It seems that every other day, Mount Vernon residents get a solicitation from a local charitable group. They come at a rapid rate, the galas seem to be one after the other and it’s easy to get a little cynical and just toss out the solicitation. But the people who work in these organizations have chosen to help the less fortunate, and each family they serve has a story. For example, it might be a family that is being evicted from their home.
It was the summer of 1962 and I was a 13 year-old baseball player who had just been selected to the town’s All Star team. West Islip, New York was a relatively middle-class town with one shopping center, a high school and a few churches. My father had abandoned our family a few months earlier and my mother, two younger siblings and I lived in modest rental house. I raised rabbits and the mother, Thumper, had just given birth to seven babies. We set up a temporary home for them in the basement.
One Saturday in July, our All Star team won the Suffolk County championship and, on the way back, the parents driving cars decided to have an impromptu celebratory “motorcade” through West Islip. There were two convertibles in the group and I jumped in the front one. We drove through the town, pretending it was a ticker tape parade although just a handful of (confused) residents were out in the street. We just imagined the confetti sticking to our hair and the millions of supporters cheering us on.
When it was time to end the celebration, the motorcade steered first towards my house. As we made the right hand turn onto my street, I noticed a big pile in my front yard. There were some neighbors standing next to it, mulling about. As we got closer, I still could not decipher what it was when I heard the driver of the car say “Oh God,” my stomach started to churn. The motorcade stopped and the team looked at the contents of my house. All of our furniture had been tossed out on the lawn and there were big yellow signs that said “Notice of Eviction” in bold, black letters. I had no idea what the word meant.
Barely able to breathe, I avoided eye contact with my teammates and quickly jumped out of the car to inspect the pile. My teammates mercifully moved on and, without changing out of my uniform, I started rummaging through the pile. My favorite desk was in pieces, the living room couch was ruined, our cheap “paintings of the Masters” were unrecognizable and my baseball card collection was scattered about. Ultimately, I ran inside the house and headed for the basement. Thumper and her babies were gone. I never saw them again. That next week, I skipped school, figuring it would take that long for the embarrassment to wear off.
But it never did.
Last week, I passed through the Audubon Estates trailer camp and there was a pile of furniture along the road, clearly the contents of one of the trailers. But what I learned in 1962 was that when you are evicted from your home, you lose more than earthly goods. You are robbed of a piece of your childhood and your dignity. Your poverty is on public display for all to see.
Organizations like , and others are working hard to help families in those situations.
The next time you get that solicitation and think about tossing it out, think again. Then write a check.