Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Adventuresome Sort of a Person

Madeline ran her thumb over the smooth bowl of the silver spoon in her pocket.  Then she slid her wrinkled hand back into her doe-skin glove.  She interlocked her fingers and twiddled her thumbs.  Bus 113 came and went.  Bus 847.  361.  When 431 pulled up, she knew it was the right one because the digits equaled 8.  She poked a ten-dollar bill into the slot and walked to the eighth row.  A seat was available, but the person sitting next to it was all wrong.  No seats were available in the ninth row.  The lone person in the tenth row was asleep.  The eleventh row was the right one. 
Madeline sat down next to a young woman holding a baby.  The woman wore a threadbare coat, but the baby looked warm. “Excuse me,” said Madeline as she sat down.  The baby smiled.
The woman nodded and smiled.  “Lovely child,” Madeline said.  She held one gloved finger out to the baby.  He reached out and curled his fingers around hers.
“Thank you. He’s eight months old today.”
Madeline reached into her pocket and held out the teaspoon.
“Would you like a spoon?” she asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Would you like a spoon?” Madeline repeated.  “This spoon,” she said, waving it gently.  “You could feed the little one with it.  It could be an eight-month birthday present.”
The woman raised one eyebrow and tilted her head.  She reached out and took the spoon.  Her hands are red and raw, thought Madeline.  She works hard.  Her life with a baby must be hard.   “You may sell it if you wish.  You might get $50 at a pawn shop.  It’s worth over a hundred. Perhaps two.”
The bus clanked to a stop.  Before the startled woman could answer, Madeline skittled out the door and was sitting on the bus-stop bench.
Madeline looked around.  Colors seem brighter, she thought.  This is what life must be like for adventurous persons.  From somewhere far away, she heard an accordion playing.  “I will find that accordion,” she whispered aloud.  “I will sit and listen to the accordion player, and I will drop twenty dollars into his monkey’s cup.” 
Before today, Madeline would not have given an accordion player the time of day, much less put money in his cup.  Then she wondered whether the accordion player might be a woman.  An old woman like herself. 
She wondered whether the old woman would even have a monkey.  Monkeys can bite, she thought.  She decided to google where one could go to see monkeys in the wild.  She did not approve of keeping a wild animal tied to a musical instrument.  But she would like to see one in the wild.
Madeline smelled warm bread and wondered if she would have even noticed it under ordinary circumstances.  She followed her nose to an Italian bakery with three tables.  She ordered a latte and a slice of Italian wedding cake.  She sat in the corner and watched people come and go.  A busty woman with a small child bought the child a giant pretzel.  The clerk ran a ribbon through the pretzel and tied it.  The busty woman slipped it around the child’s neck.
When she finished her cake and coffee, Madeline bought a giant pretzel.  “Tie a ribbon through it, please, like you did for the little girl.” The clerk handed her the pretzel and giggled when Madeline slipped it around her own neck. 
“Sorry,” said the clerk.  “I just thought you were buying it for a grandchild.”
“I did buy it for a grandchild,” she said.  “Do you think that I never had grandparents?  That I am not someone’s grandchild?”
The clerk blushed, mumbled, “Sorry” again and counted Madeline’s $5.75 change back to her. 
“That’s alright, dear,” said Madeline as she shoved the change back across the counter.  “Keep it.”
With her pretzel around her neck, Madeline set off to find the accordion player and her monkey.  What sort of person would play an accordion and own a monkey? Madeline wondered.  She had never known such a person.  She decided that such a person would most certainly be the adventuresome sort.
She closed her eyes and listened.  She held one hand over her left ear and cupped the other hand around her right.  She turned slowly in a circle, and when she located the direction of the sound, set off.  Two blocks later, she saw the accordion player, who even from a distance was indisputably male.  He did not have a monkey.  He did have the accordion case open on the ground.  People had dropped change and a few dollar bills in the case.
