Monday, November 13, 2006

mountain men and the lack of maid service

We lived for a while in a small mountain town. Maybe 1000 people, rather remote, everyone knew everyone. There weren't a lot of homeless as the weather was harsh and services distant, but a few took up residence from time to time.

I was 11 or 12 at the time, so my awareness was much more focused on Prince or Shawn Cassidy but I recall bits and pieces of the conversations I'd overhear my dad telling my mom, about how he was trying to help Don.

Don lived out in the woods. I never saw his encampment - my father never brought me when he'd go visit. Don had been homeless for a long time, wasn't connected to the system, was off the grid. My dad was trying to help him get some assistance. Don would come by from time to time, perhaps for money or some food, and my dad would always talk to him on our porch and give him what he needed.

One day we came home from the long commute from the city and our house was not quite our house. Things were out of place. I remember my mom freaking out, calling my dad, screaming. I remember angry conversations, and I never saw Don again.

Don had come over when we were gone. Doors weren't often locked, so it was easy to come inside. He was in need of some help, and to Don's credit, he only took what he needed. A warm jacket. Boots for the snow. He also tried to do a load of laundry and broke the machine. He put a frozen pizza in the oven, box and all, and burned the inside black. He took a shower and used a lot of towels and left them filthy on the floor and in the washing machine. And I think he slept in my parents bed. I think he might have taken a pillow with him when he left.

At the time I didn't understand my mom's reaction. It seemed to me that Don was just trying to take what he needed, and wanted a bit of time feeling clean and warm. Of course he'd want a shower. And a nap. Hungry? Of course. But working an oven and a washing machine probably escaped him. If you've not used one in god knows how long, it would probably escape you too. And the sight of a warm and comfortable bed - who could pass that up? And he had tried to clean up. A shit job, but he tried.

I understand my mother's anger at being violated, and her need to protect her home and her children. But I don't think Don was threatening any of that. Perhaps he didn't follow social convention, but he didn't take what he didn't need. Our VCR, my mom's bits of jewelry, it was all there. Nothing was intentionally broken or damaged. He even tried to clean up. And he didn't force his way in.

Like I said, I never saw Don again. I know my mom pushed my dad call the police, and while my dad (bless him) refused to do that, he did go and tell Don he couldn't come over any more, and that he couldn't help him any longer. And our doors were locked after that.

I've never asked him, but I am betting that pained my dad. I know this because I am who I am in part because of him. Because of the homeless mission his family ran while I was growing up, the place where I first cut my baby teeth. But that is the meat for another meal, so I'll stick it in the oven (without the box) soon.


mrs.incredible - aka - Tabba said...

Awww, I love this story about your Dad....Bless him. Whenever I think about situations like this (and for some reason, I do often), I always think about Les Miserables. When the Vicar or Priest 'covered' for Jean Valjean. And how that inspired Valjean. Though it may be my idealistic optimism, but I bet that 'incident' was more than what appeared to be. I bet it set in motion some interesting events/changes for Don. And if not, it left an impression on you.....lasting & helpful, I'm sure.

Joker The Lurcher said...

it is so easy to see this from your mum's side as well as your dad's.

my mum lived in the ywca when i was in my early teens (i lived with my dad) and i went to stay with her for access visits. one night someone broke into the room i was in and ransacked it while i was asleep. my mum thought the noise was me playing around (i've never been a great sleeper - its the adhd!) so left it for about half an hour. then he went into the next door room where she was. she lept out of bed with a roar, ran naked at him and chased him out of the window down the fire escape. i didn't wake up until this happened but i have never forgotten the ferocity with which she went at a huge tall man.

this was the same mother who on other access visits took me to stay at a hostel for ex-prisoners in edinburgh (where i particularly remember getting horrific food-poisoning from corn beef hash). some of the guys had been in barlinie prison but she trusted them with me. i still have a copy of the little prince that one of them gave me.

meno said...

