Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hearing Voices

We didn’t have volunteers last week so I got caught up enough that I was able to spend some time cleaning out the tool trailer. Please note in case you come to a PDA camp any time soon: You do not need to bring work gloves. We have a zillion work gloves of every style and size. We have about 37 hammers. We also have about 76 plastic tool carriers designed to store the 76 tools but not a single tool is in these cases and I’m just about to throw them away but figure this is probably against the rules. So I just threw the cases in a pile in the back corner where they can’t get in anyone’s way. I know better than to change anyone’s habits. They’re never going to put the tools back in their cases. I like to pick my battles.

I continue to have animal encounters. I thought I was leaving the squirrels and mice and possums back home. But here in our camp we have raccoons now. The first night he broke into the dining tent and ate a box of Cheerios we didn’t know what kind of critter it was. But the second night he tore into a sack of lemonade mix then drug it toward the creek down a path between the tents that I now call Raccoon Highway. But the big mistake he made was spilling lemonade mix and leaving not only a trail but his footprints planted plainly in the mix. Perfect little raccoon prints. So we finally started listening to all the advice we were given to keep everything not only in plastic containers but the kind that have locking lids.

We get a real cross section of Presbyteriana here in camp. It’s no surprise that each group has their own special personality. I have to say that the group this week from Pittsford, New York has provided me more laughs than I’ve had in a long time.

First you need to remember that we’re in Mississippi here. Deep, rural Mississippi. The closest place-- well, the only place, in town to get a meal outside your own kitchen is the bar up on the highway. It’s called Turtle Landing and it’s a very laid back place where you can have a burger and a beer out on the landing and watch the wildlife. I hear you can feed the turtles and an occasional alligator from the dock. They don’t serve any of that fancy stuff like wine and the place is usually full of cigarette smoke. On nights like Sunday’s Super Bowl it was only natural that the Pittsford group wanted to visit Turtle Landing to watch the New York Giants play.

They came home with an explanation of a sign Turtle Landing has had outside for months now that proclaims Sundays are “Chicken Drop” night. All the times I passed the sign I just assumed this meant some kind of deep fried chicken meal they sold on Sundays. Oh, no. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Chicken Drop” is a game. I haven’t actually seen it played but the explanation was that they have an enclosed pen with a grid marked on the floor. Inside each square is a number. You pay for a number. At the prescribed moment they put the chicken into the pen while everyone sits and enjoys their beer watching it walk around inside the pen. If the chicken poops into the square you chose you win and get the prize money. I’m not sure if the bar keeps part of the pot or if the winner gets it all. But it set the church from Pittsford to thinking.

They decided it would make a dandy fund-raiser for mission trips to Mississippi. They started talking about how they could do this. I’m still not totally sure how serious they are about it but the conversation was the perfect way to unwind from the day.

First, they had to discuss if owning chickens was legal in Pittsford and how they could find one. And did this constitute cruelty to animals? No, they decided, since pooping is a perfectly healthy and normal thing for a chicken to do. Then, could they do this inside the church or outside? If outside, the dates for the Drop would have to wait until winter was passed. Nobody wanted the poor pooping chicken to have to walk around in the cold. Everyone was interested in how fast the chicken would produce a winner but no one knew much about the bowel habits of chickens. I suspect it takes a while and that the real goal of the game is drinking a lot of beer.

Then, where else could the conversation go after that but forming a committee? And, no name would do but the obvious: The Chicken Shit Committee. Each person at the table, including myself, decided we had served on this committee in the past and could probably chair one ourselves simply through our vast experience.

I enjoyed our laughter. It helped me when I remember the lady Shirley Thompson took me to meet yesterday. Shirley is an old friend I met over a year ago. I worked on her house two separate times; once hauling sheetrock and then finishing her bathroom. I installed Shirley’s toilet. Stuff like that bonds people.

But once Shirley got into her house she didn’t sit back and rest. She’s been a tireless advocate for the others in Pearlington who aren’t in a house yet. She calls herself their voice. She speaks up for the timid or frail ones who can’t speak up for themselves.

The lady Shirley took me to see is in her 70's. She’s living with her handicapped husband in a shed. There's no other way to describe it. It's a nice shed with windows and a bathroom but it's still what I would call a shed. It was built by a team of well-meaning folks right after the storm when there weren't even FEMA trailers yet. The trouble is that this lady is not pushy and apparently was fairly content to have a shed after surviving the storm by grabbing any wood she could find to float around on for eight hours. The husband kept hold of his walker with his teeth. Stuff like that I guess makes you grateful enough to live in a shed for over two years without complaining. Except that now they have rats in the house.

Their clothes are in piles all over the house because the shed doesn't have closets. There are piles and sacks of food in the kitchen because there are no shelves in the shed, either. So the rats have a welcome mat set out for them.

I’m not really an emotional person when I’m faced with tragedies like Katrina but when I visited yesterday it was all I could do to not cry. I've seen master bedrooms bigger than this shed that she's been living in for over two years with a husband who can’t walk, who she has to bathe (after taking more sacks of stuff out of the tub because there are no shelves in the bathroom either). Then there's the moldy wall where the shower has leaked through the wall.

And here's the kicker:She never applied for a FEMA trailer because she had this brand new shed when they came around offering trailers. She can't get a MEMA cottage (the Mississippi version of FEMA) without having had a FEMA trailer. She probably qualifies for lots of help but hasn't applied for anything. Life in rural Mississippi trained her to not ask for anything because she probably won't get it. In the meantime, she and her husband are living in this shed with no closets, no shelves, moldy walls, rats, and all their possessions in bags scattered around every inch of the place.

This lady needs a “voice” like Shirley Thompson or myself. This lady needs a house. Even the Chicken Shit committee knows that.

1 comment:

dfw said...

maybe the chicken shit committee could do a fundraiser for her. thanks for your voice and occassional squack. love you lots dfw