“Stop,” commanded Madeline.  “Stop playing.  Please.  I want to talk to you.”
The accordion player wore a grey beret on his greying hair that complemented the blue foul-weather fisherman’s sweater on his substantial frame.  Very handsome, thought Madeline.  Handsome and Italian. 
“Where is your monkey?” she asked.
 The man drew himself up to his full six-foot two.  “I am not an organ grinder,” he said.  “I am a musician.  I play the accordion.”
“I will pay you handsomely to come home with me and play for an hour.”  She dug two one-hundred dollar bills out of her purse and handed them to him.  “Come along,” she commanded.  She turned and hailed a taxi.  The taxi driver loaded the accordion player’s instrument into the trunk.  The driver blinked in surprise as Madeline gave him her address.  So did the accordion player.
When the taxi pulled up at Madeline’s building, a doorman stepped forward to open her door while the driver fetched the accordion.  Madeline tipped the driver a twenty. 
A nervous young man in an Armani suit rushed out of the building.  “Madam!” he cried.  “Where have you been?  I was terrified when you didn’t answer my knock this morning!  We have correspondence to attend to!”
“Do it yourself,” she said as she waved him away.  “For the next hour I will be unavailable.  I am going to listen to the accordion.”  She turned to the bewildered accordion player.  “Come,” she commanded.  Then she asked, “Are you married?”
After the accordion player finished his concert and drank a cup of tea, he left with a promise to return for lunch the following day. 
Madeline’s secretary rushed into her library.  “Madam, what is the meaning of all this?  You disappear for hours, you come home with a pretzel tied around your neck, and you bring an accordion player for tea?  Have you lost your mind?”
“Quite the contrary,” she said, “I have found it.”  She held out the half-eaten pretzel.  “Bite?” she asked.
“Madam, I am worried,” he said.  “I should call your nephew!”
“That is the last person you are to call,” said Madeline.  “I informed him yesterday that I have decided to leave my entire estate to charity instead of to him and his spoiled offspring.  He threatened to have me declared incompetent.  I am, I assure you, quite competent.”
She patted the couch next to her, and her secretary sat down.  “You know that I have spent my life penny-pinching and running this company.  I have always done what was expected of me.  Yet I have wondered about the people who live other kinds of lives: people who ride on busses, people who eat pretzels, people who stand on street corners and play musical instruments." 
She placed her hand gently on his arm. "I have wondered about people who go hungry at night while I sit alone and dine on soup from thousand-dollar tureens in hundred-dollar bowls with hundred-dollar spoons. I have decided that I am going to start giving these silly things away.   I do not need them.  And they can do some good feeding the poor who can either eat out of them or sell them for cans of soup they can eat with plastic spoons.”
“What I do need,” she said, “Are memories to keep me warm.  I need adventures.  I need to meet adventuresome sorts of persons who do not do what is expected of them, but rather do whatever it is that they themselves wish to do.  So I am going to become an adventuresome sort of person.  Tomorrow I will turn 80.  I will turn the company over to one of the vice presidents.  And I will have adventures for as long as I am able.  When I am on my death bed, I do not wish to wonder what might have been.”  She patted the secretary’s hand.  His mouth hung open. 
“Close your mouth,” she said.  He didn’t move.  She gave his leg a sharp slap.  “You look like a fool.”  Then she added, “Tell Cook to prepare a special Italian lunch for tomorrow.  And call my travel agent.  Tell her to arrange for the first possible cruise to some place where one might see a wild monkey.  Two tickets.  Captain’s suite.”
As the secretary turned to leave, shaking his head, Madeline added, “One more thing.  Tell the chauffeur to be available tomorrow after lunch.” 
“Where shall I tell him you wish to go, Madam?”
Madeline smiled.  “Tell him I am going to buy an accordion.” 

