Monthly Archives: December 2021

A Freezer Full of Meat

I suspect that around this time a lot of folks are doing their annual resolutions about diets following the feasts of November and December. These people are the blessed ones because so many all over the world have no food at all. I’ve written about how our family sometimes wondered where the next meal was coming from, but we were the lucky ones because the next meal always came. We even had a huge stand-up freezer so large that it didn’t fit into the kitchen. One would think that a family with meager means would not have much use for a food freezer. That was true for us. We did not have much use for a food freezer.

Why did we have a freezer for food? What some people might not know is that poor people who don’t have a lot of money and don’t have a lot of options where they can shop rely on door-to-door salespeople for just about everything they buy. In my experience, if the salesman (always a man) gained the trust and favor of some members or just one member of a family, he could sell anything. He would promise that a given item would be easy to afford by paying only a few dollars over time.

One such salesman was Mr. Gardner. Though my mother and grandmother claimed that they didn’t like him, they kept buying whatever he was selling. I used to say that I hated him because I could see how he was suckering them and a lot of other families into buying second- and third-rate products. He would encourage people to get this junk on credit only to begin hounding them to pay at times when they had no money.

I would beg my grandmother and mother to just cuss Mr. Gardner out the next time he knocked on the door, and though they would get frustrated with him, they would go ahead and buy something else from this same man who sold them the draperies that had fiberglass in them. If you walked close enough to the draperies, they would reach out and shock you. After they were washed in the sometimes-working old-fashioned wringer washing machine that I was so glad that we had after years of washing clothes in the bathtub on a scrub-board, the fiberglass was in our clothes forever. For that alone, I wanted to do Mr. Gardner bodily harm.

Mr. Gardner sold everything from bedspreads to freezers filled with meat. He convinced my mother to buy a huge stand-up freezer full of meat. The freezer had to be placed in the hallway because of its size.

The meat was not the kind of meat we were used to seeing or eating, so it was only eaten by the desperate when there was absolutely nothing else to eat. I used to imagine that the strange meat was body parts, so I never ate it even if there was nothing else to eat. When I would complain about being hungry or say that there was nothing to eat, my mother would say, “Don’t tell me there is nothing to eat when there is a freezer full of meat right there in the hallway!”

In Spite of It All

If you were asked to describe yourself—regardless of the circumstances or situations—as generally optimistic or pessimistic, what would be your honest assessment? Would your personal emoji be the upturned or downturned smile? When you’re shown the glass with water, is it half full or half empty?

Asked if she was an optimist, Stacey Abrams, responded, “No I’m an amelliorist which is something I made up. I believe that the glass is half full. It’s just probably poisoned. And so my job is always to be on the hunt for the antidote” (“The Story Behind Stacey Abrams’s Fiction Career,” The Atlantic, June 2021).

The idea of being an amelliorist has stuck with me. Would an amelliorist be…

  • one who, in spite of having been betrayed, dares to trust again?
  • one who has seen and experienced injustice and in spite of it continues to fight for justice?
  • one who sees that nothing has changed and in spite of it continues to hope that things will change?
  • one who exhibits a spiritual strength that inspires and unites in spite of the emotional toll?
  • one who, in spite of having one’s own hopes dashed, shares a sense of hopefulness with and for others?
  • one who finds something to learn in spite of the worst of circumstances?

Am I an amelliorist? The mnemonic FIRE that defines my life’s values begins with two words for the letter “F.” Faith and Fate.

Fate has caused me to experience situations that I would rather have avoided, and in spite of it, I have had faith that I will get to the other side of whatever uncomfortable circumstance I’m currently experiencing. Fate makes me understand that life is a crapshoot; sometimes I get the poisoned water but, through my faith, magical thinking, or divine intervention, I’m not thirsty and don’t have to drink the poisoned water. 

Or fate has found me in a situation where quenching my thirst with this particular half glass of water is my only option for survival. In spite of the threat of death, I drink the poisoned water and because of my faith, the poison has no negative effect on me.

As one calendar year ends and another begins for optimists and pessimists (and amelliorists) alike, perhaps this is the optimum time to be mindful of our individual and collective efforts to search for a synthesis of our optimistic and pessimistic selves in order to discover and maintain the equilibrium necessary for us to find meaning and purpose in our lives in spite of external circumstances over which we have no control.

Increasing Capacity to Cope

Monday, September 17, 1996

“The emerging health challenges of the twenty-first century will be novel viruses. We need to begin to build people’s capacity to cope.”

Richard Keeling, MD

(In a NASPA meeting about how to promote HIV/AIDS prevention as an issue of overall health and wellness at colleges and universities.)