Half an Acre of Thanks

By Louise Ure

Maybe you’ve seen those recent TV spots from Liberty Mutual insurance that feature ordinary folks helping those around them by performing small good deeds – picking up a dropped baby rattle, letting someone cut in during gridlocked traffic.

The song in the commercials is “Half an Acre”, sung by Sally Elllyson of the Brooklyn band, Hem.


I am holding half an acre
torn from the map of Michigan
and folded in this scrap of paper
is a land I grew up in

Think of every town you’ve lived in
every room you lay your head
and what is it that you remember?

Do you carry every sadness with you
every hour your heart was broken
every night the fear and darkness
lay down with you?

A man is walking on the highway
A woman stares out at the sea
and light is only now just breaking

So we carry every sadness with us
every hour our hearts were broken
every night the fear and darkness
lay down with us

But I am holding half an acre
torn from the map of Michigan
I am carrying this scrap of paper
that can crack the darkest sky wide open
every burden taken from me
every night my heart unfolding
my home

Both the good deeds-visuals of the commercial and the heart-carried sadness-of-home from the song merged together for me this week.

My heart’s “half acre” lies in Tucson, just south of a dry arroyo that dares to call itself the Rillito River, bordered by tamarisk trees on one side and the fragrance of honeysuckle vines on the other.

It is my mother’s house.

The half acre where all my hopes were born and some died. Where I was both shaped and shriven. Where love still lives in my mother’s gauzy memory. This is soft focus love in a harsh land – as blurred as a Vaseline- coated lens, as ephemeral as the sound of a wind chime.

The half acre where my mother now settles into her soft decline. (You might remember this post I wrote about her advancing Alzheimer’s. Or this one.

Now to the good deeds part of the story.

My brother went over to my mother’s house one afternoon last week and found a strange man in the living room with her, patting her hand and giving her little sips of water from a plastic glass.

He was the garbage man.

He’d been driving his massive truck down the street, stopping at each house to position the steel arms that would lift the big plastic garbage and recycling bins into the appropriate caverns on the truck. The sun was hot. He was in a hurry.  He put the truck into gear and moved on past the house.

That’s when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. It was an elderly woman’s form, unmoving, perched on the edge of a wooden bench on the front porch.

He idled there for a moment, already behind schedule and closing in on late. Should he disturb her? She had probably just settled there for a moment in the sun – he’d seen her basking there before.

But it was over a hundred degrees out, and the sun was fierce.

And the bathrobe she was wearing had come open and she was naked underneath.

Sweet man — this garbage man whose name I do not know — said to himself, “What if she was my mother?” He stopped, woke her gently from her deep sleep, tied the robe’s sash securely at her waist, and guided her inside.

Thank you, Mr. Garbage Man, not simply for the preservation of her modesty, but for caring. For noticing that someone might need help and then taking action.

He tended my half acre when I wasn’t there, and I’m deeply grateful for that.  I hope that  I can return the favor some day.  In the meantime, I now carry him in my heart, as well.

And Happy Birthday, mom.


Tell me, my ‘Rati friends, have you seen one of those gracious moments of unsolicited caring recently? And where is your half-acre of the heart?

19 thoughts on “Half an Acre of Thanks

  1. Catherine

    Oh Louise you are so lucky to have such a caring, thoughtful man be in the right place and time to show kindness to your Mother.

    My parents spread graciousness through their love of music. For almost 30 years now they have organised a floating group of their muso friends each Thursday to present some musical routines to a couple of local retirement homes. They know it breaks up the week for people.

    I asked Mum how they went last week and she told me that the most wonderful thing had happened. They’d been playing ‘Coming around the Mountain’ and they noticed the nurses crying and bringing other nurses into the room. Apparently the music had touched somewhere deep inside a man who had suffered a stroke and not communicated in 5 years, and he sang along, word for word, note for note.

    So even though my parents and their friends are aware that people enjoy the break in routine, for this Thursday they provided unsolicited…a break through.

  2. Louise Ure

    Catherine, that’s absolutely beautiful. There’s a story on the news here right now about a man brought out of a long coma because the physicians put ear phones on his head and played his favorite song, The Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” — LOUD. Your parents’ effort was even more grand because it was unplanned. Break through, indeed.

  3. JDRhoades

    Louise, what a beautifullly written story of a moment of grace.

    I have the blessing of serving as legal adviser and attorney for a wonderful group of volunteers who devote hours of time and lots of passion to working with the victims in child abuse and neglect cases. They’re called Guardians ad Litem (GAL’s for short) and their job is to be the child’s voice in court and to make recommendations for the child’s best interests. They do some amazing things for these kids, some of whom have lived stories more harrowing than anything you’d ever read in a book of crime fiction. They serve as a constant reminder that there are still people who’ll fearlessly do everything they can to bring the light, to “crack the darkest sky wide open.”

