If I hadn’t seen her for myself you would think I was simply making a stereotypical caricature here.
She shooed away the cleaning ladies as she made her way out of the house. Her beige, grey, off-white, spic and span house. The furniture was not suitable for children, making me wonder if her son was allowed in the front room at all. She sported fitted white jeans, a Tory Burch tunic, Jack Rogers, and pearls. I’m sure her watch was expensive and her diamonds real. She was also very thin and looked more hungry than happy.
We stood in her circular driveway outfitted in sneakers and shorts. We were wearing moving gear since we spent the morning driving to and fro picking up donated items to help a family outfit their new home. We had a backseat full of dishes, lamps, bedding, pillows, and sundry items that every home needs — batteries, cleaning supplies, toilet paper. We were now making our way to get the heavy stuff — mattresses, a couch, a small laminate kitchen table. All the trappings of a home were spread between our two cars. That home was a rather dismal patio level apartment with broken screens and stained carpet, but still, it beat being homeless.
We took a journey with a family who needed some help. I don’t know the details of their story but I do know our children were schoolmates. I do know that we had an energized group of moms at the ready so we literally rolled up our sleeves to help a family in crisis. It wasn’t the first time, and it wasn’t the last either. Homelessness plagues even the best of schools in these times. You might think you don’t know such people, but I assure you, you do.
As we heaved the mattress atop the car, the woman who donated it stood by (not offering a hand). She nervously toiled with her pearls and chattered absent-mindedly. We had paid no attention because heaving a mattress on top of a minivan when you are five feet tall is no easy feat, even with the tall friend doing the real heavy lifting. Her chatter was incessant and truthfully, annoying. I could also smell her cloying perfume, irritating me all the more as her country club perfection underscored my disheveled, sweaty, grubby state. Finally, as she clumsily twirled those pearls over and under betwixt her forefinger and thumb, she blurted out, “So who needs this mattress anyway?” We told her it was for a family transitioning out of homelessness.
She was aghast. “So, um how do y’all even know homeless people?”
You could tell she wanted some Listerine just for uttering the words “homeless people.” We told her we know the family from school. Again, she was aghast. “Y’all have homeless people in your school?” I swear, she was going to faint, and truth be told, we were in no position to catch her. We stayed calm and plastered on a smile. “Yes, yes we do. Several of them, actually. Times are tough. We are just glad to find a way to help.” We really wanted her to go back inside her house and stop talking to us.
She went on to tell us how her son’s private school was so generous because all the kids donated a dollar to wear jeans to school instead of their uniform and all the money went to charity. She simply beamed when she told us that some people even gave five dollars. She marveled at herself and seemed to be awaiting a pat on the back. We told her point blank that many people we know could not afford that dollar donation. Her eyes bugged out of her head at this point. She could have been Jeff Goldblum’s female twin. Again came the audible gasp.
She talked on and on about how times are indeed tough. We were waiting for a show of empathy here, a glimmer of compassion, an iota of sense. Nope. Instead she talked about how private school tuition is just so high and gas prices to drive her kid to school were just going to do her in. She pointed to her Volvo and said she simply must find a way to save money on gas. She apparently had to drive to and from school, tennis lessons, lacrosse practice, and all her errands, and the gas, the gas! was simply too much. “And did I mention how expensive tuition is? I mean, we just can’t catch a break.” She sighed here, a long, exasperated sigh.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, this fine-mannered, well coiffed debutante with a crew of cleaning people inside her stately home as we spoke was comparing her hard times to homeless family. Tough times indeed. Face palm.
What I really wanted to do was put my palm to her face…in the form of a fierce slap.