The Fruit Stand Guy

This post was inspired by Dan Antion’s recollection of an event during which people were compelled by compassion to sacrifice for a stranger.  I thought I’d try to carry on the idea.

Not my gang but much the same.

I’ve known many people who’ve made great sacrifices of their time and energy to help others.  One couple, I’ve known longer than I care to admit, organized a monthly dinner for fifty to eighty seniors who were living barely above homelessness and it wasn’t one of those cafeteria-style soup kitchen deals.  This was a sit down meal with waiters (us), real silverware and china.  And we made everything from scratch: green salad, meatloaf, mashed potatoes (with gravy) and corn. We served each course separately and always ended with a generous piece of sheet cake topped with an inch of icing and those fancy little rosettes. Then we did the cleanup.  Although the seniors always thanked us profusely, it was the couple who organized the event, buying all the food and then distributing left-overs to homeless shelters, that deserved all the praise.  Although they no longer have the time for the senior dinners, they still manage to be the most generous folks I know. 

But what needs highlighting in these troubling times are those unexpected events that give a group of people the opportunity to go out of their comfort zone to help a someone they barely know. I have to admit, when I sat down with this theme in mind, my mind went blank.  I thought oh no, that can’t be right. Certainly those of us who’ve been around for a while should be able to recall many an instance of spontaneous compassion.

And then, luckily, this story came to mind.

My daughter lives in a beach town north of San Diego, which, for those of you outside of   the United States, is a city from which you can see Mexico.  It also has a large port and therefore a huge Naval presence. Whenever we visit, I always insist we stop at a tiny market along the coastal highway that sells produce and the best tortillas available in the States. They also have a variety of speciality foods used primarily in Mexican recipes, and, homemade fruit pies. The clerk is a young man who is slight of build but generous of smile.  The regulars address him by his first name.  Let’s say that name is Juan.

One morning a post appeared on Facebook, shared by my daughter, that Juan had been detained by the immigration officials.  Apparently he’d been pulled over while driving home and then arrested, not because he was here illegally but because his papers weren’t in order.   Then he was taken to a detention center for an unspecified amount of time. I don’t know who did it  the owner of the market or one of the regulars but someone had created a GoFundMe to raise money for a lawyer for Juan.  So that evening, after talking it over with the hubs and determining an amount to contribute, I went to the GoFundMe site, credit card in hand. 

Guess what folks? I was too late.  They’d already raised almost fifteen thousand dollars.  More than enough for the lawyer and so the site had been closed.  After a week had passed, I heard that he’d been released but was too traumatized to return to work for awhile. Makes you afraid to imagine what all those detained children are going through. 

Anyway, that’s my story.  I hope I can remember more.  I really do.  How about you?  #TheBestinPeople is something to pass on and so I have.  Thanks Dan.

Maybe it doesn’t matter

I haven’t been blogging lately because I’ve been editing a story I started way back in 1998.  I have no idea how many times I’ve edited this particular story but after years and the countless renditions, there are only a few sections I can reread without finding a word or a phrase that stops me in my tracks with it’s banality. Any sensible person would have given up and moved on to puzzles they know the answers to but not me.The story is based on the contentious relationship between my grandmother and my Auntie Dottie who had more in common than they would ever have admitted during their lifetimes.  Both were on their own emotionally from an early age; both were not shy about giving their opinions, and both were far braver and willing to take risks than the men they married. 

They spent the majority of their lives in a small town that, on the surface, is postcard perfect New England.  However veer off Main Street and the stray dogs scrounging for food will tell the story of a town that strains to stay true to the qualities once so important in small town America:  respectability, civic duty, and charity. The decline began after WWII when the mills and factories supporting the town began closing. Many of the young men who went off to war, didn’t return.  They moved to larger cities where their GI benefits went further.  The situation worsened when increasing crime and corruption rates in nearby Springfield Massachusetts made the hills surrounding the town appealing for commuters. The resulting increase in property values forced families who’d been squatting peacefully in the woods down into town and on welfare. You can probably guess the rest. 

