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Is the bell still ringing ’round your house? December 23, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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To paraphrase the two gentlemen who accosted Scrooge on Christmas Eve in Charles Dickens’s beloved A Christmas Carol, at this festive season of the year, the poor feel want more keenly as the cold bites hard and the well-to-do rejoice. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love the scene in the musical “Scrooge” where you see poor Bob Cratchit trying to pull together Christmas for his impoverished family against a backdrop of well-to-do Victorians and what they’re able to buy. It would be enough to give even a Scrooge, as Mrs. Cratchit points out, a piece of her mind to think about.

The great divide between the rich and poor in the Victorian era was as great as our own today, but there was a difference: The Scrooges of the past didn’t have to see the poor unless they wanted to. They were shut away in workhouses and poorhouses and coal mines and factories, the Oliver Twists (another great Dickens creation) of the world. Deprivation and dirt were ways of life. (Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” lives this kind of life at home in District 12.)

Today, the poor aren’t kept away from us. We see them shopping at Wal*Mart or eating a Big Mac, painting their nails and using their electronics just like us. They don’t look thin or hungry—cheap but filling convenience-store food usually makes sure of that—unless they’re homeless, and they’re certainly not begging.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. Just this week, we read about a grandmother who was caught trying to shoplift a carton of eggs to feed her multigenerational household because the carton cost $1.75 and she only had $1.25 and was desperate. (The policeman called to the scene bought her the eggs, and she tried to give him the $1.25. In the ultimate happy ending scenario, she wasn’t charged and the townspeople started sending in food for her family and other needy people in their area.) Also this week, we read about families who had to choose between food and health care every month.

Pope Francis is building baths in one wing of the Vatican so the poor and homeless can take regular baths and feel better about themselves. And the soup kitchens and rescue missions are as busy as ever, while the rest of us have been documented throwing out an ungodly amount of food—48%, if memory serves—not even bothering to compost it or, say, feed it to the chickens or earthworms. Our friend Ben is sure Pope Francis’s favorite birthday present this year was the massive amount of meat a Spanish meat organization donated for distribution to the poor in his name.

Getting back to the point of this post, for many years around this time, everywhere our friend Ben and Silence went, we would encounter the jolly Santa and the black Salvation Army kettle, his bell ringing furiously as he doubtless froze to death. In front of one local pharmacy, Santa had been replaced by caroling kids. Whatever the size of our offering, we were always happy to give. But for the past three or so years, the black kettles and their tenders have been gone. Whatever happened to them?

We used to have a thriving Goodwill in the shopping mall in the closest little town to us. It was always packed with people, most of whom appeared to be buying clothes, shoes, toys, and the like for their families, most of whom were poor, most of whom spoke a language other than English. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood loved the Goodwill—going there was like treasure-hunting, you never knew what you’d find—and, as noted, it was as crowded as Cabela’s, a godsend for people for whom Wal*Mart was a luxury. A thriving business. Then one day, it was gone. We were horrified, but what must the people who depended on it to clothe and entertain their children think?

Just yesterday, we went to drop off some clothes at one of those drop-boxes in a pharmacy parking lot, only to find that it, too, was gone, and nobody seemed to know where another one was. Why and where had it gone?

In areas where just getting from one place to another is an issue if you don’t have a car, having stores like Goodwill just pack up and leave is a real hardship. For those of us who’d like to bring a little warmth and good cheer to those in want during the Christmas season, failing to find Santa with his bell and black kettle on every corner is really demoralizing.

If the bell’s still ringing ’round your house, please give to keep it going. For us, it’s one of the happiest sounds of Christmas.

And please, don’t waste food this year while others are going hungry!

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Have you seen Santa? December 29, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben has always been a big believer in Santa Claus. (Search for “I believe in Santa Claus: A true story by our friend Ben” in our search bar at upper right to find out why.) But this season, the Santa I didn’t see was the one standing ringing his bell beside the Salvation Army kettle.

