Spring Fundraiser 2015, Day Three
Here we are at Day Three of the Fundraiser and I’ve said nary a word. I’ve been sitting here wringing my hands, trying to come up with an acceptable story — upbeat and amusing — so our readers might enjoy the experience, thus feeling energized, which would make y’all more inclined to climb over that procrastination hurdle this week, thereby donating to the worthy cause of keeping the Gates open for the coming quarter.
I find the project on which we’ve embarked fascinating — I feel privileged, and the sense of wonderment never grows stale. Imagine being able to chronicle some of the depredations we’re all facing! What is being done to our country and our culture is outrageous. To end up as one of the chroniclers of the injustices we all face is such an unexpected path to be traveling that this experience is beyond words. I never quite get over it: we serve as an outlet and a conduit at the same time. That’s so strange, and yet nevertheless it has come to be. Gates of Vienna is a portal and a crossroads, and here we stand. Amazing.
But that brings me to the crux of the problem here. I know intellectually the need to remain upbeat for the space of a few fundraiser posts, and I don’t know how. For some reason, I think of our commenter, Babs, keeping her coat on in the house during the winter, trying to stay warm in an increasingly expensive environment. With that vivid description of winter reality in the north, I felt an immediate connection.
But I still stand here wringing my hands, trying to figure how to enter from stage left, swinging my cane and doing a soft shoe routine to raise everyone’s spirits for the nonce. After all, our news posts are dysphoric enough. And I recognize the need for optimistic messages in this octave of asking for money: during the fundraiser posts, keep it light, Dymphna. No one will be inclined to give to the cause if you make them feel like pouring a stiff drink after a dysphoric encounter with your experience. So I really do “get” the part about cheer and optimism, but end up with a split in my thinking/feeling. Look at it this way: I enjoy reading the newsletter from Sderot; it’s full of all the good things they’re doing, and it makes me want to be a part of that. But I also hear the reality from MC’s daily life there. As he said, in Sderot even the dogs have PTSD — as well they should, given the “rockets’ red glare”.
Before I met the Baron there was a good deal of umm… red glare… in my life. [Or is it “flare”? A little Freudian slip there, but if dogs could talk they’d agree: glare fits.] Some of those experiences were no one’s fault; I just happened to be one of the kids who fell through the cracks, and there was no soft landing. “Children are hostages to fortune,” after all. As a result, the stories I know would appall (some) others, but having lived them, I find some of my experiences entertaining. So I’m going to go with the flow here. I present my tale — something I haven’t shared before except with one correspondent who assured me it was amusing and not downbeat. Since it’s my life, I can’t tell any more, so blame Bill if it makes you feel bad. If it makes you realize how wonderfully adaptive kids can be, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do.
I call this Occasions of Doughnuts (but there’s a long preface of context before we get to the sweets).
During the years I spent in St. Mary’s Home (note: yes, it was an orphanage of sorts, but I had a lovely mother, so I wasn’t technically an orphan. However, my mother was convinced that if she tried to get welfare assistance, even if she’d negotiated the shame of it, applying would lead to her deportation, since she wasn’t a citizen. And her daughter/American citizen would have to live in a foreign land. So her solution was to work instead, and attempt to find adequate day care. Let’s skip that part; all of those foster homes or day-care people were not good places.
In the end, the doctor told my mother I needed the stability of St. Mary’s, at least until it was legal for me to be a latchkey kid. I was aware even back then that the rules in the black community were different: a lot of mothers went to work cleaning houses and had bigger kids taking care of littlers, but black mothers didn’t have to put up with the same scrutiny as my foreign white mother. I used to wish we were black instead of being in a Catholic ghetto. But there you are. Or rather, there I was: sentenced to St. Mary’s until I turned ten. The magic year of my release.
Except for missing my mother desperately, I liked St. Mary’s. The routine was calming, predictable. The rules were clear and fair and unvarying. I used to think that my mother ought to be in there with me. After all, her own mother had died after she left home, and all she had of her passing was a telegram. Now she was an orphan in a strange country — I thought then, and I still believe, they should have taken her in. She was always a very good girl, unlike her daughter, who found it impossible to maintain silence. Lord help me, I couldn’t have kept quiet even for ice cream.
If you’ve ever lived in a town with a Children’s Home in it, you know that people like to feel good by doing things for the orphans. And some of the things they did were indeed wonderful. For instance, The Knights of Columbus built a swimming pool for us: in the Florida heat that was a lasting act of mercy. And at Christmas the Naval Base always threw a big, exciting party with live Christmas music and tables of food as far as the eye could see… as far as mine could, at any rate. We’d have a long bus ride out to the base in the grey December Sunday afternoon, just before Christmas. All the way out, we sang Christmas carols. Later in the aftermath we rode home in the sleepy dark, for once stuffed up to the tippy top, and laden each with a box of candy and a bag of fruit. Far too groggy and full to sing, we leaned against one another and slept to the rhythm of that macadam road until the lights of the city’s stop-and-start traffic woke us.