Addendum to My Taxonomy of Urination

Knowledge is dynamic; research constantly reveals new truth.  That which was once impossible is now a reality.  New species are discovered.  Old taxonomies must be revised.  Ergo, I am revising my month-old Taxonomy of Urination with this addendum. 
A few days after I posted my taxonomy, my “like a second dad to me” junior high band director called.  He said, “I have read and been thinking about your taxonomy of urination.”

“So what have you been thinking?” I asked.

“It’s good, but I decided that I need to tell you that you left something out.”

“What’s that?” I asked, grabbing a pencil and notepad so I could get every word down correctly.

Taking a piss,” he said.  “You left out taking a piss.  That’s an important omission.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I didn’t think about it at the time.  Talk to me.  I need you to do a semantic analysis to differentiate taking a piss from the other types of urination I listed.”

“Well,” he said, “When I was a young man, I could take a piss several times a day.  It’s what you do when you really have to go, and your stream is strong and vigorous, and you can pee a perfect arc up into the air.  You have a powerful feeling of relief.  You usually follow it with a big sigh and a smile.”

“It gives you great pleasure?”

“Oh, yes.  Taking a piss is definitely a great pleasure.”

“But you’re old now, Dad.  Can you still take a piss?”

“Only rarely.  Mostly I tinkle.  Sitting down.  But once in a while, I can take a piss, like after a long car ride.  And it’s glorious.”

“How does it make you feel now at your age?”

“Oh, it makes me feel like a young man again.  It’s a wonderful pleasure.”

“Got it, Dad.  Thanks.  I’ll update the taxonomy soon.”

So please add taking a piss to my Taxonomy of Urination. 

And thanks, Dad, for your contribution to science.  May you still be taking an occasional piss when you’ve turned 105.

Lessons My Band Director Taught Me: # 2 Never Be a Prima Dona

My junior high band director, Mr. Phillip Wilson, grew up in the moving business.  Founded by his late father, Wilson Transfer and Storage in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is still family-run nearly a century later. Mr. Wilson, who gave up his share of the business to be a band director, told me about one of the family's notable customers.

“When I was a little boy, we had three enormously rich and important clients: Mrs. Cyrus McCormick of International Harvester, Mrs. Frank Rand of Remington Rand/Sperry Rand fame, and Mrs. David Lippincott of the eponymous publishing company.

“All three were lovely women, but Mrs. McCormick and Mrs. Rand always came to the transfer to conduct their affairs in their chauffeur-driven limousines.  Mrs. Lippincott, who was probably the richest of the three, drove herself in her Studebaker.

“Once our foreman asked Mrs. Lippincott why she didn’t have a chauffeur drive her around in a limo.  She said, ‘I like my Studebaker because no one else likes them.’”  Then he added, “Mrs. Lippincott never gave a hoot about what other people thought.”

 Then Mr. Wilson told me a story.

“Because our house was on the property in front of the company headquarters and warehouses, we had an enormous driveway where the moving vans could come and go.  Addresses were not clearly marked on houses in those days, so taxi drivers would come to our house to find out where someone’s address was.  As long as they came to the door and knocked, we were happy to tell them what they needed to know.  But invariably while we were eating dinner, a taxi driver would pull up in the driveway and blast on his horn.  He expected us to come out of our house, go to his car window, and tell him what he wanted to know.

“Whenever that happened, one of my big brothers or sisters would stick their head out the back door and holler, ‘We don’t offer curb service!’  If the taxi driver got out of his car and came to the door, we were happy to help him.

“I was a little pitcher with big ears, so one day when I was about six, Mrs. Lippincott drove up to the loading dock in her Studebaker and honked her horn, I stuck my head out of the warehouse and hollered, ‘We don’t offer curb service!’

“The foreman across the yard came running as fast as his little short, fat legs could carry him scolding me all the way.  ‘That’s Mrs. Lippincott!’ he cried.  ‘We don’t say that to Mrs. Lippincott!  She can honk her horn for us to come out any time she wants!’

“Then Mrs. Lippincott climbed out of her car, and the foreman fell all over himself apologizing.”

“’Nonsense,’ said Mrs. Lippincott to the foreman.  “The child is right.  I am a perfectly able-bodied woman capable of getting out of the car to ask for assistance.  Don’t you dare scold him.  Leave him alone.’

