Mother is weeping. I ask, “What can I do Mother?” Images of food sweep through my mind. Memories from my past inundate me. The lyrics “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, Take a sad song and make it better, Remember to let her into your heart, Then you can start to make it better,” ring in my ears. I wake with new purpose and a new appreciation for my history and my place in the greater scheme of reality.
My past has shaped me in ways I am still discovering every day. I was thirteen when we lost my youngest sister to a swimming pool; a year later my grandmother had a massive heart-attack and stroke, and then at fifteen I did my youngest surviving sister’s hospice care. I could write a book on tragedy, but Hugh Prather said it better than I ever could, “The thought, ‘You’re lucky, it could have been worse,’ is the kind of gratitude I can do without. It also could have been better, or, actually, it couldn’t have been any other way than the way it was.” Am I defined by what happened to me, or am I defined by what I did in response? When my first sister died, I tried to kill myself; when my grandmother died, I made rice-crispie treats and cried rivers. I mourned before my second sister died; I was cold afterwards, but kept strong. I made sure my family’s house was clean and they were well fed. Friday June tenth, twenty-eleven, I was in silent stoic tears; my son is profoundly and completely deaf. Winston Churchill is often quoted saying “KBO” or keep buggering on. That is what I keep trying to do.
My grandmother told me stories when I was growing up. One story that she told me regularly was about the first time she met my grandfather’s family. She was invited to supper. My grandmother turned her nose up to my great-grandmother’s turnips; the humble turnips were beneath her. A few days later my grandfather “ended the relationship in embarrassment.” Grandmother was a spoiled naive girl who survived the Great Depression with a housekeeper and her own room. My Grandfather, on the other-hand, was a farm boy, the oldest of nine who told few stories of his past but sung many spirituals. Two years after the turnip fiasco, my grandparents reunited. Once again my grandfather took my grandmother to his family’s home for dinner. At the family dinner, my grandmother cleaned her plate and begged for the “potato” recipe. Low and behold, the turnip had reappeared on her plate. When my great-grandmother discovered my grandparents were seriously dating again, she started cooking turnips in earnest. Until the day she died, my grandmother took that lesson to heart and was greatly insulted by anyone who refused her hospitality.
Please give me a few moments of time, as I climb up on my proverbial turnip/soap box. I am the great-granddaughter of three fabulous cooks, the daughter and step-daughter of two chefs, but until a few years ago, food came out of a box. So what’s the big deal with food? Everyone needs to eat well. Current agricultural practices rape the land, having caused the extinction of scores of species of flora and fauna. Selfishly in our desire to produce more food, more quickly, humanity has put itself in a precarious position. When a species becomes dependent on one crop or a few select crops, it becomes susceptible to that plants’ or animals’ overall health. In a mono-culture system, plants are susceptible to disease, “pests” and mass crop failure. This method also demands heavy use of hydrocarbon rich carcinogenic pesticides and fuel hungry equipment, which is another matter altogether. I became vegan for health reasons, I stayed vegan for hundreds of reasons. I put my dollar where my mouth is; I shop local, organic and vegan. I eat a more varied diet than most people on the SAD diet (AKA the Standard American Diet). I cook almost every meal, and most meals are eaten together as a family. We try to grow as much food as we can and do it in as clean and safe a way as possible. Healthy nutritious food is more important to our family than a car, which we no longer have.
Waking up to monkeys’ jumping on my trampoline was cool; cobras in my brother’s kindergarten classroom was interesting; eating tropical fruit right off the tree is something I will never forget. Being chased by relics of the dinosaurs, well, actually monitor lizards, is only scary to six-year-olds. I’ve seen tiger cubs playing in empty fields of clay, where, a few weeks earlier I watched in tears as a jungle was clear cut, then burned to lay pipeline. How was this possible? I was an oil brat, the daughter of a petroleum engineer stationed in a third world county, albeit privileged, and safe on a company compound. I still feel great guilt because of my father’s profession; it has haunted me every day for years. Gaia, what do I do?
In general, I laugh when Americans talk about poverty, because American poverty is not real poverty. When I hear talk about poverty, it is more often than not an abstract or keeping up with the Jones’es type of poverty. Usually, there is no lack of food, clothing, electricity, a roof over one’s head, or, clean running water. When I think about poverty I think about my father’s tales about the slums of Angola during its last civil war, where, thousands of orphaned children picked through trash for food and slept on tennis courts, or the orphanage in Vietnam where my siblings were before we adopted them or my personal experience in Houston, Texas. When my son was born, I was living in the petroleum capital of the world, and shortly after his birth, I was homeless. Ben was born fifteen weeks early and spent the next nine months in two different hospitals. I lived out of my truck and after a few strings had been pulled, the Ronald McDonald house. During his hospitalization I ate saltine crackers and, if I was lucky, tomato soup. I owned three pairs of clothes; how embarrassing it was to be called out on this by a nineteen-year-old cancer patient. May he rest in peace. I had access to clean running water and a roof over my head, however uncomfortable and embarrassing it might have been at times, but I know people who sleep on concrete and use cardboard as blankets. Being homeless in Houston can be a racket once the game is understood and if willing to play; free food here, rent free living there, hot showers and laundry every-other day if at this location on time, all in exchange for one’s dignity and a few prayers. I was probably too proud for my own good; on the other hand, thinking back on this time I realize how lucky I was. People the world over get by on so much less. What struck me hardest about this time was the difference between the “have’s” and the “have not’s”
I was born and raised to be a housewife of the greatest fortune and caliber. I was born to be a debutante raised a spoiled brat and dumped into American style poverty. I have gained in my twenty-five or so years puttering about this planet a sense of wonder, history, tragedy and hope. I am a quiet activist, just now discovering that I have a voice in a sea of so many. In the crucible that I call my life I have been forged into an advocate for the weak and voiceless. I have gone from Roman Catholic to an animist. Over the last thirteen years, I decided that everything from the smallest grain of sand and microbe to the biggest universe or unknown life form is alive in some fashion. Scientifically, it is all energy. In conclusion, as a human, an earthling and as an animist, I want to shout – Wake up. Mother is weeping. What are you doing for her?