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The Gale
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I couldn’t wait for my tenth birthday party. My mother had spent money she could ill afford on a big cake and some goodies to go with the party sandwiches we all “had” to eat before we could ingest any sugar.

The great day arrived, along with a gale, a gale so fierce police in panda cars drove around neighborhoods with bullhorns shouting “stay indoors” and “don’t leave your houses.” In Scotland, houses are sturdy affairs — solid bricks and mortar — so we weren’t frightened by this. But I was disappointed — no party, as it had to be cancelled. Mother spent the morning on the phone.

I stood at the window watching rain slash and trees bend and was thoroughly disgusted. Winds got as high as 70 mph, according to the radio. Mid-afternoon, there was a knock on the door. Fortunately, our front door (actually on the side of the house) was partly sheltered, so Mother was able to open the door to a policeman accompanied by a man in handcuffs. I’d never before seen handcuffs, which induced fascination with a frisson of fear.

The policeman wanted to take advantage of our garage (also made of bricks and mortar) to shelter until someone could come with a paddy wagon. The garage door wasn’t locked, so they battled their way to the garage as Mother closed the door.

By dinner time, they were still there. Mother had prepared our regular dinner — a little meat, accompanied by potato and a veg. At least I’d get cake afterwards. Before we ate, Mother also prepared a tray: two filled dinner plates, two smaller plates slices of cake, a pot of tea with fixings (milk, sugar), two cups and saucers, knives, forks, spoons, and cloth napkins (no one knew what paper ones were in those days).

“Hold the door,” she said to me, opening the back door to the full force of the gale. Out she went, laden with this tray, the wind whipping her hair and clothes. She leaned into the wind, struggled with the tray, and made it to the garage. I should have pushed the door “to” as we used to say, but I was so fascinated with my mother battling the wind that I let it go and couldn’t pull it back from the wall it had banged into. Wind and rain slashed my face as I watched her go and come back.

Together, we pulled the door away from the wall, got ourselves around it, and pushed it closed. Mother locked it, just in case (we never locked doors). The other ‘never’ about that event was that I didn’t question this event. Whoever was in our house at mealtimes was fed. Even when we were on rationing. It wouldn’t have occurred to my mother to do anything else.

I inherited that philosophy, but, today, my neighbors are stunned. My house is a home, even it’s just a condo at the end of a multi-dwelling building. I’ve had strangers in my second bedroom and on my couch. I’ve fed people I’ll never meet again. And I hold out hope every day that my neighbors will “catch on” and learn to open their doors to whoever comes.

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