While the country shows signs of deterioration of morals, values, and is suffering from media diarrhea many people are eating hungrily as a pig on slop. I find that here where I am living that people, for the most part, have not been affected.
Here in Jo Daviess County, there is not only some of the most beautiful landscape scenery available for artists to enjoy but also there seems to be a special human aspect, one of volunteerism.
To me, volunteerism is a bunch of people working together to build a barn, harvest crops, be a fire department with paramedics, helping others recoup after their home burns down, and so much more. It's an amazing feeling of euphoria one can get that is free of the media pollution that fills the airwaves and in print. The media should be given fines for destroying trees to print the trash they put out and put a rating of "F” for Fake as a warning on news programs.
As a photographic artist, writer, and retired “Massage Guy,” I not only see the beauty in the landscape out here but also in the people that make up much of the population.
The people, whether they are in Galena, Warren, or any other tiny town that makes up the puzzle of the county, are a representation of what a good person is. Of course, as with any group, there are the ones that take advantage of those with good hearts.
For the last nine months, I have been involved with various programs. There has been a food pantry I volunteered for, and I frequently visit some thrift stores that support programs that help others.
For those that have lived here for their whole life, or are transplants from other areas, it seems the rule of Love Thy Neighbor is a common theme. Of course, there are exceptions that I have met that fit the persona who deserves the "Oh..You're from Chicago" eye rolling look.
The other day I started volunteering at a thrift store from which I have bought some of my clothes. The volunteers there range from age sixty (me) to their nineties. They go through the bags of donations that are dropped off and sorted for sale. I asked if they ever get bags of actual trash or full of dirty diapers as I saw when I worked at Goodwill in a suburb of Chicago. They looked at me as if I just asked the dumbest question they ever heard. No, they hadn't, who would ever do something like that and laughed.
The volunteers laugh often and talk like they have been friends for most of their lives and actually, some of them have been. I was out of the sorting area room to take out some trash when I returned to hear silence. Before I entered the room, I asked in a parental, semi-authoritative voice as to what was going on in there, and what they were up to. As a parent, I learned that when the kids were quiet they were either sleeping or up to no good. One responded with they were talking about me, which of course, meant they had nothing good to say so they said nothing at all. The laughter started again.
Three men during the afternoon shift sat on chairs in the sorting room watching their wives work. When I pointed out how efficient they were at supervising in their armchairs with coffee mugs in their hand, they laughed and joked back. One of them quipped, he was doing what he does at home. He said when his wife asks if he is going to do anything he responds, not if he can help it. I responded to that with, it’s the dog house for you. He responded with, he just added heat to it for he's in it so often. My response as a champion chess player was, when are you going to put in a toilet? The bantering was of clean vocabulary and wonderfully fresh void of profanity.
Even though it was my first day of volunteering they treated me as part of their little family. Well, not really little. Most of these people have had their family in Jo Daviess County for generations and many are related in some way.
I worked the first shift and at lunchtime one of the ladies asked me to join them at a church down the road.
This lunch program happens every Wednesday and is totally free. If someone wants to make a donation of some sort to support it, he or she can. Of course, most people attending make some sort of donation. What astounded me was seeing a woman with two little girls, whom all looked as if they were living a hard life themselves, put money in the basket. This was quite foreign to me, for I lived in the “great” city of Chicago and never saw anyone give back to those that were helping them. I'm sure there are some that do, but they are far outnumbered by those that don't.
I quietly observed the room and noticed, yet once again, the volunteers were over sixty.
As each person walked into the building and into the hall, they were greeted. Men would hug women with no fear of being accused of anything. The greeting of a smile, eye contact, and a solid handshake was happening all over the room. It felt so good to be in a place of no evil intention or accusations of such thoughts.
I waved to my friend, Larry, who was at the other end of the room. He is one of the leaders of the Men's group that meets on Tuesday mornings and volunteers at the lunch. He is also a local artist that handcrafts unique pens and pencils.
I took my place in line. The wafting fumes of hot home-made soup tickled my nostrils and engaged the salivary glands. I held out my bowl and felt like Oliver asking, "Please sir, may I have some more?" and doing my best not to drool. A woman serving had a smile on her face and served me. She asked me how I was doing, and of course, instead of pouring my heart out of all my issues going on in my life, I answered that it was fine. Yes, there is much to talk about— I am not happy about with my life, but in viewing the whole package, my life is indeed fine.