But once the holidays were over orphans sank out of sight as regular old life took over. Sometimes, though, we’d get some wonderful surprise — say a box of oranges so big that we each got two. And yes, we ate them, peels and all. Nowadays I know all about that oil in the skins being limonene, but back then I simply ate all the pith (the white part) and then let the scraped peels dry in a bag. They tasted wonderful when put in a glass of water, shaken and let sit for a while on the radiator. Orange juice was unknown until I was much older, but when I was small, orange peel water was mighty fine. We all thought so.
Then there were Occasions of Doughnuts. These were moveable feasts, appearing unexpectedly. I was too young to understand their origins (unlike the oranges — we were in Florida, after all) but I had no burning desire to comprehend where they came from; it was enough to know they were here in all their sweety, gooshy goodness. We (“we” being the Little Girls, aged five to nine. The Big Girls were ten and up and lived in a separate universe — though we all ate in the dining hall and the Big Girls would teach us their music) knew the gooshy part wouldn’t last, but that was okay with me. Fresh or stale, I loved those doughnuts.
They would arrive in two large bags, much bigger than grocery bags and quite heavy. The tops were taped. The Big Girls would haul them into the kitchen and dole out the first batch: two each. But that didn’t even begin to finish the first bag; as I would learn and re-learn, there were miles of doughnuts to go before the end of the first bag.
In St. Mary’s, after school let out we’d have a period of physical activity — which mainly consisted of games of tag, just letting off steam. Then we had our Afternoon Snack, followed by Study Hall for an hour before dinner. Our usual snack at 4:00 p.m. was Honey Buns. These were two hamburger halves smeared with — yes — honey, and distributed with a napkin. But the only thing the napkin was good for was dampening in the water fountain and trying to wipe off the sticky from our hands and face. You learned quickly not to get the napkin too wet or all you’d have left is a miniscule ball of soggy paper. If Sister Fabian wasn’t looking, we’d use the hem of our dress dipped in the fountain. You always used the front so when you went to Study Hall you weren’t sitting on the cold part.
Honey buns were in abeyance as long as the doughnuts were still extant. Nothing went to waste. Some of the girls complained as the doughnuts became “doughnuts” and then morphed into rocks in the shape of doughnuts. Not Dymphna. I loved those things in all their permutations. If we were sitting in the pavilion I could put mine on the table and use a ruler to break them in half. This made them easier to “eat”, since we were essentially sucking on sandy brick lollipops. As the doughnuts aged, they lost their sugary taste (I would say “flavor” but that would be stretching it a bit). I have no idea why I liked the rocky texture, but it appealed to me. Years later when eating crispy baguette circles, I regretted not knowing about those during my doughnut days. But then again, I’d have had no means to cut the circles. Even if I’d had a knife, they’d have crumbled.
That’s what I liked: the crumbles. The way the rocks could dissolve in my mouth much more satisfactorily than those gooey pieces of pasty white bread served with supper. They were good for making small round balls that you could pierce with a pencil and leave to dry. Then you could color them, kind of, with crayons. Dark colors worked best. Strung on pieces of string or cord, they made bracelets, though the ants often ate our jewelry.
They also liked our doughnuts. By the last half of the second bag, the ants were ascendant. But I was bigger. I’d break the doughnuts into pieces and bang them gently on the table in the pavilion until the ants fell out. I’d leave enough crumbs to divert them while I ate the now pristinely ant-free doughnut rocks. This was only a moral problem on Fridays. Were the ants, strictly speaking, meat? If so, then we had to be extra scrupulous about the doughnut prep. I was never sure I hadn’t ingested an ant or two so I diligently put that sin on my List for Saturday confession , right next to talking and disobedience. I used to yearn to be a grown-up. Then I could not only talk when I wanted, but I’d be the boss of me: voilà, no more sins.
When Saturday came, I always confessed my ant struggle until the priest finally told me to let it be. He said hunger was more important than no-meat-on-Friday. He asked me if I knew what a dispensation was and when I admitted I did, he explained further that he was making a permanent dispensation for ants. I could eat them on Fridays if and when I felt like it. Can you imagine? Come grown-up time, I’d be a saint!
Obviously I was relieved to have that burden lifted. But in my heart of hearts I wondered if the priest was playing favorites. He was from Dublin, like my mother, and sometimes he’d invite me to the rectory to have Waldorf Salad, my favorite dish. The housekeeper said I was a lucky girl. I agreed with her whole-heartedly, bobbing my head up and down because my mouth was full. The nuns told me it wasn’t right to have special friendships. The housekeeper told me Father Doyle was homesick for Ireland, and it was my freckles that earned me the Waldorf Salad.
No, he wasn’t “one of those”. The most Father Doyle ever did was ruffle my hair and threaten to count my freckles. When he died one January 18th, I thought my heart would break. And every January 18th since, I’ve said a prayer for/to him.
And no, that is not a sad ending. How many half-orphans get to have a Father Doyle and Waldorf Salad for even a little while? We were just fortunate to know each other.
This was a glorious day for fundraising. Y’all swam in from every which where… and glad we were to see you!
Stateside: California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, S. Carolina, and W. Virginia
Near Abroad: Canada
Far Abroad: Australia, Denmark, Germany, Slovenia, and the UK
Tomorrow, may those who haven’t come by yet be sure to do so, or I daren’t tell another story.
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