Saturday, 17 November 2012

Be The Good

image source:  The Blooming Homestead

You know how sometimes someone makes a passing remark in the course of a conversation and it just sticks with you?  That happened to me in the course of a conversation with my friend Jo last year.

Jo has Multiple Sclerosis and is on social services disability assistance (welfare), which provides her the princely sum of $625/month on which to live.  The rent on her bachelor suite apartment (one room and a bathroom) costs her $540/month.  

Jo earns an additional small sum each month by vacuuming the hallways of the apartment building in which she lives, and by helping to clean apartments when they've been vacated.  It's physically exhausting work for someone with her challenges but she's very grateful to have it.

By most standards, Jo is poor.  She lives very carefully and has no room at all in her budget for luxuries.  Every scrap of food she consumes is carefully planned for and nothing in her fridge ever goes to waste.  She drinks water most of the time because coffee and tea are too expensive.  Her clothes are purchased at thrift stores or found in the free store in her building's laundry room.  She walks everywhere because she can't afford to take the bus.

And yet Jo still finds the means to help others she considers less fortunate.

All year 'round, my friend Jo collects bottles and tins.  She picks up returnable containers she finds by the road when she's out on her walks.  She retrieves containers from the trash bins in public spaces in her building, and from the recycling dumpster in the parking lot.  If it can be returned for a deposit, she'll pick it up.  When she has a garbage bag full, she walks to the recycling depot and turns the containers in for money.

I thought that Jo used the money from her bottle returns to help stretch her meagre budget, but I was wrong.  She puts that money aside and then, when the cold weather comes, she walks to WalMart and uses it to buy the single-use heat packs they sell in the sports department. These plastic packets contain two chemicals that, when combined, generate heat.  The user applies pressure to break the packet's inner capsule and then tucks the packet inside gloves or boots to provide a few hours' warmth on a cold day.  Jo distributes them to homeless people in our town when she's out on her walks.

Jo doesn't talk about her gift to the homeless.  I found out about it quite by chance, because it was raining and I had the opportunity to offer her a ride to WalMart.  When she explained about the warmers I asked her "But shouldn't you be using that money to help make ends meet yourself?"

Her reply?

"As long as I can help someone less fortunate than myself, I am never truly poor."


Looking for ideas about how to make charitable gifts while on a budget?  Find them at A Word From Aunt B.

The sign in the title image was made by Marie, at Blooming Homestead.  You can find more images of the sign, together with information on how she made it at Thanks, Marie, for letting me use the image.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Super Hero Boots

My husband was born in 1939, near the beginning of the second world war, and grew up on a farm in Richmond, on BC's lower mainland, near the Fraser River.

Families in farming communities were better off than many during the war years.  Their farms provided them with food that city families couldn't access, but farm families were still challenged by rationing. Gasoline rations prevented them from traveling any distance, and there were limited supplies of everything from parts for repairing farm equipment to the shoes and clothing much needed by growing children. 

Despite the war time challenges his parents must have faced, my guy had a happy childhood.  He grew up with a pack of other farm kids, all in similar circumstances.  They ranged far and wide on their bicycles, fished in the river, built forts in the wooded areas at the edge of the peat bogs, and played together rough and tumble, like puppies.  

Except for one child.

Down the road there lived a little boy named Barry.  He was an only child, a surprise gift to his parents, a menopause baby who arrived almost thirty years into their marriage.  He was a tiny child, and developmentally delayed, but never was a boy more loved.  His parents cherished him, and the neighbourhood kids were very protective of him. 
Even back then, my husband was a great big guy - a boy's boy, bluff, loud, and popular with the other children -  and Barry idolized him.  He followed my guy everywhere, not really joining in the play but smiling from the side lines, and trailing along like a little shadow wherever the day might take him.  

Although the neighbourhood kids were protective of him, Barry endured a lot of bullying from other children at school.  His differences from the other kids became ever more apparent as he grew up - especially when Barry refused to relinquish gum boots.   

During the war years, pretty nearly every farm kid on the coast wore gum boots: black rubber boots with bright red soles.  They were often the only pair of footwear a child possessed.  They wore those boots from fall through early summer, rain or shine.  When it snowed, they wore their gum boots still, with layers of socks inside.  When the summer sun shone, they went barefoot. 

In the 1950's, people once again began to see new clothing and shoes. Farm boys accustomed to gum boots or bare feet suddenly had access to canvas high top running shoes, and wore leather dress shoes to church on Sunday. 

But Barry loved his gum boots and would wear no other foot wear.  

And, because of his gum boots, the bullying increased.  

My fella was often kept after school for engaging in fisticuffs in Barry's defense.

After a particularly difficult month at school, Barry fell sick and his parents kept him at home for quite some time.  My guy and his sister went to visit Barry and found him reluctant to return to school.  He had no understanding about why kids were being mean to him but he certainly knew that they were being unkind.  He didn't want to go back where the mean boys were.

My husband and his sister hatched a plan:  

They asked Barry's mom if they could borrow his gum boots, brought them home, and headed for the barn.  They opened all the cans of paint in their dad's workshop until they found a tin of red paint and another of yellow, and they painted lightning bolts on the sides of Barry's boots.

My fella's dad was not best pleased to find out the kids had been in his workshop without permission, but Barry was delighted with his embellished boots.  They were super hero boots that gave him special powers.  

Like all super heroes, Barry must keep his special powers secret but if the kids at school were being mean to him he could close his eyes and imagine that he was flying away to a secret hideout.  He could use his super powers to steal their voices, making them so quiet that no matter what they said he wouldn't hear them.  

The bullying continued.

My husband continued to be kept after school for defending Barry with his fists.

But Barry?

Barry was no longer afraid to go to school.


This has been a long story and I do thank you for reading to the end.  I hope you'll hang on just a little longer, because there's an epilogue:

Barry got a paper route as a teenager, and loved his job.  

His parents passed away when he was in his 20's, but they had appointed a trustee to watch over their boy.  

The farm was sold, except for a half acre and the house.  

Barry lived on in his childhood home, and the revenue from the sale of the farm helped to provide for his care.  

Barry continued on with his paper route, proud of his job and secure in the belief that he was doing something useful.

We returned to the neighbourhood for a visit in the early 1980's and came across Barry one day, delivering papers.  He was wearing a light blue leisure suit and a brand new pair of gum boots.

My fella stopped the car and asked him "Do you remember me?"

Barry's face lit up in a huge smile.  

"Look!," he exclaimed, "I have new boots...but they're not as nice as my super hero ones."

This post is linked to Gallery of Favorites hosted by Premeditated Leftovers and The 21st Century Housewife.

Gallery of Favorites