Most New England states still have redemption centers for turning in bottles & cans for a nickel. Vermont still does. That is where I am from. A very small town, Montpelier. It’s the state’s capital. My father was the towns the eye doctor. When I would walk beside my father, 90% of the people we passed would break out in a smile, “Dr. B!” My father would nod his head & say hello, never slowing his stride. I remember thinking that my father was like a movie star. Everyone knew him, I was very proud of him. The fame didn’t sit easily on his shoulders. I think he must have felt they will take his time away.
One summer vacation, for a reason that I don’t remember, my father brought us to work with him. He told us we could hang out downtown. I guess he saw his patient load, because he sent us out the door, telling us to come back about lunch time. My brother & I were about twelve at the time. An age that requires nourishment every 20 minutes or so. After walking around looking at things that we couldn’t buy, we got very hungry. There was a diner, it’s still there, called the Coffee Corner, before the nation freaked out about every single thing they put in their mouth, this diner fried their french fries in fat. The wind would carry the smell everywhere. Our salivary glands working over time, we went back to the office to ask if we could have some money for a snack or three. “Your father’s seeing patents.”said his glaring his receptionist. The only reason we were capable of going down the huge flight of stairs was blessed gravity.
I don’t know which one of us had the idea, but we noticed that people would put their soda cans & bottles on the ridge of the trash cans for the poor to gather to bring to the redemption center for money. At the time, my brother & I considered ourselves very poor indeed. We piled cans we found on the ridges of the trash cans in our shirts, but then we noticed some were inside the trash cans. We dug them out. When we got to the redemption center we ended up having collected about $3 dollars. Rich! And we did it ourselves. We bought chocolate bars. At the time I don’t think we thought of the physical condition of our hands. We just ate melting chocolate & licked it from our fingers. We bought cokes. It was heaven. Most of all we were very proud that we were able to work hard to earn money to feed ourselves.
When we arrived at the office for lunch, I’m sure covered in dirt & chocolate. We told our father what we had done, with pride in our voices. We were met with a very angry man. “YOU DID WHAT?!?”
We were never allowed downtown on our own until we were about fifteen. My brother & I never understood his anger at the time. We did figure it out as older teenagers.
Everyone knew my father. Everyone saw his TWINS digging through the garbage for money. I’m embarrassed thinking of it now.
Frankly, I’m surprised we survived that adventure. Either from his temper at the time or from catching some sort of plague.
That day we learned what it was like to walk in another’s shoes. To be hungry, to be looked at in disgust.
I remember my husband & I making our bed together. We have a firm pillow & soft pillow. I said the soft pillow goes in the back with the stronger pillow in front, so that it can hold it up.
He didn’t agree, but did as I did. I said the strong hold up the weak. The adult carry the child. The young help the old. My father that day, had he not been distracted by how many patents where already in his waiting room, would have given us money for snacks. He would have held us up.
There has always been, throughout time, that believe the weak should hold up the strong. The weak know that they will never gain strength unless they have can earn enough money or have an education to grow strong, so that they themselves can support their children so that they may grow strong.
I wonder if we will ever change?