When all the grandkids were picking out televisions, furniture, dishes and jewelry boxes — and I got a few of those things, too — I took the spoon that always lived on the top of her washing machine. Years before, when her washer and dryer were in a grubby little room at the back of the garage, it lived on the windowsill.
Once, I was visiting and it was just me and my grandma there at her house on Main Street in Turkey, Texas, I wanted to use the spoon for some project or another and she explained that it was something a man had carved for her in exchange for her having given him a plate of food one day. He was on foot — I think she called him a hobo. She gave him a plate of whatever she’d made for lunch that day and a piece of cake, and he sat on her back porch and carved her this spoon to say thank you. I have no idea what year it was.
In 2008, I can’t even imagine what would happen if a “hobo” (translate to homeless man on foot in the middle of nowhere) walked up to my laundry room window and asked if I had anything I would give him to eat. I lived in the city almost all my life — and people don’t walk up to an open window and ask for food in the Dallas suburbs. If they do, you call 911 and a patrol car starts circling your block and cruising your alley. His clothes must have held the dust of a hundred miles — because that’s about how far my grandmother’s house is from a town of any size. (This is Texas after all….)
So, there alone at home, she had to decide whether he was dangerous or just hungry. Granted, people were always in and out of the house. Lunch at their house was never just her and granddad. He always invited people home, or one of his (or her) brothers and sisters would come in from the farms for a quick meal. It makes me wonder how often hungry people walked up to her window in those days. And as far as I’ve been able to figure out, she didn’t ever talk about it — nobody else in the family had ever heard the story of where that spoon came from.
So it makes me wonder where people like that go for meals now. When I was in New York in 1984 looking for a job so I could do the single parent thing while taking advantage of a chance I’d been given to go to film school, a man at one of the big churches gave me a map of the free hot meals. Manhattan in 1984 was not the Disney park it is now. This is when Times Square was all peep shows, dirty sidewalks, and pawn shops. In keeping with that atmosphere, you could walk from one end of the island to the other over the course of the week and get 17 free breakfasts, lunches, and dinners at a variety of churches, missions, soup kitchens, and parks.
I know there are food banks these days. And shelters for battered women and children. And shelters of other kinds. Mostly in large cities. Here in Lubbock, if you go to the public library or the downtown Walmart after 11:30pm, you see people bedding down for the night on the east side of the building to block the wind. A couple of public buildings leave a door unlocked at night so people can get in out of the weather, or to use the bathrooms to take a sink-bath and wash their hair with the liquid hand soap.
But food banks are inevitably for families and those with a kitchen. A food bank gives food components that can be assembled to make meals. Not just a plate of food. In fact — I haven’t seen an actual “soup kitchen” in more than 20 years.
Are charities still doing that? I’m pretty sure there aren’t people standing at their washroom window who are inclined to dish up a plate of stew and cornbread for a dusty, dirty, smelly, homeless guy who just says he’s hungry.
Is everybody eating these days? If so, where? Is there still a hot meal map of Manhattan?