Recently I mentioned it was the anniversary of my father’s death and a friend asked me to tell her a story about him. This simple thing reminded me of how much power there is in a story. In this case, it was a way to remember and share and bring a tiny piece of him back to life. But that power is the same, even if the story is about a place, or a time, or a song, or a pet. Or even simple things like how a person’s day was. Tiny stories are as powerful as novel-length ones.
I followed that conversation with reading something similar in a book. In it, the character is looking at worlds facing war and he realizes that prejudice is adding to people readying for violence (this is simplifying the plot considerably). He decides people need to see each other as people rather than where they are from or what race the belong to, so he starts interviewing others for their stories and traditions, and then he broadcasts those stories out into the universe.
Again, the power of story.
So I want to ask you the same thing. Can you tell me a story about something that resonated with you, or meant a lot to you, or made you laugh, or pause, or think, or cry? Share something mundane or earth shattering so that I can sink into a story and share that place in time with you.
I’m going to go make a cup of tea and then settle into the chair and wait for you.
When we were little, food had so much impact on us kids, as I’m sure it did for many.
I remember my youngest sister forced to sit alone at the table after all of us were gone, because she couldn’t gag down the liver and onions. She couldn’t leave the table until her plate was empty.
I remember if you spilled milk into your plate on accident, you still had to eat the soggy food.
I know all of this came from the generation my parents grew up in and that my mom came from little. I know also it came from having to feed five kids on a limited budget. Nothing could be wasted or thrown out. I have so much respect for mom, there at home, three meals a day. Her canning, the 50-pound burlap bags of red potatoes and lentils.
I remember commodity day. I swear it was dad’s favorite day of the week because in the commodity box would be a huge block of REAL BUTTER.
When my parents retired, they volunteered at a local food bank. Every Friday they came home with boxes and mom would radiate relief. Cans on the shelves, meat in the freezer. It was like commodities day all over again. Mom told me once she volunteered at the food bank because volunteers got first choice. I also wonder if she volunteered because it allowed her to feel like she was earning the food she brought home.
She also came home with stories. People had to sign up, provide identification, and provide proof of their low income status. Mom would tell stories of people who were humiliated. Or people coming through that drove fancy cars or wore nice clothes and how she felt they were lying. That they were taking food from those who really needed it.
Fast forward to a few months ago when I was talking to a neighbor about a local food bank. She said I should pick things up because they had such a surplus. I told her we didn’t need to do that. She said it had nothing to do with income levels; that question wasn’t even asked. She told me they received funding on a point system and the more people that came, the more points they got. Points allowed them to continue providing for the community. She said it helped them out if people came.
Recently I had a day off when her food bank was open. I thought I would go, be counted so they got some points, and do my part to help her out. I figured I would pick up one or two things to look like I was legitimate. In other words, I’d fake it so they could count my household and help others.
When I got there, there were rows and rows of food. One family was leaving with a cart piled high. One woman was going through a huge case of tomatoes, picking out a box full and talking about canning sauce. Other than that it was just the volunteers.
They were so excited to see me. I signed up, politely followed their directions, and picked up a loaf of homemade sourdough bread. A volunteer pushed a cart over to me. Another said ‘oh, you have to take some of this!’ Another said ‘come back to the freezer and get some meat!’ A third put a box of donuts on the cart, along with spinach and squash and…more and more.
I kept telling them ‘no thank you’. I finally confessed that I didn’t need anything, I’d just come to get counted so they could get points.
They then told me they had so much left over at the end of the day that they fed local pigs and chickens and horses.
I came home with a few boxes and lots of guilt. Some of the things were well past their prime, like corn that was tough and woody, and spinach that was slimy. But those things were in boxes that had been pre-made by someone and sealed. The things the volunteers pressed on me were fine. Mom and dad would have been thrilled.
In one way, a part of me was thrilled, too. Free food! I can stock up the pantry even more! Canned soups and rice and beans and flour and…it was like grocery shopping without having to pay for anything.
And in another way, I was extremely uncomfortable and guilt-ridden. I still am, today, which is why I’m writing about it. I’m not sure I’ll go back. I’m going to make donations, though.
We live in a temperate rain forest. Which, of course, means it rains a lot. I remember one year when it rained ninety straight days. Some hated it. Some felt they were mildewing. But I loved it.
I love a hard downpour that drenches everything, that soaks through your hair instantly so you can feel the tiny rivulets running down the back of your ears and neck. The sort of rain that means business and lets you know it.
I love soft rain that mists everything and takes a long time to soak in. I love its gentleness as it sifts over ferns and earth and sits on your shoulders like silvery spiderwebs.
I love how rain allows you to do nothing but sit by the fire with a book, with no guilt.
I love the sound of rain, on roof, under car tires, on leaves of trees, on my skin, my thirsty skin that soaks it up to feed my soul.
So this has been a hard summer. We’ve never had such heat or so many days without the rain we are famous for. I see the parched earth, the stressed trees, the bony river with its skeleton of rocks jutting up through the thin skin of water.
Fire danger is, of course, extreme right now. I think even people who hate the rain are watching the sky for mare’s tails of clouds, hoping to see the streamers drifting in over the mountains.
I know I am.
The wild animals are coming down from high places sooner than usual because there is no water up in the alpine rivers and lakes. We’re used to bears coming through as they get ready for hibernation but this is sooner than normal. Fledgling birds and baby squirrels are dying as they fall out of nests trying to escape the heat. It’s heartbreaking and I fear this is a sign of times to come.
For now I’m sitting in a room with the blackout curtains closed against the heat, looking at photos of water. Craving damp and cool and moss that is green and vibrant rather than brown and parched. Craving a roaring, whitewater river, full of returning salmon.