“Girls, come here for a minute.” Dad was using the “I’m about to teach you a lesson” voice. Saturn, Emerald, and I exchanged looks. Which of us is in trouble? Strength in numbers, we bravely took deep breaths, stood up straight and headed for the kitchen. Dad was squatting by the sink, compost bucket in hand. I was flooded with dread. Compost was my job, so I knew I was the one this time. I should have washed the bucket better. My 8 year old brain scrambled for options.
“Come over here, look at this.” Dad had a fork and was digging through the compost. Confused, we leaned in. “You girls like carob chips, right?” King of rhetorical questions, our dad. We all recognized a land-mine when we saw it. We nodded hesitantly. “There’s a carob chip in here. See it? I wonder if there’s any more.” He dug with the fork, tilted the bucket our direction, dug some more. “Carob chips are good, right? Fun? Does anyone want these now that they’re all mixed up in the compost?” We shook our heads adamantly. There wasn’t much in life nastier than the smell of the compost bucket. “The Renaissance Faire we went to last week, it was like the compost bucket. We had fun, right? But that little bit of fun was all mixed up with nasty, bad stuff. Wizards and magic, immodesty. You can find a little bit of good anywhere you go, like the compost bucket. Is it worth it, digging through all that nasty stuff to get just a couple of carob chips worth of good fun?” Another trio of head shaking. Another bit of innocent fun turned to rock in my stomach. I should have known better than to enjoy myself. I should have known it was wrong to have fun. I’d know better next time.
My dad was great at teaching memorable lessons. Two decades later and I remember that one clearly enough. But somewhere along the way I got a bit mixed up about the application. Wait, there’s a little bit of good to be found anywhere you go? That’s great news! There’s a carob chip nugget of awesome if you dig around a bit? This is worth a try. So I took a fork to those memories, pushed around the bits of nasty fear, guilt, dread and self-consciousness, and guess what? Dad was right. There are nuggets to be found: in my childhood, in terrifying “teaching you a lesson” moments, but even more in the adult world. I took a fork with me into the dark corners of the subcultures that fascinated me, into the messy lives of the kids who stole my heart and filled my life with beauty, into the stories of the nastiest addicts and most arrogant conservatives. Into the trash cans and gutters of my town, where I find the my greatest inspirations: discarded things.
That fork, that incredible fork that won’t let me wrinkle my nose and walk away from anything. That fork that my dad gave me, much to his own horror, along with an inadvertent commission to find the bits of good everywhere.
Dad asked me a question all those years ago that he meant as rhetorical, but with a bit of poking around I ended up in a different place than he: Is it worth it, digging through all that nasty stuff to get just a couple of nuggets of good? My answer: Every time.