Empty Spaces

So we’re well into a another week… which is it now, the fourth? Fifth? The time is going so quickly, it’s hard to believe us Hestoners are already more than halfway done. But I feel that all of us have been making the best of our limited time, and by the time the end of the summer comes we will have all grown and learned through are various experiences. I feel very deeply entrenched right now – in my home life with my fellow interns, in the kitchen, in the senior center, and in the community as a whole. The next few weeks promise to be as busy and interesting as ever. Last week seemed to be filled with empty spaces, and strangely quiet. Yaou was in Texas the entire week, and the CPS office has been lonely without Tammy and Kim. Even the LIU houses we delivered to seemed empty, especially on the 4th. Melanie, Maura and I delivered the bags in the sweltering heat, hoping to finish early so we could enjoy the holiday. As we drove down Chambersburg St. groaning about the weather, I kept thinking about what you other Hestoners were doing on the holiday. I felt that we were probably all out working that day, connected by our common cause of community service. The thought made me feel better, and somehow connected with all of you. But my peace of mind was temporary; as Melanie and I hopped out of the car and made our way to the back of a run-down home on the delivery route, a snarling dog leapt forward, growling and straining on his leash. We pounded on the door, terrified, but no one came. Another empty home. And the poor vicious dog, in his own empty space. Loneliness does cruel things to animals and people alike. Back at the senior center, loneliness is something we deal with on a regular basis. Some of the seniors seem to droop with the weight of it, while others still maintain a social life. The difference in the behavior of the social ones and the solitary ones is sharp. Myrtle, an old lady who sits in the same chair at the back of the center every day, rarely speaks. We make puzzles, and have fallen into a routine of silent concentration that also involves a balancing act of helping her just enough to avoid seeming patronizing. I can never really tell if she enjoys the company or not, but she always says yes when I ask if she’d like to make a puzzle, and on rare occasions she smiles or laughs. This Tuesday, we had the longest conversation yet. On the 5th of July, she spoke up with surprising feeling, revealing that no one came to visit her during the holidays anymore, but she had grown used to it. She spent the 4th alone in the senior center, like many of the others. I can no longer begrudge her for saying little, or seeming unfriendly towards me when I’m trying to keep her company. Empty spaces and loneliness do unkind things to people.

Monday was busier than usual, 7 people signed up to volunteer at the kitchen. Melanie and I struggled to keep up with all the extra people, and spent much of the shift squeezing past awkward youths and cleaning up messes. But things went smoothly, and during the LIU delivery at 4:30 I spoke more Spanish than I ever had before. I felt comfortable speaking it for once, and they welcomed my (awkward) comments and requests with smiles and armloads of old LIU bags (it’s always a struggle to get the re-usable cloth bags back each week!)

Tuesday was also a rush, as we prepared an extra meal for the evening along with our usual gardening/social activities at the senior center. Still no hose at the center, so Melanie and I trekked in and out of the building with our watering cans as usual.

Melanie turned 20 on Wednesday! We crawled out of bed early to clean containers for MOW, and Melanie started work at CPS around 10 as I made my way to my second job (landscaping) for a rushed 2 hours of mulching and weeding. By the end of the day we had both worked roughly 11 hours, as Melanie wanted to compensate for missing work this coming Friday (adventures in Philly and Boston!) Luckily, Maura was sweet enough to bake us a beautiful birthday cake topped with cream and raspberries. After a hectic trip to buy each other birthday presents at Walmart (the hectic part is a long story…) we returned home to birthday celebrations. It was a wonderful, laughter-filled evening that I will always remember. I cant even say I minded the long day, because it all ended beautifully and everything I did that day was fulfilling and eye-opening. Once again, we had 7 helpers in the kitchen. Once again, it looked as if a food explosion had occurred. But hey, no one cut themselves, burned anything down, or flooded the kitchen. And the meals were all on time! I stayed up waiting for the clock to hit 12AM. I’m 21 as of today, so I guess you could say this is the last birthday to look forward to… but the way I see it, it’s all uphill from here if I can keep having experiences like the ones I’ve been having this summer.

I feel like I need to take a minute to nerd out about our garden at the senior center now… It’s BEAUTIFUL, and watching it grow makes me burst with pride. See, I said I would nerd out. Anyway, we uncovered the kale and it seems to be taking the heat well. The herbs are thriving, having recovered from the blisteringly hot week following their transplant. Melanie and I have been picking the first cherry tomatoes and zucchini, and we even got a few cucumbers! The seniors really seem to appreciate the garden too – they enjoy the fresh veggies we bring in (they always vanish quickly from the basket we leave them in) and they are constantly commenting on how nice the garden looks and how hard we’ve worked on it. Lastly, we may finally get a water hose – yay! Okay, farm nerd is retreating now…

I guess I should end this because it’s getting pretty long-winded. I’ll upload some photos (including updated ones of the garden!!) soon. Now that I have a working laptop, I won’t have to play catch-up so much. The empty spaces are filling themselves up, little by little. The CPS office is full of conversation and the sounds of construction, and Kim and Tammy will be back soon! On Monday and Wednesday, almost all of the homes we delivered too opened their doors to us with smiles and bags (yay!) And today, Myrtle talked and laughed more than she ever has. I think she may actually like me a little bit =)

Chandra

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