This is a guest post by Kelly Marie Pettit.
I saw it posted to Facebook today, and thought it was so lovely that I asked for permission to cross-post it, here. Thank you to Kelly for allowing me to share it!
Spokane, WA, circa 1978
I was living with my mom, stepfather, and variety pack of siblings. We lived, all seven of us, in a condominium, with mattresses on the floor, and not much else. We subsided on macaroni and cheese, quite happily, really. We were extraordinarily poor. Looking back, I reflect with no shame, because I know that true hunger and loneliness are much worse than anything I felt those days. I had my three brothers, my big sister, and we were enough. We were plentiful.
A family moved in across the way, and I quickly learned that they were a mother escaping an abusive relationship, with her three children; a little girl and her slighter less little big brothers. They all had giant scared eyes, like bottomless bowls of brown rivers.
They had nothing. Nothing but one crocheted blue blanket. Only that blue blanket. It matched the bruises on the mother who was rarely there.
My brother Todd and I saw this immediately as an opportunity. At the time, we did not know it was an opportunity to serve, we saw it as an opportunity to play, and kids who played needed clothes, and something to eat, in our estimation. Todd and I had much earlier devised a way to get our clothing needs met, and the vehicle of our heists was a very large, and likely very valuable vintage baby buggy of unknown origin, one that between gigs we made deals with each other to roll down the hill in front of our home (with the other in front), each promising to never let go. We always let go.
We told the new kids that we were gonna take them out for supplies that day. The first stop we made, all of us in a curved line, was at the local thrift store. It was named “Value Village”, and that name to this day cracks me. My brother and I had made the moral decision that taking things from the donation dumpster out back was not technically stealing, but more an interception of charity. He and I had spent hours out there during that summer, neck deep in clothes, toys and housewares, filling our buggy with our unburied treasures, then pulling a blanket over our “baby” and walking it primly home.
This particular day we were there for reasons much more fascinating than us. We were there to clothe our poorer than us neighbors (we were quite excited that such a thing existed). I remember tossing down clothing choices to the little girl, between my hollers of excitement when I located something in her size were her gasps and nearly silent soft comments, like a new puppy. My brother dug up clothing supplies for the boys (matching awkwardly fitting green shorts and random t-shirts with emblems of campgrounds and fund raisers).
We continued on our way, and stopped by the butcher shop and begged a ham hock. I knew enough about cooking to know that rib sticking food involved ham and navy beans. From our place we absconded the last couple handfuls of navy beans from my mom’s industrial sized bag (the bag was paper, plain white, and “NAVY BEANS” was printed in military letters on the outside), a pot, and then went to their house and simmered the hell of that ham hock and beans. We didn’t even have salt.
We spread their blue blanket in the middle of their living room floor, the little girl put on one of the dresses we had intercepted, and we sat and ate the soup out of styrofoam cups and spoons conveniently borrowed from the local convenience store. I don’t remember much beyond that except that their mother walked in, stood by the door for a really long time, just looking at us, looking at us like we were all strangers, then going into her room and closing the door, leaving just us and our NAVY BEAN soup and the blue blanket and our tangled fishing line ball of hope.