I stopped on my errands yesterday to give a man with a hand written sign asking for help a few dollars. It’s a difficult call to know what to do when you see someone standing on the corner. You never know whether they are sincerely in jeopardy or panhandling is a way of making a living for them. I know if I had a family member on the streets I would hope people would lend a hand. Unfortunately, you can’t heal the world, but a Band-aid here and there couldn’t hurt.
When I worked in Boston I was struck frequently with the plight of their homeless population, particularly during the frigid winter months. As difficult as life can become for displaced people when the temperature begins to plummet it increases a hundred fold. One man tugs at my memory in particular. I met him on the first day I reported for work at the American Cancer Society in Boston proper. When hired, we lived in the picturesque town of Wakefield, a half an hour’s drive from the city. Although we’d been in area for nearly half a year my time in the state capital could be accounted for on one hand.
Not wanting to face the impacted morning commute by car, I parked the yellow “family truckster” at the subway station and traversed the steep steps leading down to the bowels of the beast. On the platform I purchased a ticket and boarded the first of two color coded trains that, according to the folded schedule in my purse, would lead me to my destination. The cold held a firm grip on Massachusetts that winter. Though covered in a thick wool coat fingers of wind still managed to sneak through the heavy fabric raising goosebumps along my skin. Instinctively I wrapped my arms around myself. Over the next three years the subway was to become familiar to me. The odors, the grinding of metal against metal, the glut of humans pushing and shoving on and off the steadily shifting trains. A metal monster voraciously gobbling up it’s human sacrifices only to regurgitate them further down the line.
Nerves a bit jangled, as nerves tend to do when starting a new job, I got off at the station indicated. A steady cold wind accosted me as I climbed the stairs slippery with melting snow. At street level I got my bearings and turned right at the first corner. Half way down the block a man in many layers of tattered clothing began following me. “Kuppacuffe, kuppacuffe”, he was yelling, as he trailed me down the street. People passing by paid little notice. Thankfully, leaving the strange man behind I entered the building I was to work in. Once inside I related the story to my new co-worker and was told the man was a common site on the streets. Emotionally handicapped, what he was saying was “cup of coffee”. Ahhhh. The next morning we shared the sidewalk again, this time with more understanding between us. I pressed a dollar in his sad looking glove and later saw him sitting in the corner of a cozy coffee house his gloves wrapped around a hot cup of coffee. We met every day for nearly a year until one day he was gone. I found I missed him after that, looking for him as I hit the street. Hopefully, he was somewhere else in the city enjoying a cup of Joe in another cafe and not in trouble or worse.
Many experiences come to mind while I was traveling the underground rails. Going across town midday, I boarded a train with maybe four other occupants. At the next station an elderly woman with a shopping bag over one arm entered through the front doors. You can stand or sit while moving depending on the foot traffic. During heavy commute hours there are hand loops or poles provided for those standing to keep you steady. Doors closing, the train lurched forward sending the woman hurling past several seated passengers absorbed in their reading material towards the back of the train. Shocked, I got up and made my way back only to find her splayed in a messy pile of human with her hat totally obscuring her face. Oranges and cans were rolling under seats and moving back and forth up the center aisle. At first I thought she was injured, but on helping her up realized she was totally plastered. The fumes emanating from her alone could have triggered a hangover. Helping her gather her belongings the woman suddenly leaned over the bench seat in front of us and proceeded to pass out cold as a wedge. Not a pretty sight. Not a pretty sight at all. Dress hiked up in back the rolled support hose she had secured about her knees squeezed the excess meat at the top of her leg over their rim like an oozing pot of oatmeal. Oh dear. Gingerly I picked at the fabric with my fingertips at least leaving her a bit of dignity. Of the four passengers, I seemed to be the only one who noticed this disturbing turn of events. The next stop was mine. Either I got off or continued far out of my way. Unable to wake the now snoring woman, but at least assured she was alive, I had no choice but to get off. Going to station personnel I related my story and was assured someone would check the car down the line and either get her off or offer assistance. Somehow I always felt guilty leaving her there. For all I know she’s still folded over that seat mooning someone somewhere in Brookline as we speak.
Extending a hand to someone always comes back to you in so much more than a returned gesture. When I distribute food at the food bank I never stop enjoying seeing the smiles on the little ones faces when they pick a donut out of the big pink box or a client stops by to thank you for donating your time. Choosing to look the other way when we see a homeless person on the street is sometimes easier than acknowledging them, but a simple “hello” can go a long way to making them feel visible in a society where they are often overlooked.
I’m a vegetable girl. Don’t understand me, I’m no vegetarian. Meat is included in my meal plans every week. This delicious vegetable soup, well with the exception of the bacon, however, is totally satisfying on its own.
Two Pea Soup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
6 scallions, sliced (white and green divided)
1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced thin and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
8 cups rich chicken broth
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
5 slices cooked crisp bacon, chunked
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 15 oz. can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. dried mint
3 oz. cooked snow peas
1 cup packed fresh spinach
Heat olive oil in large stock pot over medium heat. Add celery, carrots, white portions of scallions, bell pepper, and garlic. Cover and cook over low heat for 8 mins. or until vegetables are tender stirring several times.
Add wine, chicken broth, seasonings, green portions of scallions and bacon. Bring to boil. Cook over medium heat for 10 mins. Add zucchini, beans, and peas to pot. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking for 25 mins. Add mint, snow peas, and spinach. Cook for 5 mins. Remove from heat.