Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Greatest of these is Charity

Right now, as we speak, Chef Baby Brother is putting together my Mom's new laptop, and I know this because she just called and said, "what's my facebook password again?" (an account I set up for her last visit). I think she'll enjoy sharing pictures and knitting tips and all that.

But in retrospect, maybe not such a good idea. Because sooner or later, she's going to stumble across this blog. (She already does from time to time when her friends show it to her.) And she's going to have a stroke. And it's going to be my fault.

There is, of course, no end to the ways in which I disappoint her -- but this week, it is going to be the fact that I brazenly asked for help. In a very public way. The combination of packing the old place and facelifting the new place got to be too much for me; everyone asked if they could do something; and I finally came up with a Basic -- could they please feed me til after The Move?

And boy have they?! Aztec Chicken Soup; Pork Chops and Brussel Sprouts; Quiche and Cornbread and a homemade CAKE. All I really meant when I asked them to feed me was, maybe, grab a vat of potato salad at the DiscoKroger for me if they happened to be there anyway. I never expected this (though I should have, because it's well-documented that I have the greatest friends in the world). I think it's entirely possible I sang a few bars of "My Heart Will Go On" when I pulled into the driveway tonight. I don't even know the words (I assure you), but that's how overcome I was with gratitude. (Who even knew my BFF could cook? I didn't. She is so busted at the next Brunch.) Sure, I could've managed carry-out and fast-food for the next few weeks -- theoretically -- but that's presuming I wouldn't just pull up to the speaker and sit there, stupefied and paralyzed. I really felt like I had to get one decision off my plate (so to speak). I don't even want to let anyone into my house right now because I feel like it looks like an episode straight out of Hoarders (although my gal Kimmy swears no one would judge me -- at least not out loud).

My mother, on the other hand, would die before she'd ask for ice water in the desert, and she'd be hard-pressed to accept it, even if it was offered. As everyone knows, my mother has pulmonary fibrosis (and is oxygen-dependent, though her little trolley doesn't keep her from outrunning me at the mall) and my stepdad has come down with some kind of cancer every single summer that they've been married (bladder, prostate, stomach, colon -- most recently esophageal -- not to mention cardiomyopathy and a defibrillator implant). Throughout these bouts, the only help the two of them have accepted has been the stealth kind -- where, say, a neighbor cuts their grass; or somebody lets themselves in with an emergency key and stows a bucket of chicken in their fridge. That is about it. They are pay-as-they-go people, and they don't owe anybody any favors. They hire dogsitters and housesitters and they order pizza when they come home from the hospital. They are the first in line to do anything that needs doing for anyone -- my mother cooks extravagantly for everybody's weddings, funerals, and birthdays; my stepdad has not only fixed every furnace in town and re-wired everyone's houses, he has helped at least two neighbors dig their swimming pools. By Hand. If somebody gets sick, my Mom doesn't just stock their fridges, she goes in and fills their pantry with a six-month supply of toilet paper and paper towels and canned goods, because "you just never know." I'm not keeping score, mind you, I'm just observing. And what I notice is that they never let anybody return the generosity. (They're not generous with themselves either. They are hard on themselves.)

I know it's all very complicated -- I think it has to do with control...with being raised poor and not being willing to accept anything that might smack of charity...with not wanting to be "beholding" to anybody. Whether it's nature or nurture -- genetics or learned behavior -- I know I have every one of these tendencies.

My mother would be mortally embarrassed by all the food that has shown up on my doorstep this week -- much less that I asked for it. I might as well be on the dole, banging my tin cup, and shelling out food stamps for a cartful of Little Debbies. My college buddy Phoef is well-acquainted with my Mom and asked, "Do you need me to bring some cinderblocks over to the new front yard, so we can put your car up on them? Is that porch big enough to put all your dogs under it? Because you've just crossed your Mama's line into White Trash." I know my mother has had to grit her teeth everytime I have talked about this year's potlucks ("what? you invite people for dinner and ask them to bring their dinner?" While it was not an easy concept for me to embrace, it is the single best thing that ever happened to my social life.)

What I've learned, over the years, is that it is a little selfish -- a little less-than-gracious -- to always insist on being the person doing the Giving and never the receiving (unless, of course, you are talking about oral sex -- in which case, most folks are pretty forgiving; or at least they can "get through it.").

Hear that? My Mom's head just exploded.

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