Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steamboat Springs Every Thanksgiving, I give thanks I didn’t steal a turkey.
Here’s what happened.
It’s 1978, and I am a senior in college. Although my father pays my tuition, I am responsible for everything else. I work 30 hours each week and take a full load of classes. I have enough W-2s to wallpaper my bedroom. I dish ice cream, write parking citations as a meter maid and ride the bus to Denver on weekends to donate blood plasma.
My two roommates and I always are broke. We always are hungry. We always, always are looking for ways to make extra money.
One September day in the student union, I spy Sally, a girl I know, tacking a 3-by-5-inch index card onto the bulletin board. Sally is living with her boyfriend and needs a fake address. She is willing to pay $15 per month to “rent” our mailbox. All we have to do is take in her mail and wait for her to pick it up. We are ecstatic, overjoyed, thrilled to have an extra $15 each month.
We live in the top-floor apartment of a pink house on Arapahoe Street in Boulder. I have the back bedroom. Janet has a brass bed with a satin comforter and occupies the front bedroom overlooking the street. Sue has the middle bedroom at the top of the stairs. Janet plays the cello. For some odd reason, she only likes to play at night. Just as I am trying to doze off, usually at about 10 p.m., the mournful sounds of that cello start drifting into my bedroom. Let me just state for the record: A cello in the hands of an inexperienced player does not sound like Yo-Yo Ma. It sounds more like fingernails screeching down a blackboard.
We’re too poor to afford a television, so we pick up an aquarium at a garage sale and fill it with fish. While bored at night, we sit in the living room and make up names and stories about the fish. Our cast of fish characters include: Teen Angel, Lucifer Loach, Gloria Guppy, Tommy Tetra and others. “Here comes Teen Angel, ’round the rock looking for Gloria Guppy.”
Broke and starved for (non-cello) entertainment, we spend hours discussing the mailbox rent. Is it better, we wonder, to divide the $15 rent in thirds so we each have an extra $5 each month? Or should we blow it all on going out to dinner? Most of the time, we each take the extra $5.
We love our arrangement and the extra money it provides. Everything is perfect until the food starts to arrive. Sally’s parents keep sending food from Harry & David. Canned hams. Turkeys. Boxes of pears. We are starving — always — and faced with the ethical dilemma: Do we tell her this food has arrived, or do we keep it for ourselves? We debate it, like everything else, in front of the bubbling aquarium. We could have such a nice Thanksgiving with all of this food. She would never know. We could just say it got lost in the mail.
In the end, we do the right thing and tell Sally about the food. We halfheartedly hope she will share some of it with us, but she does not. Right before Christmas, her father shows up at our doorstep for a “surprise visit,” and our $15 per month windfall is gone.
Now, 33 years later, I am so grateful for the friendship of my college roomies. We never felt like we had enough food or money, but we knew we could count on one another for anything. The memories of those sweet years still continue to nourish me — love and friendship being the ultimate feast. And that’s something Harry & David can’t box and ship.