Your dad sounds like a sweet man. But i understand your mom's reaction too.
I have to smile a bit at poor Don trying to use the new-fangled house wares. Poor guy, just one thing wrong after another.

Thailand Gal said...

I guess like the others, both sides are clear enough. Getting permission to come in goes a little beyond "social convention" but I am definitely with your dad about not calling the police. The poor guy was doing the best he could to survive. May none of us ever have to find out what that's like from the front lines.


Thailand Gal

KC said...

So the goodness is in your genes...

I like Tabba's Les Miserables analogy.

Anonymous said...

I now understand the mother bear instinct to protect her cub. I also like to think I would want to help someone in need. Still, I'm not sure what I would do in this situation.

It's so interesting to see the experiences that have shaped you.

s@bd said...

My dad was forever inviting people in, feeding them and trying to help them.

It all ended the day after one of the latest had left and my mom, cleaning under the bed in the guest bedroom, found a knife.

Of course, we still had several 'kids' live with us from time to time but never adults. Especially ones who were recently out of jail.

My husband wonders where I get the need to invite all and sundry over for dinner and why I feel unfulfilled when I cook for just our family ...

acumamakiki said...

I'm always very curious about life in small mountain towns. Hearing this story from the outside, I can empathize with your dad not wanting to call the police and you knowing without being told, that Don was just trying to survive.

Ruth Dynamite said...

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, eh? Good for you, but more importantly, good for them. Good for them.

Anonymous said...

We often took in and fed other people's children - people, I might add, that were completely capable of feeding their own children, but apparently not of loving them. I resented sharing with my sisters, nevermind another party in the mix. Now I look back and see how lonely they must have been.

But we always had a "Do unto others" motto at my house, and you did too. I can completely understand your mom's freak-out, tho. I could have lived with the washing machine being f'd up, but he touched the stove? Oh hell no....

Momish said...

What a lovely memory of your father and his bottomless heart. I can see where you get yours! But, like the others, I can understand your mom's uneasiness. It is instinct and natural, I suspose. Perhaps she wasn't so much as reacting to what had happened, but to what it could lead to. Feeling safe and secure is a necessity for most of us. Your father and his family mission sound simply wonderful. Wish the world was full of more of such people. But, at least it has you too, thanks to him!

MotherPie said...

Thanks for visiting my site and taking the blog survey!!! I enjoyed coming to your place, too. The comment tag "wax poetic" is nice. Like that!

Elephants are pregnant for three years, too (your earlier post) and not only do they remember, but they keep their babies right with them, bar none, for 8 years and raise them with lots of help from grandmothers, aunts and friends. I was just glad not to be pregnant for 8 years!!!! Three times!!!!


Ginnie said...

I have no idea how old you are but it seems to me that the young people of today have so much more to go through than I did. I've been reading back over your blogs and it's amazing how much goodness comes through in what you have to write. You must be a very strong person and your child is lucky.

Anonymous said...

What a rough situation. It's definitely a rock and a hard place. being a mom and wanting to keep your kids safe but wanting to help out...I think I'd feel violated, but I would definitely see it for what it was- someone in need taking only what they needed, and I'd get over it. Especially since there was plenty he probably could've taken that could have been sold for money for food, clothes, etc.

Penny said...

Never stop writing, Jen.

I love to read your stories. You write so well, I get all the pictures in my head, like I'm there with you and a great sense of who you are, along with it.

And, all I could think of was the three little pigs.

I hope Don made out alright after that.

And, I totally understand your mother's reaction, but I understand yours to hers, as well.

liv said...

What a really wonderful post. I love reading about what makes you who you are. Obviously I have some catching up to do--it's been a maddening past week---thanks for checking on me!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to read this... and thanks for your comments to me yesterday. I was hoping you'd comment. I'm pretty sure I cared what you thought about that post more than anyone else.

lildb said...

this is painful for me to conjure, the thought of Don.

I'm sorry. I shouldn't make it about me, but it's all I can see when I read the words of this piece.