Thoughtful and thankful

by | Nov 1, 2016 | Every Day Life

Oh, November. The eleventh month. The month of pumpkins and leaves and bounty, thankfulness and togetherness. This time of year, most of us are entranced with the smell of pumpkin spice everything and the vibrant fall foliage. It is also the beginning of the holiday shopping frenzy. Black Friday deals abound along with door busters and early bird sales. We tend to leave our family and friends at the thanksgiving dinner table and rush off to fight the crowds and join the frantic consumer melee. I’ve definitely been guilty of participating in the Black Friday madness but, last year, I wanted to start a new tradition.
It’s convenient to help when we are called upon by name and asked to assist in a specific manner. But I’ve always stressed to my son to be generous and helpful even when the opportunity doesn’t present itself in an obvious way.
Last year, I wanted to purposely search out somewhere to volunteer, something that my son and I could do together to help others. I came across a homeless shelter operating a few towns away that needed volunteers to fill thanksgiving baskets for needy families. I struggle with age appropriate ways in which my son can be of service to others. As he gets older, he is definitely able to do more things but, sometimes, it’s the scenarios in which he might be placed that keep me from involving him in some of my volunteer work. Filling boxes with food and Thanksgiving items for families seemed like the perfect outlet. I made some phone calls and arranged for us to volunteer on a Saturday.
A couple weeks later, we were standing in a riding arena that had been converted into a donation center. There were pallets of every imaginable canned good and boxed dry food. I was very impressed with how well organized the whole endeavor appeared to be. I found a woman walking around delegating tasks so I assumed she must be in charge. I walked over to her and introduced myself and my son. She introduced herself as Julia.
She looked through glasses perched on the end of her nose down at Raff.
“How old is he?” She asked.
He was 6 at the time.
“Well, we usually don’t allow anyone to volunteer under the age of 12. But I think I have the perfect job for him.”
She smiled warmly down at Raff, took his hand and walked toward the entrance. She winked in my direction and motioned for me to follow.
There was a small podium erected at the front of the arena. She found Raff a tall stool and plunked him down on it. He seemed very pleased with himself to have secured a seat that surely was reserved for an important person. She placed a notepad and pencil in front of him. Printed on the pad were rows of food items with empty boxes next the words. She instructed Raff to check off the requested items per the family member coming to pick up a box. Then she asked him to write the amount of people in their household at the top so the volunteers who would be packing the boxes would know how much food to allocate for each box.
He seemed to grasp the concept, and Ms. Julia seemed very impressed. She found me a huge pallet of canned pumpkin and had it rolled in the vicinity of Raff’s podium. I appreciated her understanding of my need to be able to keep an eye on him.
The next few hours passed by smoothly. Raff seemed to enjoy his appointed position and was executing his job expectations perfectly. He greeted each person politely and engaged them in conversation. I was very impressed with how mature he was being.
I had only signed us up to volunteer for four hours, unsure of exactly what he and I would be doing. Our scheduled volunteered time was winding down, and I started debating whether I should ask if we could stay longer. I was placing several cans of pumpkin into a box when I heard Raff call for me. I looked in his direction.
He had a finger plugging each nostril and was staring at an older woman standing on the other side of the podium. She was wearing a light gray sweat suit, dingy white tennis shoes, and had very disheveled gray hair. From where I was standing it was very obvious that she had soiled her clothing.
I briskly walked over to the podium, intending to tell Raff to remove his fingers from his nostrils and be polite. But then the odor reached my own nose. I was tempted to sport a two finger plug myself, the closer I got. The woman reeked of alcohol and ammonia. It was obvious she was intoxicated, had a lot of cats, and, presumably, a neglected litter box.
“She wants to know if we have any cat food we can put in her Thanksgiving box.” Raff said, in a nasal voice, nostrils still plugged.
“Let me check.” I said with a small smile. I was still being accosted by the woman’s stench.
At that moment, Julia walked by the podium.
“How’s it going over here?” She asked, glancing at Raff’s fingers in his nostrils. I was horribly embarrassed he was doing that, and hoped Julia wasn’t regretting her decision to let Raff volunteer.
“This is Martha,” Raff said, still plugging his nose. “And she needs some cat food in her thanksgiving box. And some soap. And toilet paper. And probably some new pants.”
“Raff!” I hissed.
“Hi Martha,” Julia said sweetly. “Come this way with me and I’ll get you all fixed up with everything you need.” She winked at Raff and walked away with Martha in tow.
“I can’t believe you said that!” I exclaimed, as soon as Julia and Martha were out of ear shot.
“Mom!” Raff said defensively. “She pooped her pants! She told me!”
Raff looked completely flabbergasted.
I looked up and sighed. Maybe I was asking too much. I decided to try a different tactic.
“Raff, I’m very proud of you. Thank you for coming with me today and helping out. You are really making a difference. But sometimes, when someone is dirty or maybe has had an accident in their clothes, we need to be polite, and not plug our nose, ok?”
Raff looked at me blankly.
“I was being polite! I tried to get her some new pants… And soap… And mouthwash.”
I stifled a grin and just rolled my eyes.
“Yes, and thank you for being thoughtful, son.”

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