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Judy Atchinson's A Stubborn Woman
by Judy Atchinson

A Stubborn Woman

A Daily Gazette community blog
QUEST leader's wanderings and musings

Remembering those less fortunate

"Heart of Gold"

Somebody somewhere told me gold does not tarnish; I wish I could find them now and show them the hole in my chest and prove them wrong to their face, in my lap, it’s beaten with dents and flat on one side. Is this always why I have water in my eyes, is this the reason I look to the sky and with all the faith that I possess to still ponder thoughts and question him, my lord why?

Tell me there is a place where I get this fixed; I’ll bring all the chipped pieces along with the tiny particles and that should do the trick. Put a red label on it, tell them it’s an emergency and I need help STAT, no time to fill out paperwork or the reason for a visit just take it out of my hand and it’s all remnants and tell me you could fix this, somebody..? Anybody?

They came to a conclusion, that is; this heart of gold could never be fixed. It has extreme wear and tear from where I let everybody in, friends and family and lovers and actions that cannot be repaired, so I sat there with a stare and gazed into space thinking how I love so much and give all of me and throwing smiles out of my face when I didn’t have the energy but I still ran the race and didn’t complain, kept on sharing as if things were the same, and accommodating those who did nothing but bring me pain.

I’m praying they can soak it in an element that can bring the pieces together, that can maybe make it stronger or harder, even weather resistant, tell me it will keep from absorbing things that are false, tell me I’ll love again or even care, tell me it’s not true. Somebody, anybody should know what to do. Why did somebody tell me a heart of gold does not tarnish, when mine has stopped working and has withered like no metal should…"

-- Dorothy Daniels

This is a magnificent poem and a vision of life being overcome instead of being overcome by life. Dorothy, who is a gritty, determined woman who is moving forward, has lots of education and has a personality of strength and good cheer. One of my girls who grew up here is carrying the torch of success forward; I come away every day with more and more respect and awe at the way these people handle the constant hurdles and pitfalls thrown their way.

This Thursday, QUEST will have a Thanksgiving Family meal given by Elaine for her family and friends, many if not most of whom have grown up here. I too, will stop over to eat some southern homestyle Thanksgiving cooking. I note that Kathleen Moore is writing about eating and cooking a goose. And boy do I remember that one. My daughter cooking a freshly killed goose from a nearby farm. I felt as if we were taking part in a Charles Dickens Home Page event. Maybe it was the way we cooked it or maybe it was an elderly goose, but it was tough, dry and stringy.

I don’t eat much meat, actually no one at our house does, so the smell of meat is the aroma da jour -- the dog and cat make the kitchen their hangout all day, and the warmth from the oven is enough to make me want to settle in too. I like to go for a long walk after we eat just as the lights are going on in peoples living rooms. The yellow light streaming through the windows makes everything look enchanted. Thanksgiving is such a simple holiday -- family and a good meal, a gathering before winter.

And yes, winter is on its way and all of us lucky enough to have the necessities need to start sharing and embracing those who do not. We do a clothing drive and Toys For Tots. We open our building to share warmth and clothes and good food, presents, even laundry detergent and diapers. We sing, we dance, we decorate, we draw community right in our doors. We have an 8-foot tree which is mostly decorated with paper chains, and we have our 6-foot Santa who sings in 6 languages and works on a motion sensor so that after a while some one says “that damn thing is driving me batty,” and turns it off.

We put out food for animals; feral cats are everywhere. I will never forget J-Shawn’s remark when he saw a cat climb out of the dumpster. “Is that where he goes to eat when he can’t find his mother?”

I hope I teach my children to care. Perecca’s gave us pizza and bread all fresh and made on the day they deliver it to us. And then kids and I climb in the car and deliver -- Steimmetz-Yates, families in Belleview, Veterans Park, Church Suppers and Soup Nights and Dunkin Donuts. There’s always a group of homeless men hanging near Dunkins, going inside to get warm, coming out to stand by the sign. Ty-Quan brought out a huge box of pizza to give and they were saying things like, “God Bless You."

Ty was crying when he got back in. if you remember from last year, he had been locked out of his apartment and lost everything. This year things are not much better except his report card -- the lowest grade being A-. I am taking him shopping for some warm clothes. And yet, still he has not become a tough guy. He loves to deliver food, he sees things that sometimes I don’t even notice, like the girl wearing a blanket for a coat or the baby in the stroller with no shoes or socks. His voice has just changed; it must have dropped a whole octave, and on the phone I never know who it is when he calls. He is in the middle school now and of course I worry, but he seems to be the yenta of the pack, and his Facebook page is full of friends who listen to his advice. He is the Dear Abby of the Ghetto.

Actually so many of my kids are growing up. The second generation to do so at QUEST. And they seem (most of them at least) to be leaning in the right direction. Yet, they still miss the old site, and we drive by from to time and talk wistfully of the past and the good times. It’s been a long arduous journey full of pitfalls and hills to be climbed. But the journey has been mostly fruitful, it fills my life like a steaming cup of tea to warm my hands and my belly.

