How Small Is Small? Part I

While living in Texas, I took a Greyhound bus to a border-town in Texas to visit friends.  It only took a few hours to realize I had left my wallet on the bus.

I hurried back to the station, hopeful that someone had turned it in.  No luck.

I cancelled my credit cards and went on with my day.

Fast-forward 48 hours later.  I glanced at my phone and noticed I had 12 missed calls from my parents.  Worried that something was wrong, I urgently called them back.

My mom answered.

“Sally, are you ok?”  She sounded panicked.

“Yea, I’m fine.  What’s going on?”

“Someone called saying they had found your wallet and cards in Mexico.  We thought you might have been kidnapped.”

Their concern was fair for two reasons. First of all, it is their parental duty to be worried about me at all time.  My parents are experts in this area.  Secondly, Mexico is notorious for kidnappings.  My students from Mexico warned me of this.  So did their parents.  So did the news.

My parents told me they had received a call from a neighbor, Henry Holmes*.  Someone from Mexico had called his house to share that they had found my wallet and my ID.

But my last name wasn’t Holmes.  Why did they call Mr. Holmes?

Holmes was my middle name.  On my driver’s license at the time, my name was formatted in the following way:

Last Name, First Name_Middle Name

The Good Samaritan who found my wallet misread the information, interpreting my middle name as my last name.  They looked up the name Holmes in my small town, and called the one number associated with this last name.  My hometown is small enough that a person in Mexico could call someone in my hometown that had no relation to me whatsoever, and still get ahold of me.

Country living doesn’t give you the conveniences of city life.  You’re not surrounded by trendy coffee shops, museums, and restaurants.  But you are surrounded by a community.  I’ve never met Mr. Holmes.  My parents aren’t particularly close with him.  But he was there for me and my family because we were a part of the same community.  I can’t say the same was true of the 20+ people that lived down the hall from me – literally steps away – in my apartments in D.C. and Houston.



*All names in this story have been changed

A Good Bleachin’



While I was in high school, I worked on a vegetable farm during the summer months.

Of all of the vegetables and fruits across all of the acres on the farm, I spent most of my time with tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, and regular round tomatoes.  The biggest of the round ones we labeled as  “Hanover” tomatoes.  The infamous Hanover tomato.  The county of Hanover was a stone throw away.  The soil was the same.  But when folks came to the fruit stand to buy produce, they’d always ask something along the lines of, “Do you have any Hanover tomatoes in today?  Them Hanover tomatoes are delicious.  Nothin’ like it.”   We’d direct them to the “Hanover” tomatoes, and when they returned the following week, they’d say something like, “Your New Kent tomatoes are good, but they ain’t got nothin’ on those Hanover tomatoes.”  And then they would pay extra money, for just a slightly bigger than normal New Kent tomato, and swear up and down they could taste the difference, and it definitely tasted better.

Perception is reality.

Picking tomatoes was hard.  Picking anything was hard – I was bent over, the sun beat on my back, my body ached – but picking tomatoes was unlike anything else because it put a film of grime on my hands that was impenetrable.  As a teenage girl overly sensitive about my looks, seeing the dirt filled crevices of my scraped up hands put me in a state of social anxiety.  I did not want anyone to see my hands like that.   The first time I realized this layer of grime would not disappear with soap and water, I stuck my hands in between the bristles of the conveyor belt we used to clean vegetables.  Imagine cylinder shaped bristle brushes that circle around your vehicle in a car wash – it was like that, but on a much smaller scale.  If these brushes could clean the vegetables, maybe they could clean my hands.  Did I worry about my hands getting caught in the conveyor belt?  No!  My vanity had the best of me. Dirt could not be visible.

After several seconds with my hands between the brushes, I pulled them out, ready to see them looking as good as new.  No luck.  I still saw dirt.

I don’t know if I came up with this next idea, or if it was my sister.  Maybe it was one of the older women we worked alongside.  Regardless, the next step involved pouring bleach all over my hands.  Did I consider the possible side effects?  No.  Did I have a smart phone with the internet handy to tell me that bleach could irritate your skin, and, if left on for prolonged periods of time, cause tissue damage?  No.  And if I did know, would I still have bleached my hands?  Yes. Teenage me would have still bleached my hands.  It worked.  I could now spend time with my peers without the fear of them noticing my dirty hands.  I didn’t care if the dirt was actually gone, but I was satisfied that it was at least invisible.

So whenever I picked tomatoes, I knew a good bleaching was in store for me that evening.

How often do you think about the hand that picked your food?

If you’re interested in seeing an image of the conveyor belt I described above, check out this link: