Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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Last winter I met a woman who was living in a hotel thanks to a housing-assistance program. She was recovering from a brutal assault. Her blackened eyes looked at me with wariness and pain.
We made several trips to her truck, which sat inoperable in a Walmart parking lot, to retrieve her things. As we sorted through her belongings, I realized this vehicle had been her home. Thick wool blankets and pillows had comforted her on cold nights. There were her brother’s tools, her art supplies, clothes that she probably hadn’t worn since her last job as an engineer years ago. Everything she owned was in that truck.
On our last visit, before she had to turn the vehicle over to a salvage operator for no compensation, she faced a final indignity: when she lifted the hood, she found that someone had stolen the battery.
Although I understood how difficult it was to leave her truck behind, Thacher Schmid’s interview with Graham Pruss [“Displaced,” October 2021] helped me appreciate the true value of a home — whether a vehicle or any other form of shelter.
I’m glad there’s someone like Graham Pruss studying the rise in the number of people living in RVs and cars. Though my partner and I qualify as low income, with family support we bought a house four years ago. To subsidize our mortgage we rent out our driveway and backyard as RV parking spaces. We charge tenants less than RV parks, and we provide access to our washer and dryer and the yard. We even built a bathroom for our outdoor dwellers. We check in on each other most days, and I’ve found that life is more interesting with community, challenging as it can occasionally be.
Our goals are to provide safe spaces for a few people, cultivate community on our urban property, live a lower-cost lifestyle, and have the ability to spend more time with our two young children. What we’re doing is illegal, and we can do it only as long as our neighbors don’t complain to the city.
Perhaps people will read this and realize that they would benefit from sharing an underutilized driveway or yard. Maybe if enough of us do it, we can make it legal.
Not a single entry in the Readers Write on “Sisters” [October 2021] was from a brother. To rectify the situation in some small way, I want to affirm my love and admiration for my sister.
A year before our father died, I asked him how it was I’d been able to read before entering kindergarten. I was hoping to hear I was a prodigy, but my father answered, without skipping a beat, “You were your sister’s project.”
The Sun gets me thinking about one of the best gifts of storytelling, which is to hear your story told by another. When I read Judy Chow’s “The Interpreter” [September 2021], I realized it had been a long time since I’d read something that directly relates to my immigrant experience. Though there are many immigrant stories, and many shades of any given immigrant story, Chow’s essay brought me comfort.
When my grandfather first sent me some issues of The Sun nearly three years ago, I didn’t do more than glance at a couple of pictures and scan through Readers Write.
This summer I moved nearly five hours from home to attend a university. To say I was homesick is an understatement. I spent the first four days in misery, unable to cope on a bustling campus, so loud and hot compared to the calm, forested glens of my hometown. On my fifth day here I found a package from my grandpa in my mailbox. Inside was your September 2021 issue.
The Sun had unknowingly become a symbol of home for me. I’ve carried it around for three weeks now, cutting out my favorite quotes, pictures, and stories.
I hope someday to submit writing that could be printed in your magazine. If that day comes, I’ll be the first to deliver a copy to my grandpa.
Describing the fraught moment after her daughter’s birth, when her wife — the newborn’s mother — appeared to be dying, Laura Price Steele writes: “It’s as if the moment is turning into memory while I’m still in it. I can feel the weight of these minutes about to yank me into another life” [“The Unknowing,” July 2021]. This is exactly how I felt as my husband’s death became imminent. Until I read this devastating sentence, I couldn’t put the experience into words.
I cried reading Andre Dubus III’s “Ghost Dogs” [July 2021]. I nearly couldn’t finish it and awoke the next morning still haunted by the essay. It took me back to all the dogs who have been in my life and the complicated relationships I have had with these wondrous beings. Dubus’s essay unlocked a door to many memories, both painful and sweet.
Kelly Daniels’s essay “City Bus, Country Bus” [June 2021] fondly called to mind the 98, a bus that carried folks from small, country towns to the universities and workplaces in Eugene, Oregon.
On this bus a friend taught me how to knit socks. When the driver needed to fence her dog, regular riders built her a fence. One of the more mature riders taught us young folk the wonders of Bag Balm for dry skin. I used to joke that the 5:30 PM bus was more like a bar: laughter, jokes, and even a few small parties at parks along the way.
I look forward to COVID fading into the past so I can safely ride the bus again: one with large, clear windows so I can take in the mountains and skyline.
Like Kelly Daniels I, too, grew up in California. When I was a lad in the fifties, everyone seemed to love automobiles. Gas-station employees washed your windows and filled your tank. My family once drove a hundred miles to Los Angeles just to get a look at the newest models.
When I became a hippie, I learned how automobiles had transformed our entire country for the worse. Instead of learning bus routes, which barely existed where I lived, I hitchhiked about fifty thousand miles in ten years, “bumping elbows with messy humanity,” as Daniels writes.
Once, when I was about nineteen years old, the person giving me a ride stopped for gas in Los Angeles. There were a dozen self-service pumps and one guy sitting in a booth. I burst out laughing because I knew, instinctively, that I was looking at the future.
As I read the June 2021 Sunbeams — about revolution and civil disobedience and fighting for what you think is right — it occurred to me that the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 would probably say they were acting on many of the principles highlighted in the quotes.
Those people, who feel disrespected by the “ruling class,” had been told by a president and a media outlet that their way of life and the country they love was being stolen from them. How would Democrats have reacted if Joe Biden had lost, and we had been told by people we trust that it was due to fraud? How can we convince those who believe otherwise that, if there was voter fraud, it was miniscule and inconsequential? I wish I knew.
Several years ago I let my subscription to The Sun lapse. I was teaching freshman composition and had little time to read beyond what was needed to prepare for my classes. Then, shortly before I retired, a friend passed along a recent issue. I had forgotten how wonderful the magazine is. I found powerful writing and stunning photographs. Before long I was subscribing again.
Then, a few years ago, I decided to give a gift subscription to my closest friend of more than fifty years. He and his wife had moved from Indiana to Scotland, where his mother had grown up, and I wanted to give him a taste of what was best in America. I’ve renewed that subscription for years.
He says The Sun makes him see that, despite the upheavals in the U.S. — the systemic racism, the ugly partisan divide, the widespread money-grubbing — a rich vein of goodwill, wisdom, and humanity still runs through this country.