Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dorothea, Redux

Reenter Dorothea.

I have worked with Adult Education in Guadalupe School for over 22 years.  I view the number 22 with amazement.  I started here when I was 25, and it has been my natural habitat ever since.   Dorothea S. worked in Adult Education for 38 years, and she started when she was 43.  Yeah, do the math!  My tenure here is nothing compared to Dorothea's. She is quick to remind me of that.  The overlap in our time here together was relatively short - a measly 14 years.

I love Dorothea.  Not the way you love Twizzlers.  Or some coworkers. The way you love someone when it isn't easy and you have to concentrate on it.  She loves me to my face, but not always behind my back.  That took some getting used to.  Somehow it doesn't offend me too much.  Gossip can be a defense mechanism sometimes.  A power thing, right?  She stayed on in Adult Education until she was 81.

She is 86 now, and her husband died in November. Our agency has relocated - we are only a short walk from her house; I jog past it all the time. When I went to visit her after her husband's funeral, I suggested that, when she's ready, she might come back to Guadalupe as a volunteer.  She wants to tutor English as a Second Language, but she is so deaf:  she calls herself sorda. I can't let her teach language. But. I really need help with that thrift store I've started.

In the old building, when people donated clothes or dishes or toys for our adult students, we would just chuck everything out on a table and let people dig through it and take what they wanted.  I had a better idea for the new building, though.  I asked the architect to design a tiny store with built-in clothing racks and shelves.  Now we sell donated items instead of giving them away.  Everything is under $2, so way cheaper than the cheapest thrift store.  But it prevents people just taking arms full of stuff and selling it at their weekend yard sales. (Not that I care!  I thought that was pretty enterprising!  But the other students got mad.) And it makes a little money for the school.  And it gives as a place where our students can do volunteer work.  It has turned out well so far.  Fun and funding!  Dorothea was always good with donated items that came to the school.  She liked folding everything and laying it out to look nice.  She could spot a blouse or a pair of pants and know exactly whom it would fit and whether that person would like it.

I showed her around the little store.  One of our student volunteers, Silvia R. was tidying up in there, so I introduced them.

Dorothea looked around and then put her hands on her hips.  "I HAVE  A QUESTION."  she said very loudly, because she is sorda.  "WHY IS THERE SO MUCH STUFF IN THERE?!  DON'T YOU EVER THROW ANYTHING OUT?"  I explained that I have been encouraging students to rotate items out of the store.  That I have a friend who will come and take it away to another used clothing buyer; but that the student volunteers have a hard time pushing things out.

"HUH!"  Switching to Spanish, she turned to Silvia R. and asked what happened when people tried to look at the clothes on the crowded racks and shelves.  When they pull things down, who has to put them back?  "Well, the volunteer does," replied Silvia R. "AND WHAT ABOUT ALL THIS STUFF?  DOES ANYONE BUY IT?"  She cast an accusing stare at the ugly clocks, the dingy dolls, the clapped-out shoes, the weird Abraham Lincoln bust, the set of encyclopedias.  I told the that some stuff we get is really good and other stuff... not so much.  Again, I was having a hard time working with the volunteers to get them to see what is promising merchandise and what isn't.  The encyclopedias are a good example.  I look at them and think, what a white elephant!  My low-literate, immigrant students look at them and think, books!  In good condition.  Someone will want those.  Mustn't throw them out, because they are not falling apart. And they are books!

I could see that, rather than view the new thrift store with pride, she was definitely seeing the glass as half empty.

Exactly what I was hoping for. [rolling hands] mwah-hah-hah!

I said, "I'll leave you and Silvia to get acquainted," and went back to my office.  Half an hour later, I passed the store and saw piles of stuff all over the floor.  I steered clear.

Another hour passed, then the school cook came to the office and said, "Why aren't you keeping an eye on Dorothea?"  "Why?"  "Well, poor thing.  I found her shaking and exhausted in the store.  I made her sit down and fed her some lunch."  I went into the staff room, to find Dorothea, happy as can be, eating lunch with gusto and chatting with some of her former colleagues.  I sat down across from her.  "What are you still doing here?"  "What do you mean?"  "Are you overdoing it?  You have been hard at work for two hours."  "Well, I am started to get a little tired.  But I think I'll just work for a few more minutes."

This morning when I arrived she had already been and gone.  The store was neat as a pin.  There are six huge trash bags of items that she bundled up to send on down the line.

So, is she overdoing it?  Yeah, probably.  I've decided that I'm not going to slow her down. I think that tiring herself out  to some purpose in the store is probably better than sitting at home missing her husband.   I just hope Silvia R. doesn't kill her.   Now they'll know what I've had to put up with all these years.


  1. I think that store is just about what Dorothea needs to find a purpose once again in this stage of her life. I see good things happening for that store in the months ahead!


  2. I liked reading this. I think it's just what Dorothea needs.

  3. Good story! Dad is 87 on Thursday and still toddling about as best he can :)

  4. what an absolutely marvelous post, you have me rooting for Dorothea and for you, and your understanding of how a difficult deaf old lady can be allowed to function in just the way she needs.. bravo, bravo