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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A busy week in mid-November--1939 and now.

November still offers beauty in my yard.
When I sat down to write this blog post I saw two books on my desk: my father's 1939 diary and my beloved, dog-eared dictionary. How ironic that, instead of getting to work on my writing, I would waste the time I have too little of by thumbing through the dictionary to look up the word "busy." It isn't as though I don't already know what it means. 

Maybe I needed to focus on the word I would use as my excuse for not producing a post for eight days. The dictionary provided  these definitions relating to my busy week: "engaged in action," "full of activity," and "full of distracting details." That sounded right, but it would take opening the diary to put everything into perspective. 

I'm not complaining. My life here in Tacoma overflows with people and activities that interest and excite me. During the past eight days I attended a writers' event in Seattle as well as the Arts Symposium sponsored by the Tacoma Arts Commission, and did two interesting interviews for articles. I even had the experience of being in the Blue Mouse Theater when the power went out during Monday night's big wind storm

I enjoy my life, my husband, socializing when I can, my dozens of projects, and of course, writing. But sometimes I still feel overwhelmed with all the things that keep me so busy that I've tried unsuccessfully for months to meet a special lifelong friend for lunch. It's November and another year is almost gone. I need to think more about what really matters, like seeing my friend.

By reading Dad's words, I realize the difference between a life where busy means hectic and one where busy meant the kind of hard work required just to live, but balanced with many simple joys. In my parents' generation, people did a lot of hard physical work, but I think they maintained more balance in their lives. Here are some excerpts from Dad's diary during this week in November 1939, when he drove a freight truck from Vashon Island to both Seattle and Tacoma, sometimes both during the same day, to support his wife and two young sons.

Dad circa 1939
Sun. Clear and sunny most of the day. I worked all day repairing and painting the truck body. Rosalie did her washing this afternoon.(They didn't have an automatic washer back then, and drying took place on the clothesline, IF the weather cooperated. It was a chore that could take up most of a day, worthy of mention in a diary.)

Mon. Last night at 11:45PM we had quite a hard earthquake. Some damage was done in most Western Washington towns. The European war threatens to break out in earnest at any time now.

Tue. A very bad day. I clipped a curb in town (meaning in Tacoma, during his freight truck route) and cut a big gash in one of my rear tires. Forgot my lunch pail. Got a dent in my front fenders hauling wood. What a day. What a day.

Wed. A beautiful, bright Fall day. Max and I loaded an ice cream cabinet at Robbins store this P.M. 790 lbs. Danny is right up to par again.(His two-year-old son had been sick.) Hauled four heifers on one load for Ed Lande today. (Lande owned a dairy on the island.)

Thurs. Had quite a row over the price of hauling the cabinet. We practiced the second degree at lodge this evening. Played cards till after eleven o'clock. Rainy tonight.

Mom and son "Danny"
Fri. An Acme transfer truck dented my right fender in the alley back of Fisher Co. this A.M. I don't know how I'll come out on it.

Sat.Brought Dad's big truck over so I can use it tomorrow for a moving job. We went for a ride after supper this evening. Dad and Mom went to the show. Beautiful night.

My parents' diaries from those early years of their marriage are full of descriptions of exhausting physical labor and tedious household chores. But while they had very little money and no modern conveniences, they enjoyed life in ways that cost them nothing and gave them everything that really mattered. They visited friends and family constantly, shared suppers, played cards, went on picnics, attended lodge meetings, parties, and dances. People babysat each others' children so the parents could go to "the show" at the island's theater. And they helped each other with everything from hemming new curtains to building barns. Along with the hard work, the diaries describe a time during which people never seemed too busy for each other.

Dad lived to the age of 96. That's a lot of years. But once, near the end of his life, he told me those early years, even though they included the Depression, were the best of all. I hope I will always remember, no matter how busy my day or my week, to notice and be grateful for every "Beautiful night." Be busy, but remember to be happy too.

 Copyright 2010 Candace J. Brown

Monday, November 8, 2010

Shared Housing Services Makes "Home for the Holidays" More Than a Dream

     Lisa Conklin and I both love our work, but the tough decisions her job requires make me shiver as much as some of the people who need her help, many literally out in the cold. As a writer, I make decisions about things like which word to use in a certain place. As Program Assistant and Case Manager for the Transitional Family Housing branch of Shared Housing Services here in Tacoma, Conklin has to choose which families, from among the many worthy applicants, will end up with a temporary home and practical help in starting a more stable life. A word left out of a story feels no pain. A homeless child left without shelter does.
     "I currently have two, 'one-plus' bedroom units available," Conklin said. "However, I have about seven families that are looking for housing. The majority are living with friends, 'couch surfing.' One is staying in the car and motels when they can afford them."
     In addition to providing opportunities for home sharing through their Referral/Match service, SHS owns about a dozen housing units for their Transitional Family Housing program. It isn't a handout. The program offers a hand up, a chance for families to recuperate from whatever situation caused them to be homeless in the first place. The head of the family needs to at least be looking for a job and they do pay a modest amount for rent while receiving mentoring, counseling, and educational classes in life management skills and parenting.
      Have you ever tried to prepare for a job interview when you have no good clothes, no shower, no child care, and not even a good night's sleep because you spent it in a car? I can't think of anything more depressing, except not even having the car for shelter. Even people with homes, a wardrobe, and easy access to good hygiene can't find work these days, so imagine the courage it takes to even try when you have so many disadvantages. But by offering basic stability, SHS makes all the difference. They have permanently changed lives. You can read all about it in a feature article I wrote for a website called Neighborhood Life. The success stories told there will warm your heart, just as they do Conklin's.

SHS clients know the meaning of Thanksgiving

     That's all good, but in today's tough economy the need keeps growing. Each month Shared Housing Services meets 400 NEW individuals seeking alternative housing through their Referral/Match and Transitional Housing programs combined. That means 1,600 homeless people in this local community alone will desperately need the help of SHS between November 2010 and February 2011, the coldest months of the year.        
       "There is a tremendous need for affordable housing," Conklin said,"and with the holiday season fast approaching, a place to call 'home' is very important!" Your help could change the lives of people who are trying hard to get back on their feet. Please consider getting involved in this exercise in compassion. If you'd like to help, please click on this link.
         Many people in Tacoma have made a commitment to SHS. "A great big 'thank you' goes out to Auto Warehousing Company for supplying our TFH families and staff with Thanksgiving turkeys every year!" Conklin said. Her gratitude reflects that of all the familes she's met and helped.
     In the words of SHS Executive Director Byron Cregeur, "There is probably no other time of the year when a home is so much more than just a place to live. Home is where we invite friends and family to our house for a feast and they are greeted with the aroma of turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving! Home is where your Christmas tree comes alive with ornaments of memories..."
         I've met some of these kids and I hate to think of their memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas involving hunger and cold. Don't you? They are our fellow Americans, right here at home, and many more live only one missing paycheck away from the same situation. Think about it, please.

Remember that many victims of homelessness are children.

Photos are the property of Shared Housing Services and cannot be used without permission. Text of this post is copyrighted by Candace J. Brown 2010