Tuesday, September 22, 2009

at the food bank

"Hey, you're dripping wet."

"Hey, Nathaniel."

"Hey, Em. Long time no see."

"Hey, Hooper. Yeah, Erin called me in to cover the desk today. I guess Marty . . ."

Erin walks in, "Well, look-ee, here's my reinforcements."

"I am here. Sorry, the swim went late this morning."

"No problem. You heard Marty's at her sister's?"

"I heard she was out of town."

"In Boston. Eating lobster. I told her, I don't want to hear about it!"

"Lucky lady."

"Did you see this?" Erin points out a note on the bulletin board - many exclamation points, "55 families in one day. That was two weeks ago - an all-time record. And we were short-handed that day - just Marty and Hooper here and Nathaniel, of course."

"Of course." We both look up and smile at Nathaniel who grunts with pleased embarrassment.

"Shouldn't be so busy today. It's always worst when school starts up. People use up all their money on school clothes and supplies."

"Hey, look who's here!" It's Bernie who manages the warehouse and drives the truck. "You're the other one whose bike was always in my way." Erin, who manages this HELP pantry and the Food Banks throughout our county, rides a lovely old Schwinn, the color of peaches and cream.

"Am I in your way today?"

"Nah. You're fine."

Once last year when I drove the car for once, Bernie had exclaimed, "Hey, no bike! Got a new car, huh?"

"No, not really. I just usually let my daughter take it."

"I thought you just didn't have a car."

A little later an older couple come in, staggering a bit under the weight of their boxes - tomatoes, eggplant, Asian pears, Concord grapes.

"Are these donations?"

"Yes." Their voices are very quiet, but quietly pleased.

"Oh, bless you."

"Can you use some really giant zucchini?" she wants to know.

"Oh, I think so. They could be grated for zucchini bread, couldn't they?"

"Oh, yes. Or like hash browns."

Then she brings the zukes in. They are enormous.

"Or we could use them for playing softball?"

"We do live by the old nuclear plant."

Says Bernie after weighing this latest addition, "297 pounds of produce we've taken in already this morning."

A few minutes later, "Who brings in all this beautiful - ?" a woman waves her hand toward the fruit and vegetables.

"Just generous people in our town. Wonderful, isn't it?"

"So wonderful. You can't find such good things even in the grocery store."

Later, coming in with a food box, I hear Bernie talking with another of our clients, "Ah, that's too bad."

"Yeah," she says, a pretty young woman with dark hair in long loose ripples. "He's like the only dad I've ever known."

"Yeah, he's a great guy when he's not doing the stuff."

Meanwhile, I try to move the abundant calf liver we have in the freezer, "We also have some really nice liver - but I wouldn't want to give it to you unless it's something you can use? Liver is packed with nutrients, you know."

Half the people I ask decline, but the other half accept like they're being offered a delicacy. Which, of course, they are.

"Can he have some candy?" Bernie asks a young mother, tall and lean and blond, with a handsome little 4-year-old. Bernie holds out the candy jar.

"Sure. What do you say?" she prompts her son. Then I hear her a few minutes later, "But are Reese's Pieces an all-the-time food or a once-in-awhile food?"

"All-the-time-food?" tries her son.

Her laugh is delightful.

"Okay," he says and tucks the little sack of candy into their box. They fill sacks with carefully chosen produce. "A plum is all-the-time," he says triumphantly - at the same time asking his mother.

She rubs it clean for him and then leans over the box of cucumbers. He smacks his lips and takes a bite. A little juice dribbles down his chin.

"What a lucky boy to have you for his mother." I wish I'd taught my children so well.

She shrugs, smiles, "I'm lucky. Both my boys really like fresh fruits and vegetables."

"I don't think it's only luck."

"Are these zucchini?" she picks one of the green clubs up, hefts it.

"Yeah. You could probably grate it for zucchini bread. Or like hashbrowns?"

"I wonder if I could make latkes from it?"

"Oh, maybe so. It would be worth trying."

We talk recipes for zucchini - "my stepfather makes a zucchini lasagna." Then for the eggplant. I tell her about ratatouille. She tells me her recipe for mango pico de gallo.

"Just coming in the door, those grapes smell like something - flowers, jello - really wonderful." She fills a sack with Asian pears.

Once the line of clients clears out, I notice the latest of Nathaniel's galaxy of superheroes pinned to the board - though these are not heroes but villainesses.

"THE BAD GIRLS: Firefly Lady - Python Lady's nemesis; Black
Panther Woman's archrival Vanessy, leader of the Junk Yard Girls; Midnight, a girl from Nighthawk Man's past - HA-HA-HA-HA-HA . . . "

"So, Em, what have you been up to - besides the swimming?" Hooper asks. He and Nathaniel come sit down in the chairs behind the desk while we wait for more business.

"Not much. Drying pears. Canning peaches. Today I'm making tomato paste balls."

He wants to know how, then, "My mom would have liked that. She was always putting things up like that." His mother died a year or so ago. "You remind me of her," he says again.

"I like the picture," I tell Nathaniel.

"Oh, you've got to see - " says Hooper and they show me . . .

. . . the guardian spirits of the pantry shelves.

"Dark Spear is on the good side.
'My spears are deadly. I don't take back talk. And I'm a woman named Jinla.'"

"Nighthawk Girl. 'You don't want to mess with me.'"
We have superheroes on our side.

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