Rocks for Toilet Paper

We met a family who had recently moved to a small, rural community. They were very happy to be there and were clearing the land of cactus and intended to run some livestock and plant a large garden. They were eager and happy to get out of the city and live in the quiet solitude of the country. They were blue collar at best and had very little disposable income, but they were hard workers and had a vision for their place. It was a very humble home, but cozy for them and their nine-year-old son. They befriended an elderly woman who was their nearest neighbor and volunteered to help her with yard work, etc. One day, while we were visiting this elderly woman, whom we had known for some time, she introduced us to her new neighbors who happened to be there at the same time that we were that day.

We were happy to meet the neighbors and were pleased that they seemed like good folks. For nearly a year, we did not encounter them again. One day while sitting at home, Sarah said she felt like she was supposed to go visit them. I said, “Do you mean Dora?” (the elderly lady whom we already knew). Sarah said, “No. I think I am supposed to go visit John and Miriam.” I said, “Well, you don’t really know them, but okay.”

Sarah baked some cookies and made up a nice gift basket with a note that read, “Just thinking about you guys and hoping all is well.” She drove to where they lived and knocked on the door. The wife answered and was surprised to see Sarah, who explained that she had brought a gift basket and wanted to let them know that we were thinking of them and hoping they were doing well. Miriam graciously invited Sarah into the house and accepted the gift basket. They sat on the couch together, and Sarah asked who the little girl was playing in the corner. She was probably around three years old. Miriam explained that it was one of John’s relative’s daughters. The child had been removed by social services, and John and Miriam said that they would keep her for a while (they ended up keeping her for two years).

During the conversation, Miriam emotionally broke down. No, they were not doing well. Long story short, John had been laid off and was out looking for work. Miriam had always worked at home and cared for the livestock, etc. but she was actively looking for employment as well. They were a one-car family, so they had to work around each other’s employment schedules. Their son had been playing ball at a cousin’s house and had run out in front of a truck that had hit the boy accidentally and broken his leg.

Sarah began to look around. There was hardly any furniture. She asked Miriam about it, who said that they had sold nearly everything to keep food on the table and pay the boy’s medical bills. Sarah noticed that there was hardly any food in the house, either.

Miriam said she wasn’t sure what they were going to do if God didn’t help them. She and John had made the decision not to get on welfare. They did not want to take government subsidies. They wanted to find work and stay out of debt, if possible. They had always paid as they went, and if they couldn’t pay for it, they went without. But they had reached an all-time low. Miriam revealed to Sarah that they were even out of toilet paper and shampoo. Sarah asked what they did for toilet paper. Miriam said that they went out to the pasture and collected rocks that were smooth. After they used the rocks, they collected them in a bucket and took them outside where they dumped them on the ground and hosed them off. Then, they would clean the rocks and reuse them.

Sarah asked what they did for shampoo. Miriam said that they used hand soap because that is all they had. Miriam ran her fingers through her hair with a look of disgust on her face. “It makes my hair feel nasty.” Sarah nodded in agreement. On a camping trip one time she had used hand soap for shampoo. It was not a repeat.

Sarah asked if the elderly neighbor was aware of their dilemma. Miriam said that they had not told anyone because they didn’t want to seem like the kind of people looking for a handout. She laughed and said that the nearby church had met on Sunday for their monthly “pot luck,” and the smell of food had tormented them for hours after. Sarah asked if anyone from the church ever came to visit them. Miriam said that one time, when they had first moved in, a couple had come over and invited them to church, but that had been over a year back and no one had been since.

Sarah noticed a wood stove on the porch with fresh ashes in it. She asked Miriam about it, who said, “I’ve been practicing cooking on it. When we lose electricity tomorrow, because we can’t pay our bill, I will be able to still cook and boil water for laundry.” Sarah said, “How will you get water? Isn’t your well on an electric pump?” Miriam said it was but that they had been collecting rain water in barrels for some time and had also drawn up more water to use until the electricity could be turned back on.

These were tough folks. They knew what to do to get by, even if it was really difficult. Sarah knew why she had felt like she was supposed to go visit them. She told Miriam that the electric bill would be paid and there would be food in the pantry and toilet paper and shampoo in the cabinet by the end of the day. Thankfully, that was so. A friend who came to visit us that evening pitched in, and John and Miriam were back to going with full refrigerator, pantry and cabinets.

Eventually, both of them gained employment, and a family member provided for them a second (rather beat-up, but functioning) vehicle. They are doing much better and still enjoying their home in the country. Their boy has grown up and moved away, but they have taken in two or three other children in need. They have invested in their community in other ways, as well, like helping dig a community storm shelter and taking part in holiday events. They have even been seen taking food to some other neighbors in need. When the elderly woman, Dora, ended up going to an assisted living home, John and Miriam were regular visitors to her.

One day while a construction team was remodeling the church building nearby, one of the workers was overheard talking about “them people.” They were looking in the direction of John and Miriam’s home and were intending to be derisive about them. We happened to be there visiting with some of the construction team and laughed at the ignorant statement.

We assumed, perhaps wrongly, that the “them people” comment was made regarding John and Miriam’s economic status. We don’t know for sure, but one thing we do know for sure–knowing the construction worker who made the comment, we do know who we would rather have for a neighbor. We are so happy to have met “them people”. They are an inspiration. They knew how to knuckle down when times were tough.

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