Who left this gift horse on my lawn?

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

What a strange proverb. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m happy enough about leaving those nasty teeth alone, but who’s going to clean up all that stinkin’ mess?

Today, I received another hamper from the Food Bank. I have always been a supporter of the Food Bank. I used to include $5 – $10  for a donation in my grocery shopping. Sometimes it was more. When I had babies, I bought extra diapers, or organic baby food. I always bought things I would buy for myself. I tried to keep my donations healthy.

I never thought I would need the Food Bank myself. Life throws it at you sometimes, though, and here I am.

I am grateful for the help. I am.

The fact that it takes me days to get through to the Food Bank to ask for a hamper is a testament to a lot of issues. One, those Food Bank workers – many of them volunteers – work hard. Lots of hungry people in Edmonton (16,000, a worker told me), and lots of people trying to help. But this blog is about a day in the life of me, a struggling Phoenix. So I will tell you what it’s like to be on the receiving end of generosity.

In the spirit of another proverb…

…a picture is worth a thousand words…

…I offer you the following:

Would you like cream with your coffee?
Would you like cream with your coffee?

The Food Bank worker took my request for a hamper and asked if I had any dietary restrictions. In an effort to avoid a past situation involving a fridge full of more past due date yogurt than anyone could possibly eat in time (believe me, we tried), I asked for “no dairy”.


Do note that these 7 one litre cartons of coffee cream are “lactose free”. Their Best Before date is June 12, two days from today. So if you know me, please drop by for a coffee. Really. Please.

A Food Bank volunteer said that all you need to do is add water and you’ve got milk.

Coffee Cream Label
Coffee Cream Label – just add water?
2% milk label
2% milk label – a few more nutrients, even considering the difference in portions…

I guess there are people who do these kinds of things – add water to coffee cream. I know they are trying to “make it work” for their families. But coffee cream is not just milk with less water. It is a nutritionally different food. In fact, some argue it’s not really a food at all, given its high fat content and lesser nutrition.

While my kids and I are highly unlikely to starve, this reminds me of an article I read once talking about how Third World women in poverty who use baby formula were seeing their babies suffer from malnutrition. Why? In order to stretch out their resources, they were watering down their baby formula.  Right sentiment. Wrong information, and inadequate resources.

Back to the gift horse proverb. I am touched by the efforts of ordinary people to help out others in need. But what do we understand about people in need? For most of us, people in need seem like they are part of a different plane of existence. We can’t understand how they’re lives have come to this point. I’m basing my assumption on memories of what I felt or believed before finding myself in this situation. I had compassion, but no empathy. I see that now. Why would I? Surely I would never face hunger for my family or foreclosure on my house. How does someone let things go so horribly wrong? How can it be possible?

Fast forward. It is now June 15, 2014. Yesterday, this happened:


Actually, a bunch of stuff happened yesterday. Most of it was the kind of stuff Lawrence and I will remember for a very long time – in a good way. It made the not so great stuff – like backing into a taxi at an intersection – not so stressful.

In the midst of dealing with the fender bender (no one was hurt), Lawrence and I goofed around together, as we always do. The accident happened at an intersection in our neighbourhood where prostitutes hang out to, um, promote their business. There is also a bus stop, which reminds me of another proverb: location, location, location.

This corner is weirdly intriguing to me. I see women of all shapes and sizes standing there in all weather, at all times of the day, any day. I always hope they’re waiting for a bus. Generally, I know they are not. So yesterday, as we stood on that corner, waiting for the taxi supervisor to show up (yes, we backed into a taxi. Sigh.), I noticed two things which might have made the day end very badly for me.

First, I noticed that the sundress I was wearing was showing lots of cleavage. Like, lots. Like, summer festival lots, if you know what I mean (I was being treated to a BBQ festival in the park – yum). Standing on that corner, though, I started to realize that in a non-summer festival, it could look like a different kind of lots of cleavage. Or the same kind, but somehow not so bad…

I don’t know. Boobs are confusing, you know?

So I started to joke about it.

