For Richer or Poorer

The grass was covered in dew and the fog hung low on an early spring morning. The people wore mismatched, sometimes dingy secondhand clothes. Old sweatshirts from long forgotten county or music festivals and events, old cargo pants and jeans, the occasional ugly patterned long skirt. I did my best to fit in, being clean cut, wearing a high end leather jacket, and selvedge denim, typing thoughtfully on a smartphone with a flip out keyboard (all the rage those days as some people, like myself, still held off making the dive to a fully touch keyboard). My text editor open,

class Display
{ static void Main()

I typed away with my thumbs, always filling in snippets of a class or method to include in my code base when they came to me. My wife had been gracious as I worked on these projects, taking a couple of half days every week to dedicate to them.

A man in a knitted beanie staggered down the line, cursing at some imaginary entity that it seemed only he could see. My wife hugged me close as he passed, I stroked her long auburn hair.

“Some interesting characters today,” I whispered once he was gone.
“I know, honey, some of these people just scare me, a few of them you never know what they’ll do,” she whispered back.
“Hehe, don’t worry, most of ’em are harmless.”
“That guy used to come into my work, sipping out of a gas can full of bathtub gin, we finally had to have the sheriffs come and remove him after he threatened my coworker.”
We’d started coming to the local food bank’s weekly distribution at the town community center to relieve some of our financial stresses. As a newly wed couple, we just couldn’t hardly afford the one bedroom place we’d started out in, even though it was a family property and had very reasonable rent for the area. We both worked full time, my wife at a dead end job, and me for the family business, and as a freelance programmer while going to community college. Neither of us had careers, jobs were scarce, cost of living was high, and we were up to our eyeballs in debt. My wife had a degree, but I kept switching majors, now starting my 8th year at community college. I would never complete a degree.

The bread line reminded me of church in some ways. The regulars at the bread line would share the stories of their weeks, talk about members not in attendance that day. There were your alcoholics and druggies, and just your average perpetually homeless and impoverished, elderly who’s Social Security checks weren’t cutting it, single mothers stuck with five or so kids from five or so different fathers, and mentally ill that society and family had failed. My wife and I seemed out of place, dressing in clean, half-decent clothes, but every week there was an excess of food being thrown away, so we figured that our income was low enough (just barely) to qualify for the assistance, so why not?

The volunteers who worked the line were sweet people, many of them clearly Christians and Jews, giving blessings to the parishioners as we passed through accepting the food they’d hand out. They knew most of us by name, could inquire about our lives, health, and families. We would go through the line, gratefully filling our canvas totes with old bruised vegetables and fruits, overstocked baked goods, and at the end of the line: table after table of overstocked breads the grocery stores would donate as a tax write off. The last week of the month would be ‘meat week’ when there would be coolers full of donated frozen meats. There was always more than enough for everyone, and my wife and I would fill our bags to overflowing with enough food to last us the week and beyond. With the excess we’d invite our friends and family over for meals. My wife was upset one time when I shared where the meal came from, they never would have known that a roast leg of lamb dinner with seasonal root vegetables had been provided free of charge otherwise. But, my wife never wanted people to know our financial state, it was too embarrassing for her.

We’d stuff our full bags of groceries into the trunk of our aging luxury sports car and drive off towards the coast. Our little place lay on a little forgotten peninsula, almost like the real estate agents had failed to notice this small section of beach front property, so the housing prices remained low. My memory of those days was it was always overcast when we’d get back from the bread line. We’d carry our plunder up the steps, looking out over the little bay as we walked. We’d fill the counters of the small kitchen, unloading our food and laughing and talking, we’d come up with meal ideas for the week. After that, and before work, we’d brew our morning coffee and sit by the window and look out at the sea together, and think how fortunate we were to have what we had, our little slice of paradise, and to have each other.

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