methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Community Blood

As I lay hip to hip with Tom Whatsisname from the road department, head to his feet, my feet to his head, on the hard pad, in the U-shaped “station,” a needle in my arm, the bag filling with my red-black blood, I heard in that strangely quiet gym set up for blood-letting, muffled yelling emanating from two transistor radios.

It was the yelling of the crowd at the state girls’ basketball tournament being fought 175 miles away.

As I was halfway through donating my pint, our team lost. I suddenly felt the resignation in the gym as the community readjusted itself to the disheartening news.

I then started wondering if the lack of our usual crowd during our twice-annual blood giving had been due to the new AIDS plague. But the Red Cross has devised an ingenious way in which a person in a community as small as ours can actually go all the way through the process of donating tainted blood and walk out a free man, never having to implicate himself. What he does is merely check a secret box saying, destroy my blood, let it go no further.

I realized later the reason for the slashed numbers this particular day had been due to the exodus of carloads of fans flowing away from this ermoteness to that far city where our high school girls had played their hearts out hard enough to get that far. Thus the quietness when the two transistors were snapped off and placed beneath the metal chairs, and the almost audible redjustment back to our ives twithout the glory we’d envisioned.

Still, we let our blood for use God knew where—maybe we’d need it sometime—I know I had, once, one scary time, pints and pints of it. I would have died, otherwise. It happened within three months of moving to this community. Because this had happened, I learned this was a place that looked after its own, with concern. People dropped by. I was weak. They brought bread, and a shy welcome. That was 15 years ago.

So, there we were in the grade school gym, bleeding into tiny plastic bags. We had been processed, answered a lot of personal questions, chatted, laughed, made jokes with everyone around us, lain cheek to jowl, or foot to head, with our pharmacist, our ex-editor, our Italian teacher, our husband’s school colleague, our mechanic, our yoga instructor, our favorite restaurant owner, our septic-tank siphoner, our neighbors (five miles in both directions), our hairdresser, all of us bleeding happily together.

Then volunteers—whom we know from casual but constant meetings on streets and in stores—take our elbows gently and lead us over to the grade school refectory table where we stuff our faces with triangular sandwiches and cookies, and Eagles Auxiliary ladies ask if we want coffee, tea, or milk, then slap a sticker on our chests that reads, “Be nice to me. I gave blood today.” We smile, and wear it out to the grocery store before going home, hoping one of the clerks will notice.

Not that it matters. We’ve done our bit, lain cheek to jowl, or foot to head, with our community, and heard our girls cheered over scratchy radios as our communal blood flowed.

That’s community. There’s no substitute.

Reprinted from "The Whole Damn Valley" with permission from the Shafer Historical Museum.


Have a comment? >>