It was not always obvious that I was one day going to be the kind of person who cared about what was going on in the world and felt moved to make a difference in some way. I was a tricky selfish teenager who refused to feel guilty about the state of the poor in the world. I can remember saying as much to my Socials 11 teacher. Not one of my better moments but I think I took that stand because the problem just seemed so big and I really did care but couldn’t see how I could possibly change anything.
When I talk about “making a difference” now, I mean just the bits I feel I can take on, realizing that I can’t fix everything but I can fix some things and, what I can’t do as one, I can maybe do as one of many. Even then, I’m painfully aware of my frequent hypocrisy and ineffectuality. But doing something is better than doing nothing so I chug along.
I suppose it all started with Mom and Trevor Hudddleston. When we were very tiny, she used to walk us from Woodwards department store down Hastings Street to show us Skid Row well before it was called the Downtown Eastside. She wanted us to know that this was where she had spent her preschool years hanging out in cafes with her beloved grandfather and his cronies during the depression. Poor people were just people.
Then came Trevor Huddleston and the oranges. After reading Naught for your Comfort,
if my mother saw Outspan oranges in our local Safeway or Red & White, she would summon the manager and tell him take them off the shelves and didn’t he know what was going on in South Africa! It was some years before I could pass a display of oranges without a feeling that something unpleasant was about to happen.
And it didn’t stop at oranges. I wasn’t allowed Barbie clothes because they also came from South Africa. Amusingly, I was allowed Barbies – so the feminism hadn’t kicked in yet – but all their clothes were ugly and handmade and I will never forget the teeny teeny tini bikini that my aunt somehow managed to knit. A hand stitched ball gown just couldn’t compete with whatever those wonderful South African seamstresses were producing, but, “because the black people do all the work and the white people get all the money” was the final answer to any plea for Barbie finery. My Barbie wore a sack to the ball.
Funny how the seeds get planted. I guess it also helped that my mother was the kind of person who would pick up litter and hand it back to whoever dropped it. She would stop for anyone and everyone in need. She would happily (much to my cringeing embarrassment) yell at other peoples’ children if they were misbehaving.
She was a community minded fair trade social activist in her own way -and she planted the seeds of my own stubborn belief that change is possible and worth pursuing.