24. We Do What We Can (A Thanksgiving Story)

24. We Do What We Can (A Thanksgiving Story)

A Chapter by Craig2591
"

A story about compassion.

"

The little boy grabbed a plate full of turkey and dressing, placed it on his tray and slid the tray down the counter to where Ian stood dishing up bowls of mashed potatoes and gravy.


“Want some mashed potatoes, Sport?” Ian asked with a broad smile. The boy shook his head.


“Can he have some without the gravy?” asked the young woman standing next to him in the line. Ian guessed that she was probably his mother, though she looked young enough to be his older sister.


“Of course he can!” Ian replied. He filled a small bowl with mashed potatoes - sans gravy - and placed it on the boy's tray. “There you go, Sport,” he said. The boy gave him a shy smile and slid his tray on down the counter.


“Thank you,” said the woman in a quiet voice as she picked up a bowl and placed it on her own tray.


Ian recognized the look on her face. She was embarrassed that she needed to bring her little boy to the Mission for a free Thanksgiving dinner. He would see that look several times that day. “Happy Thanksgiving!” he said to her with a smile.


The next person in line was an elderly man wearing a stained, threadbare jacket and about four days worth of grey whiskers on his face. Ian could smell his body odor from three feet away. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he said to the old man as he grabbed a bowl of mashed potatoes and placed it on his tray.


“God bless you!” the old man replied with a toothless grin. Ian continued to fill bowls with potatoes, ladle them with gravy and set them on the counter in front of him as the diners moved along the line and loaded their trays up with their free dinner.


For several years, Ian had volunteered to help out at the East Belleview Mission's annual Thanksgiving dinner. Each year on the day after Thanksgiving, the mission opened its doors and invited anyone and everyone to a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings - no questions asked. Some of the diners paid whatever they could afford, but most of them paid nothing at all.


It was Chive that roped Ian into helping out each year. Chive was the owner and operator of Ian's favorite night spot, 'Reverend Chive's House of Jazz'. Chive was also a personal friend of the Executive Director of the East Belleview Mission, and each year he badgered his regular customers to either come on down to the mission and help out or give a generous donation. It was a testament to Chive's talent for laying the guilt trip on people that he was actually able to get Ian's young wife, Chrissy, to volunteer. Chrissy was definitely not the volunteering type, nor was she a 'people person'. Yet, there she was, working in the kitchen doing prep-work and washing pots and pans. Ian was proud of her.


It was an eclectic crowd that showed up for the dinner each year. Many of the guests were just down on their luck through lay-offs, illness or other unforeseen problems. For those people this was a temporary situation and they just needed a helping hand for awhile. But the great majority of the diners were the chronically needy. They included the young, single mothers working two jobs and still unable to make ends meet, the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, the alcoholics and the drug addicts. Ian recognized many of them from previous years.


“I need some more potatoes here!” he called over his shoulder as he scraped the bottom of the pan. About half a minute later Chrissy showed up next to him with a pan full of fresh, steaming mashed potatoes. She had a dour look on her face. “You look cute in an apron,” he teased. Her only response was to dig her elbow into his ribs as she turned to go back to the kitchen with the empty pan. "Oof!” he laughed painfully as he resumed scooping potatoes into bowls again.


When the dinner was finally over, Ian and Chrissy were assigned the task of taking a small push-cart and collecting the dirty dishes that were still left on the tables. At one point they were cleaning off a table where a woman still sat finishing up her dinner. Ian thought she looked about middle-aged. She wore a tattered coat that was coming apart at the seams in places. Her hair was long and stringy and she had sores on her face. As Ian and Chrissy cleaned off the table she smiled at them and said, “This is the best meal I've had in months! You people are so wonderful for doing this. God bless you!” When she smiled, Ian saw that several of her teeth were missing and the remaining ones were brown and rotted.


“Happy Thanksgiving!” he replied with a warm smile. He glanced at Chrissy and was surprised to see her regarding the woman with a look of disgust. She set the dishes she was collecting back down on the table and turned to walk back into the kitchen. Ian hoped that the woman hadn't seen Chrissy's reaction, but she had gone back to hungrily devouring her meal and didn't seem to have noticed. He finished loading up the dishes and pushed the cart back into the kitchen to the dishwasher. He searched around the bustle of volunteers for Chrissy and finally found her in a far corner of the kitchen. She was sitting on an overturned white plastic bucket, staring at the floor. He pulled up another bucket and sat down next to her.


“How old do you think that woman is?” she asked him, still staring at the floor.


He shrugged. “About fifty?”


She gave a short, derisive laugh. “I'd say early thirties!” she replied. “See how skinny she is? That's not from going without food. Did you see the pockmarks on her face? Did you see her teeth? Do you know what that's called? Meth mouth! It comes from prolonged crystal meth use. She's probably been an addict for at least ten years.” She looked at him. “Take a good look at her, Ian.That's what would've happened to me if I hadn't quit!”


Now he understood why she had reacted to the woman the way she had. “Thankfully, you did quit,” he responded.


