Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thankful After All

I have a friend whom I really, really love. When she goes away I feed her cats for her. She's very devoted to her cats and leaves long instructional notes (plus Post-Its) even if she's only gone a day. Over the weekend, part of her instruction note said, "If [the sickly cat] hasn't used the litter box, please bring him to it and put him in. You don't have to hold his ass straight while he pees (though I do) but that will ensure that the pee stays in the box."

Now, when a friend writes a note like that, she's saying, "you don't have to hold my cat's ass," but you know what she really means is, "I hope you can find it in your heart to do what I do for him." These are the little moments where you come to understand what your friendships are really made of.

I was grateful, this Thanksgiving weekend, that the sickly cat HAD used the litter box and that I did not have to put him in there or hold his ass while he peed. Although I like to think I would have.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Decidedly Ungrateful Thanksgiving

A few years ago, my family and I signed up to deliver Thanksgiving meals to shut-ins.  I’m not sure what prompted me to do this, as most of my community service involves writing copy or writing a check.  But this was something we could do as a family and that seemed like a good idea. And, at the time, it was.

In fact, we did it the next year and the next.  Last year, we didn’t do it. But this year we signed up again.

Somehow, this turned into the worst decision I’ve ever made.

Everything about yesterday's meal delivery expedition was a nightmare, and what’s worse is it was really no different than it had been years before.

Had I forgotten that when they say, “Show up at 10,” they really mean, “Show up at 10 but be prepared to wait forever until the meals are all assembled and ready for delivery”?  This year, we waited until 11:30 to get our meals, which was the time I had hoped we’d be finished delivering and on our way home.

Had I forgotten that the list of turkey dinner recipients do not live in my town, but in a neighboring town … an unfamiliar neighboring town … an enormous, unfamiliar neighboring town, one that is largely poor and full of old brick apartment buildings on streets where there’s nowhere to park and you wouldn’t want to leave your car even if you could?  Or that the list of 22 addresses they give you are in alphabetical order by street name, not grouped by geography, so that entering them into your GPS system might have you criss-crossing the enormous town five…seven...fourteen times before you hit every address? Why didn't I remember to bring a map?

Had I forgotten that some of the addresses don’t even show up on the GPS?  As in, it has no record of them. And, yes, you’re given a phone number for each residence, but even if someone answers the phone, and speaks in an English that you can understand through a cell phone, they will probably not be able to give you directions from where you are to where they are.  This has happened every time we’ve gone delivering.  Why would I think this year would be different?

So after waiting 90 minutes to get our delivery meals and then spending another 30 minutes trying to get my GPS to plot the most efficient route for all the stops, we had already spent two hours on a task that I’d hoped would be finished in that amount of time.  And we hadn't even started delivering yet.

When we were given our address list, the Volunteer Coordinator said to me, “Oh, this isn’t too many…should take you 30-45 minutes.”  More lies.  It took hours.  And there was much failure along the way.

There were addresses we were never able to find.  And sometimes people simply weren’t home.  Once we left only one meal at an apartment that was supposed to receive four. 

Besides Kvetcher, my main role was Driver.  I’d send my husband and sons into the apartment buildings while I sat double-parked on the street.  Sometimes it felt like an eternity for them to deliver one or two dinners.  “What’s your status?” I would text them over and over.  “Almost done,” they’d say.  But it never felt fast enough for me.

I did not want to be here this year.  We’d put our turkey in the oven at 8 in the morning and left two hours later, thinking that we could resume basting at lunchtime.  I had been cranky the day before and had not done any pre-prep beyond peeling and slicing some carrots.  The table wasn’t set.  I hadn’t had time to have someone give me a primer on how to make gravy (something that would haunt me in the hours to come).

By 1 o’clock, my kids were hungry. (This has also happened every year…why don’t I remember to bring food along?)  My husband was lamenting that he could have gone to his morning yoga class after all.  We all wanted to go home, but we couldn’t.  We still had over a dozen meals to deliver and every single place we went felt like there was a big obstacle to overcome. 

I cursed while I drove. My older son patted my leg and told me to relax, which just made things worse. My husband gently mocked me: “How rude of all these poor people to live so far apart when we have a big Thanksgiving turkey at home that needs tending.”

His mockery was right on.

When we arrived at 404 Munn Street, I actually took the meal into the building myself while my husband and the boys went to 400 Munn Street with other meals.  The building attendant let me right in, the apartment was easy to find and a woman answered the door right away.  She was probably a nurse or live-in aide for the resident, who was confined to a wheelchair.  The shut-in rolled herself out from the kitchen and greeted me.  She was heavyset and dressed only in a thin, pink housecoat.  A live parrot sat on her shoulder. 

“I like your parrot,” I said, and she said something very warm and effusive in return, something that, for one split second, made me feel like this whole miserable morning was worthwhile.  But the feeling disappeared as soon as I walked out of the building.

I rarely embrace Thanksgiving.  Even though it’s a National Day of Gratitude, for me, it always feels like a Personal Day of Loss.  A time when I’m reminded that the people I wish were with me, no longer are, and those feelings usually are too big for me to get past.  It’s much easier for me to feel gratitude the other 364 days of the year.  In fact, this is the main reason I was moved to start delivering Thanksgiving meals in the first place.

In past years, delivering meals felt great. It was fraught with the same frustrations, but I felt my heart grow in the process.  This year, nothing grew but my temper.

We finally got home at 2PM, our turkey having cooked a only smidge longer than it should have.  We then whipped together an entire Thanksgiving meal – stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, Brussels sprouts, sautéed carrots and (epically failed) gravy – in an hour.  The meal was incredible – possibly the best we’ve ever made and if there were an unintended gift of my morning, it was that sitting and eating Thanksgiving dinner this year was the unexpected highlight of my day.