My grandmother was born in the town during its years of prosperity but her parents were fresh off the boat.  In fact, they probably jumped off the boat. Letters from relatives in Sweden suggest that Great Gramps was in trouble with the Swedish military. Since he was a milliner by trade, maybe the Swedish army didn’t like his hats.  Who knows?  Great Gramps was a man of few words and none of them Swedish.  When his wife died young leaving him with a teenage daughter, he promptly boarded the girl at a “teaching” hospital in Springfield where she would learn a trade and not be a burden on him.  Years later she would return to the town with her husband and daughter to take care of him and there she would stay the rest of her life.

Dottie showed up on my grandmother’s doorstep in the early 1950s, married to her soft-hearted son and pregnant. She hid her painful past with a laugh that could trigger a tsunami and lived life in fast gear as if knowing she would die young. Any money she and my uncle earned was immediately spent on gaudy, flashy items which were far out of the arena of necessary.  In my grandmother’s time the things Dottie became legendary for would have gotten a woman shunned and ostracized. But the town was changing. 

I spent the summers of my youth in the twilight of my grandmother’s world and the emergent reality of my aunt’s.  I’m not sure if it’s the story of a relationship or the story of a town.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Do you ever keep returning to a story again and again knowing you may never get it right?

The Interpreter – Arleen Williams

faceToday I turn the floor over to fellow author Arleen Williams whose ALKI Trilogy has just been released. For those of you who don’t know, Alki Point is just west of Seattle Washington, an area very lush and green.  Wikipedia describes it as “reminiscent of a Pacific Northwest beach town, with a mix of mid-century bungalows, medium-rise waterfront apartment houses, waterfront businesses, a thin beach, and a road with a bike/foot trail running several miles along the water.”  As you can tell by the titles, Arleen is a very active woman as are her protagonists! In this piece she talks about the inspiration for her novels.


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Years ago I was living in Mexico City and thought about studying English/Spanish interpretation. When I took the college entrance examination and failed, I was sad and filled with relief. It really wasn’t for me. I have too many of my own words and thoughts to express to fill the role of an official interpreter. Yet at times, I still feel like an interpreter. In The Alki Trilogy, I “translate” immigrant lives into stories, offering a window into the realities of modern immigration.

As I write these words, I am reminded of Reese Witherspoon’s 2014 movie, A Good Lie, about the lost boys and girls of Sudan. I remember sitting in the darkened theater shaking my head when those responsible for assisting these immigrants upon their arrival to the U.S. were portrayed as totally clueless.

“Nobody can be that dumb, can they?” I whispered to my husband.

“Most people haven’t spent thirty years working with immigrants and refugees,” he shot back.

In a world of instantaneous information, one would think we’d all know of the horrors that continue to bring immigrants – both documented and undocumented – across our borders on a daily basis. But we are inundated with snippets of news and information, with work schedules and family responsibilities, with the challenges of the hectic day-to-day routine so common in this country. We don’t always understand the stories or the worlds behind the headlines we catch as we rush from one responsibility to the next in our busy lives.

In The Alki Trilogy I introduce readers to characters living lives in the shadows of our own back yards, characters making livings, making love, making mistakes and often interacting with native-born Americans in relationships that enrich the lives of all. And like those immigrants who cut our lawns and clean our pools, who grow our fruits and vegetables, who care for our elderly and infirm, they do it carrying the horrors that brought them to this land branded on their souls.

I wasn’t on some sort of zealous mission when I started writing The Alki Trilogy. In fact, when I began the first novel, Running Secrets, I had no idea I’d be writing a trilogy at all. I simply had characters in my head demanding to be heard: a suicidal young woman and an Ethiopian home health nurse, a homeless Salvadoran girl alone after her parents were deported and the college student who offered sanctuary, an Eritrean man haunted by the terrors of his escape and the hatred of some African-Americans while buoyed by the love of another. These stories were rooted in a lifetime of teaching, explaining, interpreting my world to immigrants from around the globe in an attempt to help them build new lives in this strange land. I suppose at some point my audience shifted.

When I started writing Biking Uphill, I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to Gemila Kemmal, and when Walking Home came to me, The Alki Trilogy flowed from pen to paper as though I were nothing more than a conduit for the voices of my students and the characters based on the lives and experiences they have shared with me over the past thirty years.

Walking Home Front Biking Uphill Cover

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Arleen Williams is a Seattle novelist, memoirist, and co-author of a dozen short books in easy English for adults. She teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle College and has worked with immigrants and refugees for three decades. To learn more, please visit http://www.arleenwilliams.com and http://www.notalkingdogspress.com.