  4. Louise Ure

    J.D., your GALS also put the lie to all the jokes and horror stories about lawyers. Good on them, for their continued vigilance. And yes, they’re cracking the darkest sky wide open.

  5. Rae

    Lovely post, Louise, thanks.

    The moment of caring that comes to mind is from a few years back. My friend Neil and I were sitting in a diner in some random town in the far north of California. I happened to look out the window and noticed a guy in a wheelchair tooling along the rather uneven sidewalk across the street. And, of course, he hit a bump and the wheelchair tipped over.

    So the guy was laying there, trying in vain to lever himself back into his chair and it just wasn’t working. And people were walking by without offering to help. I said, “Neil, look…” Neil saw what was happening and it took all of about a second for him to jump out of the booth, jog across the street, and help the guy back into his chair – while people continued to stroll by.

    So it was a weird combination of “People suck” and “Not all people suck”.

  6. Louise Ure

    Good to know, J.D. (and even bigger kudos to them). I assumed that At Litem volunteers would have to know an awful lot about the law. It’s a group I’m going to look into now, thanks to you and to them.

    Rae, that’s a sad but instructive tale. There’s a difference, it seems, between not offering help when help is not wanted, and a clear case of distress for this guy. Good for you and for Neil.

  7. j.t. ellison

    Ah Louise, you just made me cry. I lost two grandparents to Alzheimers and it’s a ravaging, disgraceful disease. To have people around who care, who will help, is such a blessing. The garbageman is my hero today.

    Those ads are my absolute favorite. That’s how I try to love my life — even something as simple as smiling and saying hi to someone who looks down can make a difference.

    (off to blow my damn nose)

  8. Louise Ure

    JT, you probably do it unconsciously. I’ve seen you greet the quietest person in the room, just to make them feel more comfortable.

    And thank you, Debi. It’s nice to see another car racing fan here!

  9. pari

    Louise,I get to see many small moments during a day . . .– the adult who sees a small child crying and looking lost at school and takes the time to walk him to his kindergarten class– the people at the gym who stop to talk with a man who had a stroke and can’t answer, simply showing they care and know that someone is home in there– the neighbor who brings in the garbage can of an even older neighbor who is illand on and on. There are so many of these lovely moments of grace, of true and unsung kindness, if one cares to look.

    Thank you for reminding me.

  10. Catherine

    Louise, music seems to reach so many people in places they don’t expect. I posted that comment just before I went to sleep last night and as I woke I remembered the second song that this man joined in…was Country Roads, and when I thought of the lyrics the poignancy moved my appreciation to a whole different level.

    Having ‘Satisfaction’ tunnelling down through whatever layers a coma is made of and bring someone back is so wonderful.

    In my own sphere a totally unexpected kindness was a city taxi driver letting me into a stream of traffic.

    Apologies to any compassionate taxi driver or relative of said taxi driver that may be reading this…but previously my experience with them has not been gracious.

    The total unexpectedness of it really made my day.May not have the lifechanging significance of some unsolicited kindnesses but the pure simplicity from an unexpected source resonates rather joyfully with me.

  11. louise ure

    Catherine, is that the “Country roads…take me home” song? Most appropriate.

    And your taxi driver’s kindness may have seemed small, but the fact that it made such an impact on you suggests that it casts a long shadow, as well. How nice.

  12. Catherine

    Yes Louise, it was that particular part of the song,the chorus…that seems very appropriate.

    ‘Country roads, take me home,To the place I belong…’

    Funnily enough if someone fictionalised this particular moment, and had that song I’d think it a tad too sweet, but in actuality it’s just right and good and wonderful.

  13. Fran

    There’s a place we can go where us older women who love women can dance without competing with the younger set. One evening not long ago, a lady showed up in her wheelchair and was looking at the dance floor. She was by herself.

    But in short order, we noticed her out on the floor in her chair, with three other ladies of a certain age dancing with her. Her smile was glorious!

    Remember, you don’t need legs to dance!

  14. Louise Ure

    Hi Fran. You may not need two legs to dance, but it’s nice to have friends like those around when you don’t have them. Great story.

    And yes, Catherine, I’d probably think it too sappy a solution if I saw it done in Hollywood, but sometimes the sappiest story is just the best. (Like the video clip I saw yesterday of a man singing a basket of puppies to sleep. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12LA70Q8tNk)

  15. Zoë Sharp


    Yet another time I come back from a work trip too late to comment, but how can I not in the face of such a bitter-sweet tale?

    You have the soul of a poet.


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