Friday, September 11, 2009

Rags to Riches

I love going to Value Village and getting a great deal on used clothing. I love the idea of thrift shopping and reuse, knowing that I'm not directly paying for my clothes to be made by child laborers. I love the cool stuff I can find at the thrift store and the ability to try out different styles and learn something about what works for me, fashion-wise, for just a couple bucks.

But I hate thrift-store shopping with two small children, and when I have to go there because the kids have outgrown their shoes and we don't have any money, it gives me that lame feeling of being poor. I remember that feeling from being a kid, hanging from the railing at the checkout stand--or from the ceiling, more likely--while my mom paid for our groceries with food stamps. I remember learning at a young age what it meant to "pawn" something. It's a lousy feeling.

I felt that today as I left Value Village, one huge bulging shopping bag in my right hand while I held Jezebel with that arm and held Rhone's wrist with the other hand, marching grimly across the parking lot.

The feeling lingered in Costco, where I had only $110 (in cash) to spend and no more. Going through the store with both kids in the cart, I carefully added the cost of everything I was buying, including the $20 box of wine. The box contains 5.3 bottles, it says, so this makes wine cheaper than beer to drink; maybe I can start getting rid of this gut. (Yes, yes. I realize that teetotaling altogether would be cheaper and lower in calories. Have you seen my life? And no, I do not want to discuss whether that comment indicates any form of dependence whatsoever. I'm not defensive about this in the slightest. Really!)

I left Costco feeling good about what I'd purchased on my budget. (I love to look at other people's purchases and guess about their lifestyle. I admit I'm a bit catty. Well, perhaps more than a bit.) But in the car heading back up the freeway--we were heading home from our first Thursday visit to Olympia of the school year--I needed something beautiful. I didn't identify this need until I turned the radio on and got a Beethoven symphony, but suddenly that did it for me, and I was able to mentally match up the need that music filled with the hole eaten away at Value Village. How wonderful that we can turn on the radio and find the beauty that's floating unseen across the airwaves, through buildings and bodies and trees and hills.

So I'd recovered from my poor-white-trash funk before we got on the ferry. I'd promised the kids a snack on the boat and we went upstairs with some of our Costco bounty, and suddenly I found myself feeling rich as we snapped into our rosemary croccatini and I broke open a small wheel of brie with my hands. I doled out "cheese and crackers" for about ten minutes and the kids wolfed it down with much smacking of lips and appreciation. Outside, the sun shone brightly, Mt. Rainier stood like a silent god in a white-feathered cape, and the water sparkled sapphire. I thought, We may not be able to afford much right now, but damned if we don't appreciate what we have to the fullest.

There was one more definition on the spectrum of the afternoon. I took the kids up to the garden awhile ago because I'd seen lots of red tomatoes. Lately, having the kids in the garden is an exercise in self-restraint. Not theirs, unfortunately; mine. After a few minutes of their picking green tomatoes and stepping on plants I have to restrain myself from violence. It's been so stressful to take them in there that I've been neglecting the garden. (And, ok, I've also taken a job which has radically decreased my time for gardening, poetry, publishing, laundry, and dishes.)

But the stars were aligned today, it seems, or the light was slanting through the evergreens at just the right angle, or the wind was right. Whatever it was, the kids were mellow and restrained. When I asked Jezebel to stop picking green tomatoes, I got back a sing-songy "Okay." Rhone didn't pick anything without asking first, didn't break any branches, and even helped Jez through the thicker parts of the blueberry patch.

It went on. The raspberries are fruiting again--I've never heard of this--and I picked a quart of thumb-sized berries in five minutes. There are another variety of plums on the tree, and they're ripe now; sweet like candy and falling off the tree into my hand. There's a second dwarf apple tree I never noticed before, and its fruit are as big as softballs. Blackberries are dangling right at eye level from the impenetrable woods right over the garden fence, perfect for picking. The red tomatoes are neither all ripe nor all rotten, so there will be more for at least another couple of weeks unless it freezes.

Walking back from the garden I held two grocery bags in my right hand and Jezebel's sticky, plummy fingers in my left, and felt really, really rich indeed.


  1. I love you. So many times in the last 8 years since I quit teacher I have felt what you felt today. All of it. Sometimes it takes the downs to get the ups... and sometimes the downs take over and ruin a day. When those stars collide to make it into this bittersweet but blissfully blessed day... well, I live for those.

    Beautifully written and beautiful day.

    Love Val

  2. Wishing you more Beethoven and less Value Village. What's the new job??