Me and the girls.
Me and the girls.

Second, I noticed a woman hanging out alone on the corner. Buses passed. She remained. One thing I’ve learned about prostitutes on a corner is that they actually do not look like, well, like I guess I looked at that moment. Not the typical cleavage revealing, thigh high stilettos from movies. No. Think over-sized hoodies, rolled-waist, baggy sweatpants and sneakers-even-in-winter.

On this beautiful June day, think black spandex leggings and sports bra. Think over-packed back pack (and then say it five times fast) on her shoulders. Think short buzzed hair and square glasses. Picture all of this on a middle aged, life-ravaged body after years on the streets, in “the system”. Think facial features suggesting FAE (fetal alcohol effect). Think sad.

Why might the day have ended badly for me? Because of my sense of curiousity mixed with shock, and a sense of humour that sometimes doesn’t know when to leave it alone. In that moment, I forgot that my  humour can be cutting and inappropriate. Humour walks that line, after all. I forgot that I was talking about a person.

I was talking to Lawrence about cleavage (mine) and incredulously at the impossibility of some people being a hooker (her). She overheard me. She let us know she heard me. This is a woman who clearly did not attend finishing school. Well, neither did I, apparently, but I have some idea of what women study there, so I knew enough not to engage with her. Plus I was scared.

For the next half hour or so, while we dealt with the taxi driver, the taxi supervisor and all the routine of a fender bender, she hovered around us. She moved from one side of the block to the next, yelling, swearing, blowing raspberries while flippin’ the bird at us (hard not to laugh, but unnerving as well). And she screamed at us about judgement and how we don’t know what it’s like to be homeless.

Where am I going with this?

Well, I have to realize, and admit it. At that moment, I forgot there was a person there. In my moment, I was reacting to my situation. I was laughing about the sex trade (whilst jokingly comparing myself to it). I am genuinely intrigued and horrified and amused all at once when I see prostitutes and wonder about their lives.

How does anyone get to that point?

I forgot, in that moment, that I am under scrutiny I never imagined I would experience. When I thought about it that way, I realized that recently I have felt something of her rage. But not nearly as much. This new rage happens at a level I’ve never understood before, because lately I’ve felt humiliated in a similar way. It’s short lived rage, though. I don’t feel like it belongs to me. I don’t feel like this will be my life forever. And for all that, I feel ashamed, now, for seeing her as a nameless, faceless intrigue of mine. I ignored her intrinsic personhood.

The good news is, I also feel compassion. I don’t feel angry at the Food Bank (and all the people behind it, including donators and workers) for giving me a ridiculous amount of lactose free coffee creamer and passing it off as nutritious. I feel sad for them that there is no way I will use four bunches of green onion in the short time before they begin to rot. What can I do? Donate them to someone? Maybe I’ll bring them to a soup kitchen. That’s a good idea. I can grab a meal while I’m there. I hear they’re pretty good. Hey! Maybe they can use some of that coffee cream, too! For coffee. I mean. ‘Cause, you know, they serve lots of coffee at those places…

10 thoughts on “Who left this gift horse on my lawn?”

  1. Lovely brave piece. I do admire you’re willingness to dance on thin ice. And a cooking hint: Take green onions, and bil them in water till they’re dead…but you’ll have a good broth base for soup. Break an egg in it.. and it’s egg drop soup.

    Lactose free coffee creamer I’m still pondering. Maybe a running start at becoming a cat lady? No, probably not….


      1. Actually, Lawrence’s dad volunteers at a resource centre for homeless people. I think they actually could use the creamers. I sent one to my Ex’s with the kids (lol). And I’m keeping one. It’s like Christmas around here…


  2. My son has been volunteering at the local food bank since he was 10. They provide such a needed service for the community, plus I wanted to cultivate compassion in him at an early age. Too funny about where you got into the accident, sun dress and all. 😉


    1. Thanks. I really am a supporter of the food bank and organizations like it in the community. Can’t wait until I’m back on the giving end! Good for you and your son, to take an active role in making your community a better place to live.


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