One day, as we were driving down the road on our way back from an afternoon at the local pool, we passed a woman and her four daughters walking down the side of the road. What made my mother stop, turn the car around, and go back to talk to them was that the woman was pushing a shopping cart full of what looked like a suitcase, cardboard boxes, and a basinet with a baby in it. It turned out to be a real baby, and the woman was pushing the shopping cart down the road, and in the cart were all her wordly belongings, and her four daughters were also carrying bags. The woman told us they were on their way to New Jersey, for the strawberry picking season, and then they were headed south, following the crops, until they got to Florida, where she’d pick oranges in the winter, then they’d head back up north. All on foot. Pushing a shopping cart.
My mother was (still is) an amazing woman. She pointed down the road and said, “About three miles away is a dirt road on your right. Take it, and follow it to the end, to a big white house. You’re going to have dinner, and a place to sleep.” The woman started to protest, but my mother insisted. We got home, and she sent my sister and I to the end of the road to make sure the woman found us.
My sister and our friend Tanya who was with us that day, were about seven and eight years old. I was nine. We’d all been impressed by the woman and her daughters, but especially by their clothes. They were literally wearing rags. We decided we didn’t want the girls to feel bad, and so we put on our oldest clothes and ran out of the house and hiked to the main road where we waited. When we saw them in the distance, we jumped up and down and waved. Then we went to meet them and accompanied them to our house, where my mother had already prepared our living room as a dormatory, cooking a big dinner for everyone.
My dad came home from work, and my mother, he, and the woman talked while the girls and we played outside. We showed them our tree fort, the stream, our rope swing, and we picked some wild strawberries, eating them until my sister ate a bug too, and we all screamed in horrified delight and ran indoors. Seven girls make a lot of noise, and I can’t imagine we were very good, but my parents didn’t scold us, and we got some mason jars and went back outside to catch lightning bugs and wait until we were called for baths and bedtime.
The next day, my father drove the girls and their mother back to their home. They were not going to have to walk to New Jersey to become migrant workers. This is what had happened. The mother was married to an abusive man who beat her up, and one day, out of the blue, he’d kicked her, the baby, and their four daughters out of their home. He’d found a new girlfriend. The mother, being illiterate, didn’t know that she had to file for a divorce, and that her husband owed her alimony, as well as half of the house. My parents were horrified and made sure the woman got a lawyer (my dad worked in Albany at the State department) and my mother convinced the woman to enroll in night school and learn to read.
This is a true story. How many people had driven by that poor woman on the side of the road? She didn’t even live in our school district – she had been walking for days. And the woman kept in touch – she wrote a letter, thanking my mother. And this is another reason I think my mother is so amazing.