That's right!” she said with a vehemence that startled him, “I did! Alone! Without any help! But there's plenty of free programs out there to help people like her quit if they want to. And she's probably been through every one of them, too. But there she sits, getting a free meal from these good Samaritans while she probably has a pocketful of money that she's going to use later on to score enough meth for a week long buzz. We live the life we choose, Ian.She's made her choice. She doesn't deserve our help!”


Ian was seeing a side of her that he didn't think he liked. “No one chooses to be an addict, Bittersweet,” he said calmly.


“But they choose not to do anything about it!” Her eyes flashed angrily. “Every time she puts that junk into her body, she's making a choice! If she really wanted to, she could quit! I did! She disgusts me!” She looked back down at the floor. He wanted to point out to her that not everyone had her strength and perseverance, but he knew there was no sense in arguing with her about it. After a long silence she said, “But the part I don't understand... the part I really just don't get is...” She looked back up at him and her voice grew soft. “Why do I still feel sorry for her? Why do I still wish that I could help her?”


The question caught him by surprise. After a few moments, he answered, “Because you've been in her shoes. Because, no matter how much she disgusts you, you still share a certain kinship with her.”


She took a deep breath and let it out. Then she jumped up and went over to the coat rack where her jacket was hanging. She took down her scarf and gloves and went out into the dining room. When she came back a minute later, the scarf and gloves were no longer in her hands. She looked at him and asked, “Aren't we supposed to get a free dinner when we're done cleaning up?” 


 He nodded. 


 “Well, let's get back to work, then. I'm starved.”


They pushed an empty cart back out to the dining room and started collecting dirty dishes again. Ian glanced around the room and saw that the woman was gone.


“I wanted to give her my jacket, too,” said Chrissy as she stacked dishes on the cart, “But... she would've just sold it for drug money.”


Ian shrugged. “We do what we can, Bittersweet,” he said.




© 2016 Craig2591



Author's Note

Craig2591
I wanted to write a Thanksgiving story, but I didn't want to write the typical warm, fuzzy, feel good kind of story that one usually sees this time of year. I wanted something a little gritty, but, more importantly, I wanted something REAL. I hope I succeeded.

My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register




Featured Review

Nice Submission. This story is multi faceted as it encompasses not only the standard good Samaritan and holiday cheer perspective, but also the different layers of problems that both the volunteers and homeless face. Something as simple as drugs equalizes people into empathizing with the fact that we all face problems and that brings them closer together.

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Craig2591

2 Years Ago

Thank you. I am so glad that came across.



Reviews

Nice Submission. This story is multi faceted as it encompasses not only the standard good Samaritan and holiday cheer perspective, but also the different layers of problems that both the volunteers and homeless face. Something as simple as drugs equalizes people into empathizing with the fact that we all face problems and that brings them closer together.

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Craig2591

2 Years Ago

Thank you. I am so glad that came across.
I think you got the reality of it down. The line "It comes from prolonged crystal meth use!" felt strange to me and I think 'prolonged' is the culprit.

You've read some of my stuff, I appreciate what you're doing with this chapter; it's real feelings and impulses against the background of a stereotyped warm holiday. Some people judge others, even when they're doing charity work. Excellent work.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Craig2591

4 Years Ago

I once read about people that went around to homeless people and gave them winter coats or blankets .. read more
She is changing every chapter and for the better. Maybe an older man was an aspect she needed. But volunteering! And she came around with the coat remark, and didn't say anything to the woman.
Love your details. Meth mouth, and my fav, Bittersweet! Fits her

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Craig2591

5 Years Ago

I did a lot of research into crystal meth addiction because I wanted to be accurate. Enter 'meth mo.. read more
this is great. The situation is very real and down to earth. I was a bit startled at first to see chrissy there. not her normal kind of activity but I am glad she got that experience and I think they both learned something from it.

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Well, you pulled it off, wonderfully! I found myself going through a few different emotions reading this. Great job!

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Craig2591

5 Years Ago

Thank you, Barb.
I loved it!

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Craig2591

5 Years Ago

Thanks!
Yes, I think you did succeeded. This was a very moving chapter indeed. We see Chrissy isn't so hard hearted. She did care for the other women despite what ever negative feelings she had which probably were much more complicated then just disgust. A very good chapter on the meaning of Thanksgiving, be grateful for what you have and help those who don't have. I liked this chapter a lot.

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Craig2591

5 Years Ago

Yes, I think what she really felt was frustration because she wanted to help the woman but knew it w.. read more
Tina Kline

5 Years Ago

I like Chrissy. You have a good story/book developing here.

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Stats

757 Views
7 Reviews
Rating
Added on October 20, 2012
Last Updated on April 14, 2016
Tags: romance, love, thanksgiving


Author

Craig2591
Craig2591

OH



About
I am a visual artist with no formal training in creative writing. I get stories knocking around my head and sometimes I write them down. I decided to join this site to share them with other writers .. more..

Writing
Challenges Challenges

A Story by Craig2591



Related Writing

People who liked this story also liked..