Advertisement

A Journey of Generosity

Each spring, thousands of cans of food are set outside homes for a food drive sponsored by the National Assn. of Letter Carriers. The cans become a sumbol of people helping people in America's efforts to heal itself. The food might end up with any of the 750 charities served by the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. This is the story of the journey of two cans, one beans, one of chili.

June 12, 1997|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In Los Angeles County, one in three children lives in poverty, and that tugs hard at the hearts of Dorothy and Joe Hudson.

Dorothy was 3, her sister a year older, when their father died. It was the Depression--a time of hardship, heartbreak and, in varied forms, beans. When Dorothy tells the story of her life, she begins with 1928, the year of her father's death. He worked as an "insurance man," so it was painfully ironic that when he died, he had no policy of his own.

For Dorothy, beans represented the depth of struggle, the slow, unsweetened passing of time, but in looking back at her life, they now serve as a reminder of meager beginnings. (Dorothy and Joe, retired educators, live in a home in Windsor Hills.)

Following her father's death, Dorothy's family moved in with her grandmother, a woman commanding great respect, sometimes fear. Maybelle Gibson was a slight, strong woman with uncompromising expectations when it came to children's behavior.

She also was a woman of incandescent charity and faith who considered it a duty to help feed God's lost children, dispirited drifters from the highway, arriving in Dallas with withered dreams, empty pockets and whatever hope their hearts still held.

"Sometimes we had beans every day," she says. "I could cook beans every way you could imagine, and they were always delicious. We always grew a garden, so we had vegetables. It was simple food."

When she was 13, she would linger on the porch to watch 15-year-old Joe Hudson deliver ice. The Hudsons were a big family, and Dorothy and her friends, in puerile lightheartedness, would take turns asking each other, "Which one of the Hudson boys do you like?"

Dorothy chose Joe, the sixth of seven children. He lived in a different neighborhood, three square blocks bordered on two sides by railroad tracks, attracting hobos seeking food in exchange for work.

His father, a college graduate, earned $9 a week as head custodian for Magnolia Petroleum Co. His mother took in laundry. "We knew that when chicken was put on the table, you had only two pieces at the most. It was not a matter of how hungry you were or how much you could eat. You shared."

On a Sunday morning when Joe was 12, his mother died. Minutes before her heart gave out, she looked up at her husband and said, "Sam, make sure the kids are educated."

Samuel Hudson was sincere in his reply, a promise that became his life's endeavor. He worked hard and saved what he could. When the children wore holes in their shoes, he patched them with scrap leather.

He never owned a car until the seventh child graduated from college, and all seven of them pooled their money and bought him a new Ford. All 19 of his grandchildren are college graduates, and so far all of the great-grandchildren of college age are either in school or have graduated.

Joe and Dorothy were married in 1947 and left Texas in 1952, when the nearby home of a black family was fire bombed by racists. In L.A., they furthered the legacy of their parents and grandparents by dedicating their careers to children and education. Dorothy, 72, retired from teaching in 1984 but continues to do volunteer work in the schools. Joe, 74, retired in 1991 after 39 years in L.A. Unified schools.

Lessons learned in childhood remain a vital part of them.

Outside their home in a plastic bag, knotted on top and heavy with food, a 77-cent can of beans and a $1.41 can of chili await their journeys. Soon, like drifters that came and left, the cans will disappear into the unknown, representing past and present, prayers and hope for better days.

The Food Bank

The route is seven miles long. Kim Paul, 44, has been delivering mail here for eight years. He is somewhat of a throwback. He takes time to talk and listen. With tips he receives at Christmas, he buys stamps for those who forget to post their mail.

"Wouldn't want anyone to have their lights cut out," he says.

Some postal carriers grumble about the annual food drive because of the added work. Kim, however, looks forward to it.

"It feels good to know that you're actually helping somebody and not being selfish all the time," he says. "I know there's people out there more needy than I am."

The Hudsons' home is near the beginning of his route. He expects they will have food waiting, as it's usually the same people who give each year. He sees the bag and carries it to his delivery truck, the first leg of the journey.

By the time he's finished, he has collected a couple dozen bags of food, a better harvest than last year. Some have given for the first time.

"I'm going to have to knock on a few doors to thank people," he says. "They did good this year."

Typically, the more affluent neighborhoods give less than others. Sometimes it's those with the least who give the most.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|