Normally, during the Christmas season, Silence Dogood and I encounter Salvation Army Santas in the entryways to every local grocery, outside pharmacies and department stores, pretty much everywhere you might find yourself as you shop or run errands around town. But this year, there was a distinct absence of Salvation Army bells. Not one of our local groceries, pharmacies, or shops had a Salvation Army Santa posted outside. The lone one we encountered was outside the Moravian Book Shop in (comparatively) distant Bethlehem, PA.

Don’t tell me the Grinch stole Santa and his kettle this year, or that—gasp—the Salvation Army decided it couldn’t afford to send Santas out into the world. Our friend Ben and Silence always pitied those cold, shivering souls, but they were part of our Christmas, reminding us of, as Charles Dickens put it, “those who were in need of warmth and common necessities.” We would hate for them to become another memory of Christmases past.

The collectors’ graveyard. October 26, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Usually, I love going to thrift stores—Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the like. To me, it’s like going on a treasure hunt: You just never know what you’ll find, and often, your treasure costs 48 cents. Even when I’m feeling financially strapped, I can convince myself that it’s okay to spend 48 cents on a new kitchen gadget or a basket for my shells or an attractive picture frame or a colorful multi-strand bead bracelet for my little niece.

Last time our friend Ben and I visited our local Goodwill, we saw two matching sofas that were not just in great shape, they were actually great-looking. The fullsize sofa cost $25; its matching loveseat, $20. We stopped in to the nearby Big Lots after that to look (in vain) for a floor lamp for Ben, and saw that their hideous sofas cost closer to $300. And that’s still a bargain compared to going into a furniture store or buying a sofa through a catalogue, when prices tend to start (if you’re lucky) at double that figure. Good luck finding sofas that look as good as the ones we saw at Goodwill at any price! I was practically in tears when we left the store, but no, we didn’t need any sofas and we didn’t buy any.

One thing we do need on a regular basis is clothes, and thrift stores are a great place to buy them, as long as you’re more concerned about fit and attractiveness than current fashion. Over the years, I’ve bought skirts, tops, tee-shirts, purses, and winter jackets for pennies on the dollar. I’ve found fun tie-dyed tee-shirts, which our friend Ben and I both love, for less than a dollar, and many of Ben’s beloved Hawai’ian shirts (he insists on pure cotton, no rayon) have gotten a second life when we rescued them from the thrift-store racks. Ever since I read that, even if no new shirts were ever manufactured again, there would be enough shirts to clothe all humanity until the end of time, I vowed to buy as many of our clothes second-hand as I possibly could. Why add to the merchandising glut?

So yes, usually I find shopping at a thrift store fun and relaxing. And I especially enjoy it when I also have a bag of things to drop off before I shop. De-cluttering and shopping, all at the same convenient location. Life is good!

But my last trip to our local Goodwill made me sad. That was because I saw three different collections offered for sale. They were all cheap trinkets—miniature mugs with travel destinations emblazened on them, porcelain thimbles, miniature animal figurines. None would have cost their owner much to collect, but it was very obvious that all had been lovingly accumulated and cherished over a lifetime. Now, here they were at Goodwill.

Somehow, I couldn’t convince myself that the owner of these lovingly accumulated assemblages of junk had decided to unload them and move on. No, the collections spoke of loving, attentive accumulation, someone whose desire to commemorate her life was greater than her taste or bank account. I could only, sadly, conclude that the previous owner of these so-called collectibles was now either in assisted living, in a nursing home, or no longer here at all. I could see why her children or heirs wouldn’t want to hang on to Ma’s collections. In fact, I’m sure they couldn’t wait to get rid of them. So here they were, languishing on the Goodwill shelves, where nobody seemed to be rushing to snap them up, either.

This smote me to the heart. It was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears, staring at those piles of pointless trinkets. Someone’s life story was lying before me on a cluttered thrift-store shelf. Someone had spent years commemorating every trip, every triumph, with these trinkets, only to have her life put up for sale to the lowest bidder. 

Our friend Ben and I are also collectors. We collect everything from Pueblo pottery and cookbooks to rocks, shells, and fossils. No, we don’t think our collections will someday grace a thrift shop’s shelves. But we wonder what will become of them. And we wonder what became of the collector of mini-mugs, ceramic thimbles, and tiny animal figurines. In heaven, on earth, we wish her well.

       ‘Til next time,

              Silence