“That endeared Mrs. Lippincott to me forever after,” said my band director.  “She was immeasurably rich, yet she was humble and never expected any special treatment.”

The point of this lesson my band director taught me?  You may be a first chair, but be an humble first chair.  Don’t expect special treatment and never be a Prima Dona.

Thanks, Mr. Wilson, for that life lesson.  Thanks, too, Mrs. Lippincott.  Rest in peace.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Gore Thanksgiving Ritual

My father, Harold O. Gore, Esq., was a devout Episcopalian whose profound Christian faith guided his life, so in 1980, he started a new Thanksgiving tradition in our family.  I am asking you to make it part of your tradition.

But first, a story that took place 21 years later.

In 1991, at the age of 80, Daddy knew he was developing Alzheimer's disease.  In 2001, on the night before Thanksgiving, my mother ordered a pizza from Papa John's for dinner.  My brother, Halbert, had arrived at their house minutes earlier from his 500 mile trip, and I from my 300 miler. The four of us sat down at Mother's tiny kitchen table.  Mom placed the pizza box in the center of the table with paper plates and napkins around it.

"Say grace, Daddy," she instructed.

By this time, Daddy was deep into Alzheimer's, but he always said grace before meals, so we four bowed our heads.  Daddy clasped his hands before his chest and closed his eyes.  But he couldn't remember how to say the "Bless this food to our use and us to thy service..." prayer that Episcopalians often use.  We sat quietly to give him time to think.

Then he opened his eyes.  Hands still folded devoutly, he looked at the pizza box and read from the cover, "Better ingredients, Better pizza, Papa John's. Amen."

Mother, Halbert, and I echoed Daddy's amen, chuckled, and then wiped the tears from our eyes. 

That has become a traditional Thanksgiving memory in our family, and sometimes, in reverence and humility, we actually offer it as grace over pizza.  God understands.

But that was not the tradition Daddy started in 1980 that I am hoping you will adopt.  The night before Thanksgiving that year, Daddy called Halbert and me into the living room.  "Children," he said, "I want us to start a new Thanksgiving tradition tomorrow.   We will each steal off quietly from the festivities and telephone someone to tell them that we are thankful that they are in our lives.  The person we call must not be a relative.  We will not tell each other whom we called or that we have made the call.  This is to be strictly between ourselves and that one other person.  Please think tonight about whom you will call.  We won't talk about this again."

Halbert and I looked at each other.  This was the way our daddy lived his life: quietly, humbly, thankfully.  And his tradition remains ours today. 

On Thanksgiving Day, we slip away from the festivities and call someone- not a relative- for whom we are thankful.  We do not have a conversation with that person.  When that person answers the phone, we identify ourselves and quickly say, "In our family, on Thanksgiving Day, we each select one person for whom we are thankful.  Then we call that person and thank them for being in our lives.  You are the person I wanted to call this Thanksgiving.  Thank you for your kindness to me."  Then we hang up.

Halbert and I agree: Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without our daddy's ritual. 

I know that he agrees with me when I urge you to adopt our ritual.  Your Thanksgiving will never be the same.

The High Cost of Pet Ownership

Saturday, Baby-Dog Woodrow ate a bar of soap for $140.75.  The bar of soap: 75 cents. The vet bill: $140. 

Our Woodrow is going to recover completely, perhaps because my soap is ninety-nine and forty-four one-hundredths percent pure.  (If you are over 60, you know what brand my soap is.)

Because of his Saturday indiscretion, Woodrow vomited three times on Sunday, so I fed him small amounts of rice and rice-water throughout the day. I skipped church to take care of him.  He slept most of the day, wanted me close.  I stayed on the bed with him for hours, whispering “I love you,” reading, and watching John Wayne movies. 

Although he woke me with lively kisses before dawn this morning, we were sitting in the vet office by 9:00.  
Woodrow’s Great Soap Escapade started me thinking (once again) about how much money adequate pet care costs.  And about how many people who have pets can’t afford to have them. 

