SOMETHING FOR NOTHING?
Life is often more inventive and unpredictable than any TV show or movie. In my usual rounds of what I loosely term “charity work”, I encountered a family nearby. The grandmother has been a nodding acquaintance for many years. I knew that her husband suffered a stroke more than thirty years ago and has been in the in-between twilight state for decades now. Her own son and daughter grew up. The son was briefly married, had a son, then got divorced and sadly descended into alcoholism. When sober he works and helps out his mother; when in his bout of drinking he is another weight on her neck. Her daughter had a boyfriend who disappeared once a baby was on the way. Later she found another one who absconded once he learned that she expected twins. So they live, the daughter working, and the grandmother taking care of her three grandchildren in addition to her invalid husband and at times her son. The kids are OK, boisterous when at a playground, polite when they greet neighbors, helpful when they see a woman laden with shopping bags approach her door. I knew they went to music lessons and gymnastics, which showed me that they were getting good care and sensible upbringing. I also believe, as Agatha Christie formulated it, that there is nothing bad in helping those who are OK.
When my own children became adults I joined the neighborhood watch so to speak, with one difference. People help the needy family occasionally; I stop by a few days before salary and pension day, and on major holidays with a bag full of fruits and my own baked goods. The children always greet me enthusiastically and their grandmother thanks me profusely. Once the senior girl reached her twelfth year I looked at her clothes and shoes, and tactfully Grandma a pair of sneakers which frankly I bought for myself and then never wore. And I received an unexpected reaction. “Oh no-no! She only wants very new very fashionable things!” the woman exclaimed. Huh? My own kids and I of course grew up in hand-me-downs. Can beggars be choosers, I wondered. But I said nothing as they were not my family, and kept to my usual schedule of donating fruits and cakes.
Recently we coincided with the grandmother on a food shopping round. I mentally checked the dates and realized that it was the right time to buy some oranges and apples for the kids. While working back, I with a larger bag which I intended to carry to her door and a smaller one with the stuff I bought for myself, she talked non-stop. I gradually realized what the subject was and asked a few questions. Her eldest grandson, 22, wanted to rent his own room or apartment. And she was frantically searching for a way to raise money for him, since the rent was more than her own retirement monthly pension. I asked if he was working, and he hedged with, “Sometimes”. The message was quite clear. When we reached her entrance, I handed her the bag with goodies for the young kids, and told her what both my father and my father-in-law taught me and my husband when we were children. You want something, you work for it. I did not think that grandmother was the person who needed to run around asking for money for her adult grandson. And I had no intention of handing over any money even I had it. Helping the kids, ensuring that they receive vitamins is one thing. Giving something for nothing to an able young man is totally different. What happens if this is done? Why, they only want more from you and spend their time not working but yelling that they have rights. There is nothing bad in wishing to live one’s own life. It is certainly understandable that a young man want to have his own apartment, to separate from the family with an invalid and three children all in one place. But wishes are not horses and pigs cannot fly. Things are not handed out to us on a silver platter. You want to have something, you work for it.