As I walked down the eight-foot table that held sandwiches, crackers, cheese platter, and all sorts of desserts, I heard the conversations and laughter noise going on in the background.
With my plate now full of happy food to eat, I noticed one of the ladies waving me over to sit with them. They saved me a seat. How sweet and kind of them.
A gentleman came to me and asked me if I wanted something to drink. I was grateful and said I would love some lemonade. It felt weird having someone serve me. I've been the caretaker of others, and I felt a bit uneasy having someone care for me, especially an older gentleman.
I enjoyed not only the food I was eating but also the company. There was conversation free of politics. It was about another person's health, someone's family, about someone that passed unexpectedly after just having their gallbladder out, or about recipes. What I was amazed about was they did not talk about their own physical ailments.
A question was put to me about my living situation. I joked about how buying a home with no grass to cut would be nice. Two of the ladies, both forever 39, said they loved to cut grass. I casually stated, “with a rider mower.” Each said no, with a push mower without front wheel drive and it would take hours to cut the grass which was done sometimes twice a week. It was very relaxing to them. This gave me the idea of creating Lawnmower Yoga ©2018.
One lady asked my name and then each person told me theirs. Suddenly I heard a “Hi David,” from another area. It was someone from another table that heard me. One lady said that she thought my name was Dennis for I never corrected her the whole time she called me that and laughed. I said just to look at me when talking was enough and they could call me anything. I was honest with them and said it would take me a long time to remember all their names, after all, some of them had 20 plus years of knowing each other and I am the newbie on the scene.
There was a man who came by and there was no chair. The ladies told him to sit and eat with us— that we needed to ADD to the testosterone since I was the only guy sitting there. More laughter, in my mind I thought briefly of all the liberals crying about feeling insulted or suffering from mental duress hearing such terrible comments but only for a split second, and the thought was gone. The present company over-ruled political correctness.
The political correctness, I think, was invented by the evolution of hurt feelings by thin -skin- me- first attitudes was not there in the area. I could only imagine if they did try to enter and play their pitty card, they would be sent to a corner or spanked.
These were tough people. The women raised families, did farm chores, butchered the dinner, and the men did the heavy manual labor from which many died young. I realized that I was surrounded by people that used washing machines with wooden ringers in them to squeeze out the water and hung up their clothes on a line outside in the summer air. They used stoves that used wood for heat and cooking. The wood wasn't bought in neat little packages at Walgreens or the Dollar Store. It came from felling a tree and breaking it down using an ax.
This is the 100-year-old ax I bought for $1 at a garage sale. It hangs on the wall by my door as a home intruder preventer and has been used at times as my back scratcher. Yeah, I’m tough.
These were people from the period of outhouses and radios for entertainment. They went to church and for the most part, lived the rules sent by God and the laymen that wrote them.
This was a generation that was not coddled, who fought in wars, used conversation as entertainment, and built a country. In another ten years, most of them will be gone, and I will be around to carry on their legacy. Whom will I get to share it with? I will probably be diagnosed with hallucinations for having such stories about people.
When I see people come into the thrift store, I chat with them. I like to make them feel comfortable. I help them load their cars even though I am in extreme pain with my own back issues. I do not complain to them about my problems, but instead, ask them about considering volunteering to help the others. I usually get a smile and a nod with a response about how busy they are. (Psst...let me let you in on a secret, shoppers of thrift stores that run on volunteerism. I also used to buy stuff really cheap to resell. So, I know you have plenty of time, especially when you are buying $40 worth of sweaters that you will sell on an auction site, or put in your own store and maybe profit $800 - $1000 and EVEN TRY not to pay any taxes on that.)
If people that are younger do not step up to help run these stores across the county, there will be no more open in a dozen years. There will be no more opportunities to profit off not-for-profit locations that help others in need, just a bunch of pretending not-for-profits that profit off donations.
But while the time ticks, I will enjoy the beauty of this county, which is in both the scenic and humanistic. (For the most part) I'll also enjoy the company of my companions for as long as I can.