There is a weird juxtaposition to looking for a physical home, with all my weird, well-fed little criticisms, oh, I don’t like the crappy cabinets in this house; the green paint in that dining room will simply have to go, and passing out food to folks who wouldn’t eat otherwise, in a vacant lot downtown. My brain kind of folds in upon itself, thinking that if I were half the Christian I’d like to be, I’d live in a cold-water, 3rd-story walk-up, warming myself in the knowledge of how much I could give back to a needy community. That person, however, is in diametric opposition to the one screaming she simply can’t do a bad kitchen and needs a private master bath. Self-awareness tells me the latter is the likely victor in my mental cage-match.
We’re looking for a house and it’s proving a challenge with Paul’s hectic work schedule and moving to a hot real estate market, with nice houses snapped up almost as quickly as listed. I spent last Friday with our charmingly low-key young realtor, being all judgy about other people’s houses but, with Paul working last Saturday I decided to join the local Episcopal parish in serving hot dogs to the homeless in downtown Columbia.
When newcomers show up at an Episcopal church on a Sunday, someone (usually a Vestry member or Usher/Greeter) will be
set upon them assigned the task of Making Them Feel Welcome (I’ve been on both ends of this procedure). The hot dog event was looser and unstructured, with the sort of casual chaos of something routinely done by folks used to working together, but they graciously found jobs for we newbies and a few congregants satisfied their curiosity by chatting me up, which went a long way to making me feel at ease.
Many hands make light work, with long tables quickly set up and shade canopies erected over them. Cartons of food: bananas, hot dog buns, desserts, and chips were unloaded from trucks and cars and organized. Two giant coolers full of cold water were set up at one end and newbies were cautioned to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Duties were assigned by a slender woman in a sunhat: ketchup and mustard squirters, dishers of pickle relish, hot dog and bun doler-outers. I was assigned desserts and dutifully sliced, paper-plated, and impaled with a plastic fork, donated pies and cakes. The Chili Lady arrived and it was explained to me that she dished her own chili on the dogs, thank you very much.
We were waiting for the word to go when a jovial, white-whiskered man in a fishing hat called for all the St. Simon people and he began assigning tasks; a fellow newbie tried gently suggesting we had already been assigned our duties, his son an assigned Mustard Squirter while he himself was a Dessert Server, but the first guy went right on talking and as far as I can tell we all just returned to our originally-assigned positions anyway. I was strongly reminded of the sweet older lady at St. Christopher’s who so persistently suggested I use a spoon to pour pancakes on the griddle for the Fat Tuesday pancake supper I finally gave up and did so, because I saw this had nothing to do with tidiness and everything with her having trouble letting go of this chore, and it cost me nothing but a bit of drippage to make her happy and use the damn spoon.
Having spoken his piece, the be-whiskered man seemed to feel better about things and went off to rally the homeless into singing Happy Birthday for one of their number, a tall, slender, gentle, African-American man who could have been 40 or 70, but who’s gap-toothed smile lit his face when he was sent first in line, and got first choice of all the various desserts.
When we first arrived, there were only three men waiting under the shade of what looked like big oleander bushes nestled among the ubiquitous pine trees but as we set up they steadily came in singles, pairs, and trios, some greeting each other warmly and I overheard scraps of conversation as news or gossip was exchanged. I wondered, where did they all come from? Where is their shelter?
Just as I found when serving at Austin Street in Dallas, they were vocally thankful and warmed my heart, naturally leaving this old Catholic girl conflicted, because should one feel good about, derive pleasure from simply doing the right thing? Just showing up and handing out donated hot dogs, pound cakes, and pies? And on the subject, why should anyone have to say “thanks” for what should simply be a human right – enough to eat? I know one answer is the exchange of courtesy is part of the social contract, making everyone feel good what is happening. Maybe it’s why I like manners, which casts a cloak of civility over savage things, like going to a vacant lot for one’s meal.
It wasn’t long past Noon when everyone had been through the food line twice if they wanted and I think we fed about 75 people. Driving home I was tired from the heat, sweaty, in desperate need of my second shower of the day, and praying a grateful little prayer for our small apartment, indoor plumbing, and the ability to be picky about kitchen cabinets and hardwood floors.