Kate was young and politico-pretty, with a tidy, blue dress from a thrift store, a bit of armpit hair peeking out because equality and a copy of a book by bell hooks. Yes, I did capitalize that correctly.
Kate had graduated with a Ph.D. in Biology, but was readying herself to be an eighth-grade substitute teacher at a private school in NYC because she didn’t know what else to do. She was staying in Chicago with her sister for a few days before a big family camping trip in Michigan.
Kate was scared, a bit. She knew the students the school accepts. She knew her mouth. She was worried she would say something sarcastic about a child’s $500 shoes.
So Quinn and I told her about the chocolate.
The three of us were surrounded by greenery, I should mention that. Still-green tomatoes and purple-veined kale. Tomatillos and jalapeños, endless radishes popping out of decrepit graying wood beds hammered and re-hammered together because we don’t have money to get new ones.
Kate had stumbled across the garden as a shady, green spot to read bell hooks. Quinn and I were there to tell kids not to pick the peppers because they’re not ready but, yeah, that cucumber looks good to go.
For the last several years, I’ve been volunteering at a community garden that grows food for a nearby youth center. It’s a bit of beauty on a formerly empty lot, the food goes straight to kids and the other day someone drove by and shouted out the car window that we were yuppies.
I helped gentrify a neighborhood by growing food for kids. Sorry?
For the last month or so, I’ve been volunteering in a more direct capacity with the kids. Twice a week, two women and I come in to unite a cooking day camp and the youth center kids. The camp kids come in, help us harvest veggies and then make a snack for the littluns from the youth center.
It’s a cute, fun thing and a perpetuation of the ongoing class war.
Allow me to explain. Let me tell you about the chocolate.
All the kids are, to the last, wonderful. They’re funny and weird and just plain great. Kids tend to be.
A few weeks ago, two of the funny, weird, just plain great kids from the cooking camp were chatting with us. They were girls, about 10 or 11, and had glommed onto the hip, lissome third of Quinn and my volunteer trio.
Jill is cool, tall and blonde, and the girls wanted to impress her. This was an off-the-cuff conversation, so consider the next few bits paraphrased.
“I made a recipe for chocolate once,” one of the girls piped up.
“Oh yeah?” Jill said, smiling indulgently.
“Yeah, then my dad got Vosges Chocolate to make up a batch for his company’s Christmas party.”
As the little girl told us about the property management firm her father founded and is president of, Jill and I gaped. Her father commissioned a $40-a-box luxury artisanal chocolatier to produce his little girl’s recipe, and the child let it drop as casually as me saying my mom knit me a new scarf.
She wasn’t name-dropping. She was excited her recipe made people happy.
She didn’t know most people don’t live in a world where that happens.
Quinn and I told the woman in the tidy, blue dress from a thrift store about the chocolate. We told her about a couple of the rich kids saying how great it will be when Donald Trump is president. When, not if. We talked about gentrification and pricing out. I explained tax increment financing with such vigor and detail that I think it might have made Quinn late for meeting a friend.
Some days the kids from the camp and the kids from the youth center mingle, shuffled together around the picnic table like a deck of cards. I like those days. Thursday was a day where one side of the table was white, the other brown.
It’s a valuable, good thing, and I’m not going to stop, no matter who yells out of a car that I’m a yuppie. The youth center kids run and play and dig for bugs in a green space they love. I’m not saving the world, but providing a more fun spot for recess seems like a mitzvah to me.
Some days I see the kids playing together and think it’s going to be OK.
Other days, like I told Kate with the tidy, blue dress from a thrift store, I think of chocolate.