Saturday, August 30, 2008

the vacation exception

Thursday was a highlight to the vacation week, a reality check, a grounding experience.

Because I work and hour out of the Berkshires I am not as involved here as I wish I could be. While I connect with groups on nights and weekends there is this whole part that is missed.

Thursday I had the pleasure of accompanying my teens when the did their monthly work at a community dinner. They've been doing this for years but it is late afternoon when I am usually still at work. Rather than drop them off I joined them in-case they were short volunteers due to vacation, which they were.

At 3pm volunteers gather in the kitchen and its all hands on deck setting tables, making salad, preparing a main course, making the lemonade, cutting bread, helping make dessert, firing up the dishwasher and ovens. The menu varying by what might have been donated or purchased from its donations. Tonight it was stuffed shells and sauce, sauteed peppers, salad, brownies and lemonade. A team of volunteers, part of a bigger group of teams that rotate through 2 nights a week throughout the month.

About 430 people start drifting in sitting down, visiting. Some know each other other do not, some I know are homeless, some with issues, some just at a down swing of life.

At 5:15 I joined the volunteers as we served the 100 guests at their tables. A reason this is a community dinner and not a soup kitchen, people are served with greetings and kindness just as you would expect at a restaurant. People came up for seconds and often complimented the cooks and volunteers.

So what struck me about this this? The humanity of it all.

One team of volunteers worked set up and another served and did clean-up. (we stayed to do both) Three hours of work with friendly people who clearly had no pretense that they were doing charity work, they were serving people who could use a good meal. That was it.

What also struck me were the guests, the span of ages and appearances. There was a politeness and gratitude that was natural and genuine from both volunteers and guests.

Then 3 hours later the guests had left, the dishes were washed and away, the tables wiped down and floor washed and the recycling put in the bin. Just as quickly as they had arrived the volunteers had all drifted away. Some to return the next night, some the next week and some the next month.

As we left for home and for our own dinner I felt good that this was just a normal occurrence for my kids and something they actually looked forward to and recruited friends to fill in, good that I knew all the volunteers and was part of the church that sponsored the dinners, good that this was available for those who needed it for what ever reason even if the only reason was that they didn't want to eat alone.

This is one of those quiet parts of the Berkshires. Its not for the tourists, it doesn't involve the arts but is part of the fabric of life.

So I guess in the context of things my last post was whining. Compared with many that I saw here and having great kids who want to do things like this and want to have me along with them I can put up with the distress of the ants.


Anonymous said...

Jeff, I don't know you but I occasionally drop by having stumbled in a while back.

What amazes me about your writing and perhaps you, is that you seem to be able do a complete 180 through your writing. The post about blahs, then your rotten vacation and then this poinant piece about working at a community dinner seems to bring you out of the slump. I don't know if it did or if its just good writing.

I like it. Keep on.


janet said...

Your kids sound like nice people.

Jeff- in the Berkshires said...

Yes my kids are genuinely nice people who fun and I like to be around.