While I was in the vet’s office, I overheard the receptionist talking to a potential client.  The woman had a voucher to have her dog spayed, and she wanted to know how much money she would have to pay the vet if she used it.  The voucher paid $45 for the spay surgery.  The owner would have to pay $20 for pain medication and $15-18 for something else (I couldn’t hear what).  The owner said that she didn’t want to pay for the pain medication or the required something else. 
The receptionist explained that the vet would not perform a spay surgery without pain medication. 

“Thank God,” I thought, having had a hysterectomy myself. 
Not only did I think about the cost of dog ownership at that moment, but I spent fifteen seconds wondering whether a lady who didn’t want to provide pain medication for her post-hysterectomy dog should even own a dog.

Please understand.  I personally know many people who dearly love their pets but who cannot afford their care.  I once knew a double-amputee military veteran who deeply loved his dog and almost died of a broken heart when she died. She died because he could not afford her monthly heartworm preventative.  Perhaps if I had known it before her death, I could have located a veterans’ organization who would have helped.  I hope she was waiting for him when he finally reached Heaven’s gates, and with his legs restored, he could run with her through sunlit meadows.
The truth is ugly, but people who want to adopt a pet need to understand that the cost of the adoption is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg of years of significant financial commitment.  Anyone who carries a credit card balance can’t afford a pet.  Breaks my heart because disposable income should not be a condition of giving and receiving the love of a dog.  Or a cat.  But caring for a pet is expensive. 

Love ought to be enough.  But it isn’t.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tales of a Book Room Lady: A First-Class Man

I am The Book Room Lady at the local humane society thrift shop (or charity shop, as they say in Britian). 

As The Book Room Lady, I spend two afternoons a month sorting through books that people have donated.  I have to decide which books to put on the shelves and which ones to put in the "FREE" box.  Some I have to throw away because they are so mildewed or silverfish-infested that no one should take them home.  But that's another post.

For every newly-donated book I shelve, I have to discard one we already have.  We have limited space, so if I decide to shelve a newly-donated book, I have to remove a shelved one in that same category, eg. fiction for fiction, biography for biography, etc.  Simple geometry: I only have X cubic inches of space for each category of book, so one in, one out. 

I quickly screen the new donations for obvious faults you wouldn't believe I have to screen for: Does the book have peanut butter on it?  Are the pages water-damaged?  Cockroach chewed?  But once a book has passed my screening, then I have to examine it more closely.  That's when I make some wonderful discoveries because people tuck things into books. 

I've never found money, although I've heard stories of purveyors of used books who have.  I find lots of notes in nonfiction books, ideas the reader wants to remember, like "Good mutual funds for retirement," or "Possible paint colors for the kitchen."  Occasionally I find shopping lists or to-do lists and wonder whether the groceries got bought or the chores got tackled.  I sporadically find commercial bookmarks with insipid verses that make me cringe.  

Sometimes, though, I find notes that are remarkable.  Yesterday, in book on how to be a better father, I found two index cards.  A boy's name was written on each, and then what appeared to be the result of the father's introspection after interviewing each son.

Bruce- Spend more time with him.  Play video games with him.  Invite him to go to the gym.  Play basketball with him.  Why don't I do those things already?  Why did I not know that he wants to spend more time doing things with me?

Stephen- Praise him when he does something right.  Listen to him when he has a problem.  Don't try to fix it.  Don't criticize.  Just listen.  What makes me always criticize him?  Why am I acting like my own father?  He always criticized me, never would listen to my problems without telling me what a screw-up I am.  Why am I treating Stephen like my dad treated me?  Why haven't I learned from his mistakes?

I wonder whether those boys are fathers themselves now.  I wonder whether that man became a better dad than his own father was.  God bless him. I hope he did.

But the note I found that has moved me most was one I found last spring.  Written in an old book, on a yellowed piece of paper, in an old man's shaky handwriting, it read, "Dan Smith: a first-class man."  Then it had a phone number. 

A first-class man.   Wow.  To be called a first-class man is a thing devoutly to be wished. 