Queen of Sheba

Now on another note, I had my two-month check-up this week. My surgeon shook my hand and congratulated me on my remarkable progress, had me touch my toes and told me I could take a bath. Tuesday night -- 10 P.M. -- hot hot water -- baby oil -- baking soda and lots of bubbles and me rolling about like the Queen of Sheba. One of the highlights of my life. I enjoyed every milisecond of it.

City's poverty

I remind you that the budget deficit for Schenectady is making lots of news, but what is being not addressed is the fact that Schenectady has more poverty than any other city in this state. In the whole state. How can we come downtown when the entire rest of the city -- except for a few small pockets -- are dying. The Jack Falvo House is no more -- it never got to open. The folks who live in the G.E. plot petitioned for it not to be allowed to open. All that work and money. The Falvo House was going to be Ellis Hospital's answer to a Ronald McDonald House. We have nothing like that in our fair city. Again it shows how we are lacking in concern and consideration.

This lovely older home was sold to the Falvo Foundation to be used as a place of respite for families of the long term ill at Ellis and Sunnyview. It was in memory of young Jack Falvo who died at an early age. Again all our surrounding cities have such facilities and this is right across from Ellis, a perfect situation. This would be helping families going through tough times. And it has been spectacularly remodeled. I don’t remember this city being so self-centered when I was growing up. I would rather it be remembered as a city who cares and offers substantive programs than one who clears the streets of homeless folk every time there is a show downtown.

It is a never ceasing conundrum how there are extra police, (on foot no less) for downtown events but not enough for the downtrodden parts of the city. Driving up Western Avenue in Albany this week I passed a large community center in gentle disrepair with a huge sign saying, “After School Homework Help” P.A.L.! PAL standing for Police Athletic League. Imagine, they raise their own money and ran countless programs in the worst parts of the city. All as volunteers.

When and how do we catch up? Yes we have a Green Market, but so does everyone else, and we were late to that table. (No Pun Intended.) And Saratoga’s Farmers Market is the third best in the whole country. Little Saratoga, much smaller than we are, really leading the way to gracious urban living that is all-inclusive. Best small city in the country with no Broadway shows, but drummers and folk musicians busking on the street. Outstanding jazz clubs and folk venues, a city that invites you to free food and free fireworks and free seats.

By the way where have all our benches gone on State Street? No place to sit anymore. Many of us remember where Papa Chico’s was and how we would sit on a bench and eat his calzones. Someone asked a few days ago where the eatery went -- Upper Crane Street, I see that on my travels too. I see a dying city and a thriving upper Union Street, food hitting all ends of the spectrum, from barbeque to sushi to deli -- to pizza to bagels to Stewarts to even Dunkin Donuts. Again no theater but it is a theater of food and people and color and a farmer’s market also. Gee whiz guys, take the opportunity, learn from others. It’s all right to steal ideas if you use them gently and wisely. A livable city -- there’s an idea whose time has come. Take care of your own population before you sell tickets to visitors.

Shortage of presents

And now that I’m on a roll, let me talk about “Toys For Tots,” that venerable Semper Fi Marines run. This year they have changed, with no warning, their venues. It is not enough to enter a 501 C.3 number, you must send the whole sheet. We at QUEST are not bothered by this, it is an extra bother but we can handle it. But, and it is a big but, many of the smaller churches in the Hill and Vale community are not federally registered as non-profits. So this year, the first year ever, at least in Schenectady, these churches will have no access to these all important gifts and toys.

As usual, this will affect the poorer families in our city. So couldn’t we all step up and stick our hands in our pockets and come up with some money and toys? And couldn’t the city throw a massive downtown party with carolers walking around, popcorn vendors, chili sites, maybe some soups and coffees and hot chocolate? Couldn’t we have a Santa and a Queen of Winter to distribute presents? Couldn’t some theater show free cartoons and movies and of course have some fireworks. Why not? Everything free of course.

Sure we have a budget crunch, but if everyone did their part we could travel back to the glory days that were once Schenectady. Businesses could volunteer. Those with the most could give the most. And security (I’m talking to the police here) should be free. Let’s see the police open their hearts too. No, I am not dreaming, I am talking reality; le'ts use all the options we are always talking about for our own extended family and let’s have it downtown under the lights. Let’s help to give a little awe and joy to ourselves and our children.

Life reclaimed

Now, I started this blog talking about broken hearts; let's end it with life reclaimed.

What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down bedside this man, his hands on her shoulder, and her arm on his. What young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly as if it were a cookie on a platter! No, if love was available, one chose it or didn’t choose it.

So if this man next to her was not a man she would have chosen before this time, what would it matter? He most likely wouldn’t have chosen her either. But here they were, such holes they brought to this union -- what pieces life took out of you.

Her eyes where closed, and throughout her tired self swept waves of gratitude and regret. She pictured the sunny room, the sun-washed wall, the bayberry outside. It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet.

-- Elizabeth Strout

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