“Crawlin’ clothes and dysentery,” Mammy grumbles in Gone With the Wind, as she boils more uniforms of the endless Civil War refugees coming through Tara. But it’s Melanie who has it right. She feeds and cares for those Yankee soldiers who stumble onto her land, even though she and her family are Confederates. Scarlet, of course, is horrified that she would do all that for strangers, and Yankees yet. But Melanie explains how she imagines Ashley wandering back from Spotsylvania or some GodAwful battle, into some Yankee woman’s home, in need of food and care, and how she hopes that he would be cared for. “It could be Ashley. They could all be Ashley,” she says, surveying the scraggly soldiers with syrypy brown eyes.
I’m no Melanie Hamilton Wilkes. But this scene from Gone With the Wind was in my head as I waited and waited at Stop & Shop for a young man and his job coach to finish packing my stuff. It was taking too long, I knew that. My hands itched to grab my boxes and cans and shove them into the plastic bags myself. There were two people behind me who already had paid. My stomach roiled with anxiety for this guy. If I were a regular person, wouldn’t I have been impatient and irritated?
But I’m not a regular person. I’m a crazed mother. I’m Nat’s mom, and so I know about this. Nat collects the shopping carts at a nearby supermarket. Nat getting that job was like being nominated for the Oscars, in my world. He even went through a job interview and job trial for it. But that was merely the endpoint of the ordeal to employ someone with Nat’s challenges. Disabled people and their families struggle and negotiate daily with the Powers That Be, the state and federal purse-string holders, the Deciders, to get a few hours of job coaching so that they can work even a little bit. The state Department of Developmental Services funds Nat’s job, as well as some Medicaid dollars (Medicaid is Mighty, please remember that. Never allow Medicaid dollars to be cut. You will be cutting people like Nat off from the world. You might as well find an island for them…) We count ourselves blessed that he has it. Work is an essential part of being human. I also feel for the 8 percent or so other Americans who are unemployed in this country, and I want them to work, too.
But today I was thinking about my grocery bagger.
That young man at Stop & Shop has this job and I want him to keep this job. I want him to pack my stuff, and I want him to shine at it. I also want his job coach to be kind to him. And train him properly. I don’t want anyone to complain that he’s too slow. I want to shout at everyone: “It’s okay! Just breathe, balance your checkbook, look at the Enquirer or Cosmo. Relax, and let him do his job.”