I thought about "a first-class woman," but something changed for me in the translation. 

I think of a first-class man as brave, strong yet gentle, humble, a man who spends time with his children and listens to them without criticizing, a man who would lay down his life for his family and friends. 

I think of a first-class woman as wearing an elegant navy skirted-suit and heels.  I see her directing a board meeting or speaking on behalf of endangered whales at a senate hearing. 

I don't know why I have those pictures in my head, but I do.

Sitting there in the book room in the thrift shop, I picked up my cell phone and called the phone number listed as belonging to the first-class man.  It was disconnected.  I wasn't surprised.  The first-class man probably died long ago.  The old man who wrote the note probably died long ago, too. 

The first-class man's name was so common that trying to find him or his family wasn't practical.  So I put the note in my wallet, brought it home, and tucked it in a book of my own for safekeeping.  To throw away a note with the name of a first-class man on it seemed... well... it seemed.... just WRONG.  Maybe some day after I am dead and gone, a book-room lady will find the note as she goes through my books in her charity shop. Maybe she will take it home and tuck it into her own book to continue to keep it safe.

All summer and fall I have wondered what kinds of things one need do in order to be called a first-class man.  I want to do those kinds of things, to be remembered in that way.  I want to be that kind of person. 

So tomorrow, and every tomorrow hereafter, I will try to do something befitting of my image of a first-class man.  I will try to live my life so that although I happen to be a heterosexual woman, after I die, someone will think of me and tuck a piece of paper in a book, a piece of paper that says, "Millie Gore-Lancaster: a first-class man."

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Prayer for Clean Underpants

I just threw a load of white cotton panties and tee-shirts into the washing machine.  They made me think about what Teacher Extraordinaire Jean Hoard taught me.
One day Jean said to a kindergartner, “Honey, let Mrs. Hoard help you.  You’ve got your tee-shirt on inside-out.”

He said, “That’s the way Mommy wants it.”

Certain the little one was confused, Jean pulled the shirt off over his head, turned it right-side out, and saw mustard smeared all over it. 
“I don’t got no clean clothes,” he told her, “So Mommy turned my tee-shirt inside-out.  Just like my underpants.  I been wearing them all week.”

“Why doesn’t your mommy wash them?” asked Jean.

“We don’t got no washer.”

“What about the laundromat?”

“We don’t got no car, and she’d have to walk and carry the basket, and bad drug people hang out between our house and the laundromat.  She’s scared to go.”
“I see,” said Jean.

“We got to wait until somebody who gots a car can take us.”

When you’re poor, washing clothes is an ordeal.  If you’ve got a washer, does it actually work?  Is your electricity turned on?  Your water?  Your gas to the hot water heater?  Do you have a dryer?  Or a clothes line, and if so, will the weather cooperate?  Got detergent?  Is a laundromat close enough to walk to, one basket at a time?  Will your toddler run into the street while you carry the basket?  Are you able-bodied enough so that you can walk?  Is public transit feasible?  Do you have access to private transportation?  Money to pay for it?  To run the machines?  Is walking down the street safe? Is the laundromat safe?  Are your clothes wrinkle-free, and if not, do you have an iron, ironing board, starch, and the physical ability, time, energy, know-how, and skill to iron them?
I never think about those things when I toss in a load of laundry.  I take clean clothes for granted.  For Pete’s sake, I can afford wrinkle-free clothes and fabric softener. 

People who lack basic clothing suffer.  They suffer.  They shiver and sicken when cold and wet and muddy.  And dirty clothing spreads disease.  Honest. 

The emotional tolls are high, too: children skip school because not having enough clothes is humiliating.  Other kids make you the butt of jokes:  Aren’t you wearing the same shirt for the third day in a row? I knew you were coming because I could smell you.  

We can help.  We can go through our closets and donate the GOOD clothes we don’t wear.   (Throw away stained, torn, or tacky clothes. Nobody wants trash.)  Remember the 80/20 rule: We wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time.  The rest could clothe the naked.  Didn’t Jesus say to do that?

