"If there’s a world here in a hundred years, it’s going to be saved by tens of millions of little things. The powers-that-be can break up any big thing they want. They can corrupt it or co-opt it from the inside, or they can attack it from the outside. But what are they going to do about 10 million little things? They break up two of them, and three more like them spring up!"
- Pete Seeger, in YES! Magazine

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Food and Company for an Elderly Stranger

The project: Share freshly baked cinnamon buns, groceries and some time with a near stranger.

30 minutes

Why bother?
In October 2007, I wrote a story for the local paper about this elderly man we see nearly every morning working the weeds and dirt in a vacant lot in hopes that kids would play pickup games on his homemade baseball diamond. He was 85 then.

He's still out there. Read the story (below) for details. I knew he didn't have much in the way of food when we stopped by before, and certainly nothing fresh. (Lots o' cans.)

I made these rolls this morning, he was out, and V was particularly interested in sharing. We chatted a bit while he took a break from work, then the girls and I played a game of ball (with imaginary bat and ball since we hadn't brought ours) on his field.

Worth it?
Absolutely. Very nice morning out. Funny old guy whose eyes nearly POPPED out of their sockets when he saw the plate of gooey rolls. He didn't hesitate to grab one, only to find an even MORE pleasant surprise - they were still warm from the over.

Here's the story as it appeared in the Santa Maria Times on October 11, 2007:

Orcutt man dreams of a field
By Jennifer Best
Like many rural residents, Bill Simpson spends most mornings raking, shearing and picking away at acres of weeds. But Simpson is 85 years old, and neither the weeds nor the land on which he toils are his own.
Five days a week, Simpson rises at dawn to beat the heat as he works on the land at Clark Avenue and Stillwell Road. He loads is favorite tools in his wheelbarrow, and makes a beeline for the lot.
“I like to think of this as something useful. This is a good open space that kids could use to play baseball,” he said.
It all started with a little sweeping under the eucalyptus tree at the entrance to his Orcutt mobile home park.
“It just didn’t look very good, and when I move into a neighborhood, if there’s something I can do to make it look better, I’m going to lend a hand. It helps change the neighborhood, make it a nicer place to live,” Simpson said.
He moved on to maintain a dead-end street where trash accumulated, then to another nearby eucalyptus.
“The branches were piled up against the trunk and it was a fire hazard, so I had this idea,” Simpson said.
He cleared the trash, moved the branches away from the tree to create a low, curving berm, and has begun arranging broken bits of discarded concrete into a curving border. Simpson stacked larger pieces of concrete against the base of a tree to create a shaded seat for his occasional break.
“It’s repetitious, and I like that. I never seem to get tired of it,” he said.
Simpson was raised in Boston where he learned a love of baseball that was, in those days, infectious. He cheered on the Red Socks and played sandlot ball with neighborhood kids.
During World War II and the Korean War, he served as a Naval Aviation Cadet flying a variety of single-propeller aircraft on patrol. He also served as an embarkation officer before returning to civilian life and a career as a draftsman.
As an adult, he helped maintain a public skating pond which replaced the public garden each winter, but his community service, he said, has otherwise been fairly limited until the Orcutt project fell in his lap.
“He’s been cleaning it up for a long time,” said Mary PiƱa, one of many neighbors who have taken notice of the changes next door. “I know he doesn’t have to do it, but now I walk there. It looks great.”
People have stopped to thank him, at times leaving cookies or water, a candy bar or soda. But Simpson, who isn’t even sure who owns the land, said the greatest thanks would be to see kids making use of the baseball diamond.
“It’s like a painting on a wall; people should enjoy it,” he said. “It seems like the only sports offered are organized or in schools, but anyone can pick up a game of baseball.”

Photo for illustration purposes only, NOT of lot or anyone related to this story. Posted courtesy Michael Lovitt under Creative Commons License.

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