I used to like going grocery shopping, wandering up and down the aisles and looking at all the different types of sauces and cereals, the varieties of cheeses, the different cuts of meat and fish, the fresh-baked breads – that is, until I had my son, Eddie. I put him in the seat of the grocery cart and he initially seems content, but it’s not long before he begins to fuss, so I keep plucking food off the grocery shelves and feeding it to him just to keep him occupied. I’ll grab bags of yoghurt puffs or dried apple peels off the shelves, break into boxes of grapes and strawberries. One time I handed him a cucumber, just to play with, and the next time I looked down, he’d eaten halfway through it, like an insect, peel and all.
On our grocery excursion yesterday, he reminded me of his book about a hungry caterpillar. In the first aisle, he ate one apple. In the second aisle, he had two pears. In the third aisle, he had three grapes, four pickles, five slices of watermelon, and a box of pretzels. After that aisle, he had a stomach ache. And he began to fuss. While I’m usually a bargain shopper, comparing items so that I get the best value for my money, I began just throwing things into the shopping cart – things I might not even have wanted had I thought about it — just to get us out of the store faster. When I finally looked down at my cart and saw it was nearly two-thirds full, I wondered how I was going to get everything into my house in the near 100-degree weather.
As I pulled up in front of my house and began to unload the bags, I was approached by two young girls. They were part of a Christian organization called World-Changers, which had dispatched about 25 volunteers to paint my neighbor Lee’s house. Lee has a beautiful pink and purple Victorian home that had fallen into neglect. The vines and shrubs were so overgrown, parts of the house were completely obscured and the sidewalk in some spots was impassable.
“Can we help you with your groceries,” asked one of the two young girls coming toward me. She was wearing a red t-shirt with white lettering that resembled the old “Coca Cola” t-shirts except that where it would have said “Coca Cola,” it said, “Jesus Christ.”
“Sure,” I said, wiping sweat off my upper lip. “But shshsh. He’s sleeping,” I said, pointing to Eddie, who had fallen asleep in the car. I left it running with the air conditioning on. I didn’t want to move him for fear that he would wake up, and then I wouldn’t be able to unload the groceries and put them away.
One girl picked up five bags while the other picked up three, one of which had a small watermelon. She took a few steps and the watermelon fell on the sidewalk with a thump.
“Sorry,” she said. She picked it up and brushed it off with her hand.
“Ach. I’m sure it’s fine,” I said.
We each made a couple of trips and in no time, the groceries were all lined up on my kitchen floor. When I went back outside, the two girls were still standing on the sidewalk near my car.
“Would you mind standing here for a couple of minutes while I put everything away? Once I wake him, I won’t get anything done, and I don’t want to leave him out here alone with the car running,” I said.
“Sure,” said the taller girl, who had a Southern accent and wore her hair in braids. She was the spitting image of Pocahontas.
I went inside and quickly tried to put everything away, running from the bathrooms upstairs to the pantry off the kitchen and down to the refrigerator in the basement, so that the girls didn’t have to stand outside in the heat for too long. They were nice, but it didn’t mean they should have to suffer for it.
After about 10 minutes, I went outside and they were still standing there on the sidewalk, happily chatting away. The three of us talked a bit after I thanked them, and I wondered whether I was supposed to give them a tip.
“Oh, noooo,” said Pocohontas. “We paid to come up here.”
My eyes welled up with tears at the idea that people could be so kind. “How much do you pay?” I asked.
“$249,” said the one with the Jesus Christ t-shirt.
And that didn’t include travel costs, which everyone picked up themselves. Many drove, from Michigan, Florida, and other parts of the US where serving God is apparently on one’s vacation “to-do” list. There was no shortage of such people. In fact on this project, there seemed to be too many. Only about six of the 25 volunteers could be on the ladders or the roof of the house at any one time, so the remaining 19 would stand around on the sidewalk, either on ladder duty — where they stood at the base of the ladder to make sure it didn’t move — or walking around the neighborhood trying to do good deeds. They must have spread their good will a few blocks wide because as the days went on, I saw a group of them holding one of their daily prayer sessions on the lawn of my neighbor who lived across the street from Lee and another prayer session on the porch of another neighbor two blocks down. And on the last day, the man who lives across the street from Lee made the group a BBQ lunch.
The group traveled around the country doing construction projects. Aside from painting my neighbor’s home, they were installing a ramp on one of the municipal buildings. The township, in turn, provided them with cots at the local high school. The group was pretty organized. The day before they arrived, a port-a-potty was deposited on the side of Lee’s house.
