Anita was a pretty young woman, with long blonde hair and slightly chunky thighs. Courtesy of the childbirth of her two toe headed children… a 4 year old boy and 6 year old girl. Although raised in a high middle class home, was living a poverty stricken life far away from her family.
As a single mother a year or so before she jumped into marrying what she thought was a kinder and older man. At the time she had little idea that he was only kind after the first 6 pack and later would turn volatile after a 12 pack. Not seeing her situation for what it was she was just happy that some man ‘loved’ her regardless of her ‘baggage’.
Anita and the family weren’t homeless this time. John never worked and Anita was exhausted from just being fired from her last of 3 minimum wage paying jobs because the boy was sick.
The Salvation Army in Caldwell blessed Anita with the $269 to move into the small 1 bedroom apartment, sparing them from the roach motel the family had lived in for months before. The cupboards always were low, but on this day it was her son’s birthday. He would be five.
Anita had sent for money from her family, a state away, and even a close friend a town away to help her buy a cake and have a small party for her now 5 year old, Stevie. None of the money had arrived. Nor would it arrive now till Monday, it was Friday and no express mail delivered on weekends back then.
Anita, in tears, explained to her children that there would be no birthday party at all.
Looking in her cupboards seeing only a half of a box of Bisquick (no eggs or syrup), 2 boxes of dry macaroni and cheese (no milk or butter), and a tiny bit of dry chocolate milk mix… she had little hope that there would even be dinner that night.
Anita went into the tiny bedroom filled with mattresses on the floor and wept for her children.
John would be of no help, although he said he was on his way to the little market to try to steal some cake mix and hamburger… Anita knew he would only come back with quarts of beer and whiskey stashed in his inside jacket pockets of his black leather jacket. Anita was against any kind of theft, but at this point would not stop her useless spouse from such thievery. Perhaps secretly hoping he would be caught and arrested some day.
She cried quietly so the children would not hear. Heidi, the older girl was quite distressed that she would have to tell the other poor neighborhood kids that there would be no cake at their house that evening and no party. Heidi, merely 6 did not understand the concept of being with out.
Heidi entered the room and scolded Anita painfully,
“How would you feel if it was your birthday and no one wanted to celebrate it? How would you feel if you couldn’t wait to have a party and your Mommy cancelled it? Your mean, Mama”.
“Honey, if I had any control over this, your brother would have the biggest party ever and every kid in town would be here, if they could fit. There is just no money or food. I promise that as soon as money comes, I will throw an even bigger party and for your party we will go to Chuckey Cheese.”
“Ha”. Heidi pouted with disbelief and left.
Anita sobbed softly on her corner of the mattress. She grieved for their lives, her helpless, and most of all for her poverty stricken children.. The bedroom door opened gently and a small voice of a young boy with wisdom beyond his years spoke tenderly to the lump in at the end of the room. The lump, the mother he loved dearly.
“Mama, it’s okay, really. I know you don’t have much. I understand… next year will have a really big party for me, okay? Don’t worry about this year, don’t cry Mama, I am okay”.
The knowledge and compassion from such a young child only made her weep more. But Anita reached out from beneath her old stinky blanket and hugged her child, stopped her tears and smiled at the big innocent blue eyes of Stevie.
“You will grow into a fine, compassionate, good man someday, son”.
“It’s okay Mommy.” And he patted her head with his little pale hands as if Stevie were the parent and Anita was the child.
Suddenly an inner urging grew in Anita’s guts. No more crying. She got up and went to those bare cupboards and pulled out everything she could. Anita sent the children out to play and she began her work. A trip to the equally underprivileged neighbors proved fruitful with just the minimal items she needed… 2 cubes of butter, 1 cup of milk, 3 eggs.
Quickly Anita made those two boxes of Macaroni and cheese. She added a little Garlic salt left over for more flavor. Then sprinkled the crumbs from the empty potato chip bag on top of the luxurious, yet tasty looking dinner.
While making dinner, Anita took the Bisquick mix and followed the ‘coffee cake’ recipe on the side of the box. No sugar or brown sugar… but she had another idea.
After the large lasagna pan shaped cake cooled she took the second cube of butter, melted it and poured in the last bit of dry chocolate milk mix and created a rich chocolate frosting, then coated the large birthday spectacular.
She found one used birthday candle in the bottom of the junk drawer. Not 5 candles, but one would do for a wish. Looking through the closet, Anita found that lost little Teddy Bear that had been Stevie’s best friend since he was 2. Stevie had wept for its loss for the last 6 months thinking ‘Buddy’ was gone forever. Anita wrapped it with some purple yard and a brown grocery bag.
Anita called in the kids, even a few kids from the neighborhood. The room lit up with children’s laughter and happiness.
Anita shared the macaroni and cheese dinner with the neighborhood children; after all they were sure to have little to eat for dinner as well. And when Stevie made a wish (out loud), he didn’t wish for a new bike or nice clothes, but only that there be food on the table all month so his ‘Mommy’ felt good. Then he blew out his ONE candle.
The one gift inside the purple ribbon and brown sack was more rewarding than any new toy. Stevie jumped for joy and hugged his old, long lost pal, Buddy. He had missed him so terribly. In Stevie’s eyes it was the best give one could get, the return of an old friend.
The cake was a success; even drunk John (having had a kind 6 pack) loved it. The evening ended gloriously.
Anita smiled as she looked in on her children as they slept soundly that night, Stevie hugging his old teddy bear with a smile… she wept once again, but for joy.
Stevie did get his birthday wish too… His mommy found an old check book on a closed account that next morning. She took that no good check book and went back to a store she went to when she first moved to town. Nearly a year before, after just arriving in town she had asked the owner for a bit of credit to get her kids some milk and bread but was loudly refused. Anita never forgot the humiliation of having to ask, and then the embarrassment and sadness of walking out of the store with two hungry children, one in each hand.
On this day, with her checkbook, the store welcomed her. Anita bought so much food… enough to last the month. She even included a few dollar and ninety nine cent toys for the children.
Yes, months later she would be arrested and serve a few days in jail for the bounced check, but to Anita, justice was served both ways, and her children’s hungry belly’s had been filled for that month. It was worth the
punishment that rich people deal out to the poor.