Friday Firesmith – Stories from the Meter Box – The Black Ribbon

The one lesson that has always stuck with me after being a meter reader is that poor people are more likely to be generous than people who have money. Reading meters in a well to do neighborhood guaranteed you weren’t going to see anyone outside and if you did, they’d pretend you didn’t exist. Asking someone to move their $50,000.00 dollar car off the top the meter lid was like asking those people to donate their liver. You got a lot of the “It’s my *&^%$# car and my #$%^& yard and you can go &^%$ yourself” which meant they would get a water bill for three thousand dollars next month. Oops! Sorry!

One guy had a “preferred path” that I use to read his meter. I was to walk up the driveway, make a sharp right turn, walk to the meter, and then retrace my steps. “There’s no sense in you walking across my lawn every damn month.” I nodded politely and enter an astronomical water bill for next month. I also vowed to bring a pint bottle of herbicide with me next trip in.

During a violent thunderstorm in the most desolate parts of Valdosta, a man motioned for me to take shelter in his garage. He was trying to repair his lawnmower, and it looked older than I was at the time. Some poor people had neat houses and nice lawns, too, but they weren’t jerks about it. This guy and I stood and watched the storm for about thirty minutes. His wife made me a ham sandwich and gave me a Coke. He worked as a forklift operator and she was a teacher’s aide. That sandwich and Coke represented a significant portion of their income. But it also was a damn decent thing to do, to take someone in during a storm, and that’s the kind of people they were.

Two months later I was running the same route when I saw the black ribbon on their door. The man or his wife, or maybe a child, had died. The yard looked the same and their tiny house was still immaculate, but someone was gone now. I wanted to knock on the door and ask but I’ve always been wary about intruding on people, at least in person.

After I started writing this, I drove around that neighborhood when I got off work on Tuesday. That storm hit back in 1988, and even though I was pretty sure I remembered where the house was, so much has changed. I remember the front porch had steps going off to one side, and the garage had this weird speed bump right in front of it. I’m guessing to let the driver know where the garage was but who knows? Damn, there it is.

I left a six pack of Cokes on the porch, and I have no idea if the same family lives there, or their kids, or maybe someone who never knew them. It really doesn’t matter, does it? But I would like to think their son or their daughter, or someone who remembers them will find the offering and in some way know, their kindness still lived.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

14 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Stories from the Meter Box – The Black Ribbon”

  1. I would drive the truck on the side of the road I did get yelled at a few times about driving on their grass and when I squeezed between a fence “don’t tear my fence up” yes there was a huge number of rude/mean people

  2. I agree poor people will more often share what they have. Logic says it should be the other way round, but in my experience it’s not. Maybe poorer folks are used to throwing in another tater or handful of rice to stretch the stew a little further if need be.

    I don’t know if wealthier people don’t because they feel sharing is the antithesis of winning. Does sharing with the loser degrade the victory of the winner? When they do share they make sure it’s acknowledged, and entered of their mental balance sheet.

    For people living paycheck to paycheck, is the future less certain so hoarding makes little sense, while the financially secure are diligently hoarding for that next step up the ladder of success?

    Guess it’s just one of those mysteries like why cats push things off a shelf.

  3. Much prefer Mikes non-political leaning prose. Taking any political point of view, and making it public (actors take note) alienates 50% of the audience. Y’all have a great Friday, and remember, Memorial Day is not about the 3 day weekend !!

  4. It is far better to give than receive. My dear old Mum lived by and taught us that when we were small; and we brought our kids up on doses of it. I remember saving up pocket money and eagerly waiting for Mother’s day to surprise Mum with a packet of flower seeds and a home made card. Years later I watched the wonderment in our kids eyes as they gave me inexpensive yet to them well thought out gifts. As they grew, and earned substantial wages I always insisted on just ‘heart gifts’, never ever get caught up with the commercialization of the events. Couple of weeks back on Mother’s Day, I was moved to tears when the grandkids gave me what looked like a pot with just dirt in it, but attached was a card that said the soil contained daffodil bulbs. They are already shooting and I look forward to the blooms.
    Mike, your anonymous pack of Cokes, were probably received with as much gratitude for the kindness, just as if it had been an expensive coffee machine.
    I am a believer in random acts of kindness, I practice it when opportunity arises, and often receive it. What goes around comes around.
    Recently 4 weeks ago I had a complete shoulder replacement. As my hubby has a lot to keep up with the outside chores on our big block, we have been paying a cleaning lady to come in for the basic vacuuming, washing floor and cleaning bathroom, an hour and a half a week. Last week, when she had finished, she asked where the iron was, as she noticed a half basket in the laundry. I told her not to worry or I would pay her, she refused payment, just asked to sit afterwards on the deck and have a cup of tea and a cookie.
    Be kind to one another, and as F16 Guy said, your Memorial Day is not just a 3 day weekend.

  5. I find it’s true as well, the people with the least to give, share the most.
    I also notice the same about wealthy people. Those with the most give the least. The only exception I can think of is Warren Buffet. But he is of course, a self made billionaire. Started poor and built his own fortune, whereas some of these very rich people started rich and intend to stay that way by hoarding it for themselves. Why don’t we see them on Hoarders?

    • It’s considered uncouth to make fun of rich people. They’re American Royalty. They are above the laws, and they buy off those who make the laws. Making fun of them is being disrespectful of their corruption.

      • I was never considered very couth anyway. Ask anyone who knows me well, it’s part of my charm.


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