My sister and I were the poor kids in an affluent community in Vancouver, Canada. My mother suffered from a compulsive cooking and baking disorder and so my grandmother often took care of us and picked us up from school most days.
One spring, the school decided they were going to have sports day at a local park. The teachers sent us home with permission slips and instructions for the parents to pick us up from the park after lunch, instead of from school.
I was terrible at sports, but I remember that day scoring a home run in kickball, even after the other kids taunted me, sure that I would send the red rubber sphere skidding somewhere south-east of home base. I also remember after lunch, our formidable math teacher, Mr. Rivers, asked to speak to me privately. I was shaking like a leaf, sure I was about to get in trouble. But all he said was, “I just want to tell you that I served hot dogs to this entire school, and the only ones to say thank-you were you and your sister.”
You never forget that stuff.
At the end of the big day, we stood on the sidewalk with the other kids as, one after another, they were picked up by mothers in shiny Mercedes with equally shiny, feathered hair and big, lipstick smiles. This was the seventies and there were no teachers with clipboards taking head counts. By the time we realized we were the only ones left, there wasn’t an adult in sight.
We drifted back to the park just as a breeze picked up, rustling the grass and some colored paper in front of us.
“Money!” My sister exclaimed.
We ran after it and picked up the dollar bill. Then we spotted another and another. Shrieking, we chased after them until I think we had between five and eight dollars. That’s when my sister said we should stop “so some other poor kids can find it,” she said.
I’ll always remember the taste of the sweet, delicious, pink bubble gum ice-cream cone I bought with that money, slurping happily as we strolled back to school. There, my grandmother sat waiting for us in her green Valiant, her hair in curlers, a Matinee cigarette stuck to her bottom lip, as she carefully tore coupons from a supermarket flyer.
She looked up when she saw us and reached behind her to pull up the button. “Okay kids, hop in. There’s a sale on cantaloupe at the IGA.”