It wasn’t clear why they had chosen to paint Lee’s house. Whenever anyone asked him, he would say, “That’s my secret.” If anyone could find a way to get their house painted for free, it was Lee. He’s old, on a fixed income and likes to drink, but he’s highly enterprising, often going to flea markets to sell items from his attic. Last weekend, he set up a sign outside his car advertising golf balls, which his friend had collected at a local golf course.
As I stood in front of my car with the two girls, the taller one looked at Eddie through the window and said, “He’s really cute.”
I began to tell them about my blog and how I wanted to write a post about them and how they helped me with the groceries. I explained to them that the blog was called The Dancing Egg because I used a donor egg to have Eddie and that the donor was a ballerina. They listened intently and seemed fascinated. Pocahontas looked up at me and said, “Can I ask you a strange question?”
Here we go, I thought. It must seem very un-Christian to them for me to have forced nature in this way. I imagined they must have thought, if you’re meant to have a baby, God will give you a baby. Otherwise, it wasn’t meant to be. No, I concluded, she must know someone who had a baby with a donor egg, and with me there, she finally had an opportunity to ask the questions she wanted answered but until now felt too uncomfortable to ask.
“Is it normal for squirrels around here to just lie on their backs like they’re dead?”
“Huh,” I said, surprised by the question. “No, it’s not normal. Maybe it’s the heat.”
“Well, we saw this squirrel that was just lying flat on its back, and we thought it was dead. But when we went over to it, it got up and ran away,” Pocahontas said.
“It was just lying there,” said the girl with the Jesus t-shirt.
My neighbor, Joe, who’d been standing on his porch and overheard the conversation, said “It probably fell out of a tree. They’re not like cats. They don’t land on their legs.”
Satisfied with the answer, the girls turned around and walked back to Lee’s house to join the rest of their group.
About an hour later, I walked by Lee’s house on my way to a café and saw the group had cut back so many branches and vines, there was a pile of debris on the corner about five-feet high. Next to the pile, a bright pink stream of water flowed all the way down the block.
The following day, the girls were back, this time, with two boys and a new girl, who seemed older than the others because she spoke with such conviction. They wanted to say hello to Eddie. I was sitting on my porch with my friend, Doris, who loves meeting new people and asking questions. After about 15 minutes, we learned their names, ages, where they were from, where they were headed.
“I once went to Thailand to help build houses,” said the new girl. “Thailand doesn’t allow missionaries into the country, so someone had to go in before us and teach English so that we had someone in the schools who could invite us in.”
She said they taught the students English by having them read the bible.
“The bible?” Doris said and laughed. “That’s not even in English.”
“Oh, but it is, if you have the right version,” the new girl said. “We use the NLT or New Living Translation bible. The language is much simpler. It’s written how we speak.“
They invited us to one of their daily prayer sessions. We declined. Unfortunately, at the appointed time, around 3 o’clock, I had to run an errand that forced me to walk past the house at which they were holding their prayer session on the front lawn. I walked in the middle of the street as I walked passed the house for fear that if they saw me, one of them would ask me to join in.
That night, my husband, Bruce, and I were getting ready for our weekly “date night.” I prepared our son’s meal for the babysitter to feed him. I started to cut him up some fruit for dessert and asked Bruce to pass me the watermelon. As he started to lift it, he said, “This watermelon is rotten.”
All of a sudden, it exploded open like Mt. Vesuvius and a stream of red watermelon came pouring out the top like lava, spilling out all over the rug.
“Holy shit,” I said. “That must be where the girl dropped it.”
This morning, as I was rushing to get into my car because of the rain, the three girls came running down the sidewalk toward me.
“Wait! We have something to give you,” yelled the new girl.
The girl who looked like Pocahontas pulled a bible out from under her shirt. She was holding it there to keep it from getting wet.
“It’s the NLT version. Show it to your friend. Let her see how easy it is to understand,” the new girl said.
“Where’s Eddie?” Pocahontas asked.
“He’s inside with the babysitter, taking his nap,” I said.
“Oh, we wanted to see him before we left,” Pocahontas said.
“You guys are done already?”
“No, but we need to leave. And we can’t paint anymore today because of the rain,” said the new girl.
“Everything we just painted is getting wet and running down the house,” Pocahontas said and made a face that said, “Oopsy.”
“Another crew will be here at some point to finish the job,” the new girl said.
And with that, the three turned on their heels and headed back to their group as they packed up their paintbrushes and bibles before heading off to the next town.