We could clothe the naked AND enjoy clean closets. 
Time for my whites to go in the dryer.  I’ll fold them with new eyes. 

So today, this is my prayer:

Thank you, God, for clean underpants.  Bless the poor who don’t have any.  Move our hearts to donate good, serviceable clothing to charity and to buy new underpants to donate, too. And maybe to throw in a few dollars more.  To clothe the naked like you said.  And to then appreciate our clean, organized closets. 
This week when I see someone whose clothes are dirty and who smells bad, remind me, Lord, how hard life is for the poor.  And that while I have two dozen pair of clean underpants in my drawer, they may be wearing their underpants inside out because one pair is all they've got.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

What My Plumbing Problems Reminded Me About What Dr. Helen Raschke Taught Me About Poverty

Our water got turned back on yesterday.  We’d sprung a geyser a week ago, so since then, we’ve only had water for 20 minutes a day, long enough to shower, brush, flush, and fill the bathtubs for future flushes.  We knew we needed new pipes, so after the third plumbing call in as many weeks, I bit the bullet.  We now have all new pipes ($3,904), and although the plumber is an affable fellow, I hope never to see his butt again.

Living without running water for a week made me think about what the late Dr. Helen Raschke taught me about poverty twenty years ago.

Before I met Dr. Raschke, I thought poverty was about having to make instead of buy Christmas presents.  I knew that public schools provided poor children free breakfast and lunch, that Medicaid paid their doctor bills, and that the government subsidized their housing.  I thought that covered everything. 

Boy, did Dr. Helen Raschke open my eyes.  A marriage and family therapist who was led by her profound Episcopal faith, she had established a free legal clinic to assist women in poverty.  She happened to be the wife of my Episcopal priest, Dr. Vern Raschke, which is how I came to know her.

Helen told me, “People who live in chronic poverty are not simply people who lack disposable income.  They are Multiple-Problem People.

 “Multiple-Problem People have physical and mental health problems.  They have employment problems, school problems, legal problems, marriage problems, and problems with their neighbors and families.  They are often illiterate and have learning problems. They lack adequate housing, transportation, child care and health care. 

“They get their water, electricity and gas cut off, and then they can’t afford the deposits to get them on again.  Without power, they can’t use the refrigerator, stove, or microwave, so they use their limited funds to buy junk and fast food until the money runs out.  When the water is cut off, they can’t shower, wash their hair, or even flush the toilet. Think about it.”  

She then explained about the inability to provide for basic needs like deodorant, soap and toothpaste.  And even sanitary napkins.

Then she switched to cultural disadvantages of Multiple Problem People.  “They don’t know things that you and I take for granted: They don’t know that dirty dishes attract vermin, that their child needs a regular bedtime routine, or that they’re never going to win the lottery.”

Then because she knew that I’m an animal lover, she added, “And they don’t know that the dog tied to the tree in the back yard needs fresh food and water every day, much less that he needs to be permanently unchained and running free in a fenced yard, or that he needs shelter, regular veterinary care, and companionship.”

Then she began to explain how the problems interacted to create new problems: For example, if a mother had neither dependable transportation nor a strong social network, those two problems interacted with each other so that she couldn’t even go pick up a bottle of diarrhea medicine for a sick child, who then became sicker and therefore missed a week of school, which convinced the teacher that he was irresponsible, which...

So here am I today taking my running water for granted.  This morning, I washed a week’s worth of clothes and ran the dishwasher.  This afternoon, I relished my shower.  Washing my hair was darn near erotic.  I even gave new puppy Woodrow a warm bath.  And I shouted, “Yee-ha!” when I flushed the toilet. 

All those things I take for granted.  All those things I forget that poor people don’t.  So tonight, this is my prayer:

Oh God who created and then parted the waters, this night provide water for thy children who have none.  Bring thy rains so that the dying dog who is chained to a tree might have a sip to quench his thirst.  This I ask Thee, Lord, in the name of Thy Son who walked upon the water and who turned water into wine.