September 1, 2007


I just took a walk with my honey. We walked through the park that is located near my childhood home. As a child, I'd ride the 6 or 7 blocks to the park on my bike and play on the playground and hang out near the lake with my buddies. There were ducks, geese, giant pond-sized puddles when it rained, a horse chestnut tree - we'd collect them by the bagful, and the playground was the best I've seen. It had adult swings, baby swings, kid swings, a witch's hat, a gigantic high slide, lower slides, see-saws, and a jungle gym and other spinney rides. It was a great park, replaced now by a small plastic safer (boring) park.

As we walked I told my honey about how I tried to save a catfish there when I was very young. I guess I had taken a bucket down to the lake and while I was there, I found a dead catfish on the banks. (This lake was affected by a #1 superfund dump site when I was young, so it wasn't the cleanest lake in the world, but it was all we had and we liked it.) So, the lake was known to be polluted, almost synonymous with "polluted" and it was always sort of sad to see dead fish and trash floating around on it, as a child. I guess I thought that all the poor old fish would need was some cleaner water. So, I lugged it home in a bucket and I have a very clear memory of bringing it up to the hose on the side of our house and filling the bucket with clean water from my home. And watching. At the moment, I'm thinking any kid old enough to go to a park by herself oughta know that dead means permanently dead. But I think it was more about hope than dead fish. The lake was my playground and death and pollution just didn't fit. And the grown-ups seemed to be unconcerned and doing nothing about it.

There was another time that my friend Steph and I were wandering around the lake down near the dam, and there was a corner where all the trash seemed to collect. We just couldn't stand seeing all that trash crammed in there, boards, cartons, ropes, whatever, so we began pulling it out. Of course, we had no where to take the trash, so we piled it up on the bank which was right near a busy road, hoping that the town would come carry it away. Heck, we might even be thanked by the mayor or given some civic award, who knew! It was quite a gnarly pile by the time we finished, but again, at least it was out of the water and everyone knew that the water needed help. Next day, all the stuff was back in the lake. No one collected it, no one saw our work as important. That blew my little mind. Did someone really throw that back in the lake!?

Kids have a special kind of hope, don't they? They see a simple wrong and they see a simple way to right it. No red tape, just answers. Like that little girl, Alex, who made the lemonade stands to raise money for cancer. Simple as that. Once my friend Joanie and I decided we were going to walk around our neighborhood with a can and raise money for the poor. I told Joanie, I knew of a lady, as a matter of fact, who could use the money. She lived down the marsh road from my grandparents. Her name was Louise, she was a tall, thin, beautiful black lady and she lived in a teeny one room shack. My grandmother used to bring her dinner and my grandfather gave her vegetables from his garden. She was a kind woman and a wonderful friend to my grandmother. She was the only poor person I knew and my little child's heart knew she'd love the can of money we'd give her. Joanie and I lasted two or three houses before a neighbor called my mom and told her what we were up to. And that was that. I felt shame about it then, because the grown-ups had deemed my idea and my work silly or useless. It seemed so obvious to me - if everyone collected a little bit for a poor person they knew, the poor person wouldn't be so poor! Wouldn't that be a good thing?

When I became an adult, they cleaned up our lake and the dump that leeched poison into it. I've been told that some young children had the idea to house all the turtles of the lake while it was drained, to keep them safe and alive during the process. Those responsible for cleaning the lake provided a small trailer for them. When the lake was cleaned and ready for refilling, the turtles were returned to a cleaner, healthier home. At the time, the turtles seemed like a trifle compared to the long awaited and exciting process of getting our town lake cleaned. But it was all about believing something good could happen and having hope.

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