Just barely 18, I had traveled from my home in Colorado with a scruffy band of punks to a campground outside of Boston. This three week adventure had drained me of my savings and I was now standing outside the Harvard Square subway station with $14 dollars in my pocket and the stinging realization that these people were in no way my friends. I had no family east of the Mississippi and nowhere to go. This story begins where “Van of Fools… or… How I Became a Capitalist” ended. https://howhardcoulditbe.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/van-of-fools-or-how-i-became-a-capitalist/
But let me go back a week…
I had arrived in Boston with the group still intact. We’d intended on just parking on the street for the night and trying to hook up with the local music scene in the next day to see if we could get a few gigs. It was news to us that it was illegal to park on city streets in Boston overnight without a neighborhood permit. We were nearly out of gas, nearly out of money and just needed a place to park the van for the night.
I picked up a phone book and started calling area churches. I figured that was as close to “family” as I was going to get. It was a Wednesday evening I believe, and definitely after office hours. Several dimes in the pay phone had yielded nothing more than answering machines as daylight was waning. Finally someone answered the phone at a local Reformed Presbyterian church in Cambridge.
I was not a Presbyterian, but the pastor at my church back home had originally had been ordained in the Presbyterian church. “Close enough for me,” I thought on that hot June evening. I don’t remember our conversation, but for some reason, this young pastor had compassion on me and the “Christian Rock Band”
I had described over the phone. The pastor and his wife agreed to let us park in their driveway for the night and even use their bathrooms. They must have been completely out of their minds.
I think we stayed there for two nights, but it could have been three. Someone found a campground on the perimeter of town at the very tail end of the commuter rail. It was $12 a night to camp. I stayed one night with them, paid for them to stay one more. Then I got on the train with my last $14 and headed back into Boston with no friends, no job, no credit card, no cell phone and nowhere to live.
My parents would have bought a ticket for me to come home if I’d asked, but I’d gotten myself into this jam and I was not quite ready for my adventure to be over. Even at 18, I was not the kind of woman that tucks tail and runs when things turn out to be harder than I’d anticipated.
Lacking any other options, I showed back up on the parsonage doorstep and asked if they would be willing to take me in until I could get back on my feet. These people had 3 small, I mean really small children. They were taking a colossal risk by agreeing to let me into their home, but they took a chance on me.
They were very clear about the rules of the house and what my responsibilities would be. I had a few chores and was instructed to give them the day’s notice if I intended to eat dinner with them. I was to pay rent weekly, though they would give me grace until I got my first paycheck.
I went immediately back into Boston and got a job at a restaurant as a cook. I worked very hard in a kitchen where heat exceeded 100 degrees nearly every single day that summer. I worked 8 hours every day with no breaks of any kind. Sounds nuts, but this was a high-volume restaurant in the touristy area known as Haymarket. Anyone remember a restaurant named Seaside? We cranked from the minute we got to work 9 until we ended our shifts at 5:00, dragging out the back door with our clothes soaked in sweat and smelling like fish.
I followed the rules at the pastor’s home, paid my bills as soon as I could and was a courteous guest. I still use many of the skills I learned from them. It was she that taught me advanced coupon-clipping and bargain hunting. The pastor took me out the night before trash day in an affluent community.
He showed me how to find furniture and other things that were still in great shape so I would be able to furnish my apartment when I was able to leave them. I learned more about being a great parent to small kids from them than anywhere else. They were just the best. They opened their home and their hearts to me, a very odd-looking teenage waif.
When I had saved enough to get my own apartment, I moved out on good terms. We kept in touch for many years. I was really grateful to them as it all took place, but now that I’m older and I’ve had kids of my own, I appreciate what they did for me even more. I think that’s why I have such a desire to help others who are in dire straights. I was given refuge, and now I want to show my gratitude by paying it forward.
I had done my best to be a conscientious guest, fulfill my obligations and repay my debts. I guess that’s why I’m stunned when I help others and they take my generosity as if it is owed them or get angry with me when I try to establish any type of expectations or boundaries.
I know that not everyone is like that. I want to believe that there are some really good people out there that just need a little help, a little kindness, a little generosity from a stranger.
It’s scary. But I think… sometimes… it is worth the risk.
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