Good To A Fault
By Marina Endicott
This is a good Samaritan story with a modern twist.
What if you help someone who really, really needs it, and what if you don’t know when to stop helping.
Clara Purdy is 43 years old. She’s been a caregiver for her parents (until they died). She has a good, (though routine) job and she goes to church. She lives in her childhood home; a house still furnished with her mother’s things. Lately she has been thinking that she’s living a useless sort of life. She fears turning into a clone of her mother, always correct and a bit judgmental.
One day, on her way to the bank, Clara turns left in front of a car that runs the amber light, they meet in the intersection and everyone’s life changes. The Gage family, in the other car, consists of a father and mother, Clayton and Lorraine. There are the kids Darlene, Trevor and the baby Pearce. Mrs. Pell is the grandmother, who is traveling with the family to Fort McMurray where Clayton has been promised work.
No one is really hurt in the accident, but an examination of Lorraine turns up some symptoms not connected with the crash.
Clara discovers the family has been living in the car, their possessions are meager, and they’re broke. She is reluctant to call in the “helping agencies.” Her heart tells her that she should take them to her house to live, until things are straightened out. So she does.
The children get cleaned up and fed, Mrs. Pell finds a spot in front of the TV and settles in. Clayton stays one night and then leaves in Clara’s mothers car, taking several items belonging to Clara, like the stereo and the cash in her wallet.
Fortunately, Clara is not short of money, but she has no experience with child care. She buys beds and groceries, (lots of groceries). One neighbour makes chicken soup and helps out, one threatens the civic authorities under whatever bylaw he can cite.
Lorraine is diagnosed with lymphoma, and a she gets sicker, Clara cares for the children and gets further entangled. The children, especially Darlene (eventually called Dolly) are street smart. They have no delusions about their father or their grandmother. Darlene is a snoop and a petty thief, but she is also a reader and the kindness of strangers becomes her salvation.
There are a lot of other characters here: Paul Tippet the Anglican priest, Uncle Darwin, Lorraine’s brother, a handy guy to have around. Then there is family of Clara’s, Grace and Moreland and Fern. Everyone gives a hand looking after and helping these sweet kids who’s mom is deathly ill. Clara loves the kids and they love her. Lorraine feels grateful but replaced by Clara. Where does generosity end and selfishness begin? What’s going to happen when Lorraine gets better and Clayton comes back? This was a Giller prize finalist; the author lives in Alberta.
Peggy Freeman is a local freelance writer.