk with me and be my protector – and he did. I held onto Sport’s arm while we passed by the pit bull. As we walked back to the porch to continue our project, I said, “Sport, let’s assess – let’s assess our work so far – yes, let’s make an assessment.” He asked me what assess and assessment meant. I said, “you know at school, Sport, when you take a test. Well, that is an assessment of what you have learned – a review of what you have learned I guess you could say.”
Sport laughed – he thought it was cool to say assess and assessment. “Let’s make an assessment” he stated. And we did. We assessed that we had completed the task of clearing the debris by the bed and that we were ready to do something else of the cleaning variety.
Early afternoon, it was time to go. Sport wanted to know if I would be coming back. I told him I was heading home to Iowa soon and would not be back. As I walked towards the car, I turned to see Sport as he tossed his football in the air. He was smiling. I waved goodbye and my eyes filled with tears. Assess. Assess. Assess – no crying!
This Thanksgiving, I am keeping Grandma in the Red Robe, Sport and his brothers and sisters in my thoughts. I am thankful for them. And I think of them. I wonder what Sport is doing now?
I went to Charleston to hang out with family, to see the sites, to shop, to dine and to do the town. While that was fun and fine, what I left with is a story about what matters. A story about giving + thanks. A story about thanks + giving. A story about a little boy named Sport – a story that will stick with me much longer than the Carolina Moon soap, bean soup or Beadah Licken Brownies that I bought at Boone Hall Farms Market. What I came home with is an even deeper sense of gratitude for family, friendships and things that truly matter in life. What I came home with is a story about a little boy with a football, a dust pan and a broom who taught me a thing or three about what’s important and what’s not.
Find someone’s arm to hold onto when you are scared.
Happy Thanksgiving 2014.