Archive for December, 2011

A Gift

December 28, 2011

The first time I saw her, she was sitting and talking with a homeless man who looked just like Jesus. They were outside Trilliman’s, an upscale bakery and sandwich place at the shopping center. Two small wrought iron tables with chairs were set up there for patrons to enjoy intimate talks over specialty coffees. It was hot that day. She and Jesus, in their layered clothing, had usurped the space and were sipping orange sport drinks purchased from a vending machine. A policeman ran them away from the establishment. Homeless people were not welcome.   I decided that day the woman must be an angel. She was by Jesus’ side and her frizzy white hair haloed her head. After that, no matter where I saw her wandering the streets with her grocery carts and shopping bags, or which homeless people she was with, I thought of her as the angel, a disciple of Jesus.

As I stepped from the door at work the week before Christmas, rain surprised me. It wasn’t forecasted. I covered my head with my purse and ran to the car. As the defroster blew warm air, it took the chill off.  I fished around in my pocket for the shopping list I’d scribbled at lunchtime. Sighing at all the gift buying I still had to do, I put the car in gear and resigned myself to fighting crowds before going home.

My youngest son had to have the latest style of sneakers. The ones he wore still fit, but according to his assessment, they were vintage. No one wore those kind anymore. The shoe store in the shopping center displayed the latest rage in sneakers in their weekly ad flier in the newspaper that morning. If I didn’t hurry, they’d all be gone and I’d be browsing ebay and bidding way past the true purchase price, with the addition of  express shipping to have them before the holiday. That gift was number one on my list.

The oldest boy had recently bought a used truck and was ‘pimping’ his ride. He talked non-stop about fender flares, grill guards, camouflage seat covers, fog lights, bed liners, and lift kits. I had lots of items to choose from and several automotive stores to visit.

My husband, the hardest man to buy for because he has everything, had mentioned sometime in the spring that he needed one of those battery rechargers and rechargeable batteries. The boys used his flashlight and left it on, killing the alkaline batteries. “Children,” he’d muttered. “They don’t appreciate the value of a dollar.”  The specialty store with the charger and batteries he needed was way over on the other side of town. Traffic was always horrific this time of year. I’d not get home until late. I was glad I’d put a beef roast in the crock pot to cook early that morning.  

I took my place in the line of cars at the traffic light leading to the main thoroughfare. In the distance, I spotted the angel.  It had been several months since I’d seen her last. She stood on the corner of Pine Street and Garrison Road. I recognized her immediately. She has a presence that makes you remember no matter how long it’s been. She seems to understand her direction without maps or a GPS, goes about her business with an unstated purpose; and I never see the troubles of this world reflected in her eyes. 

The rain came down hard enough to use my windshield wipers, and the angel didn’t have an umbrella or a hat. A bright yellow terrycloth headband spanned the area between her forehead and hair line. The ends of her hair drooped and dripped with the water which ran and soaked her Green Bay Packers windbreaker. The jacket was tucked into a pair of olive green army fatigues which were cinched at the waist with the sparkle of a silver sequined belt. Her pants legs disappeared into the tops of knee length black rubber boots sporting bright multi-colored polka-dots, the kind preppy college girls can’t wait for rainy days to wear. Mud from the North River Trail caked her boots. The angel had appeared street-side from the path in the woods where a small group of homeless people on this side of town congregate to commune and sleep at night.  

She was standing there at the intersection when the crosswalk sign changed offering her a safe passage. She didn’t take it. She stood there, holding her electric blue tote bag close to her chest. She peered into the car waiting for the light to change at the end of Pine, then she pecked on the passenger window with her index finger. She reached inside her bag, pulled something out and handed it to the person inside the car. She waved as the light turned green and the car pulled away from the curb. She stepped back and waited. The cars coming down Garrison got their green light and surged forward toward their destinations.

The first car sped past the angel close to the curb and through a puddle. A wave of rainwater crashed up onto the sidewalk and over the angel’s feet. The caked mud slid off onto the sidewalk, and she looked down at the colorful polka dots on her shiny wet boots. She smiled.

My light turned green after a minute, but the yellow one caught me before I could pull out into traffic. Cursing my fate under my breath, I sat staring at the now red light. I was first in line, but waiting again. I noticed movement to my right. The angel had come over close to my car. She pecked on my passenger door glass.

I pressed the button to lower the automatic window. It slid down halfway.  The angel reached into her tote and pulled out a plastic covered candy cane. She handed it to me.

“Merry Christmas,” she said.

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A Plan and a Goal

December 23, 2011

When the top strand of twinkle lights went dark in the Christmas tree, I was ready to bag the whole decorating thing and call it a year. I’m usually more patient than that. I pull out every bulb and try a new one until the strand comes to light again. Not this year, I stomped out to the car and drove directly to the thrift store where I found a working strand of bulbs in the bottom of the 50% off Holiday bin. As I turned with the lights in my hand, I noticed a small cotton stocking striped in red and white. It was plain, hand-stitched with no glitter or tinsel, no name across the top, and half the size of my boys’ stockings. I picked it up and marveled at its simplicity. I pulled an extra quarter from my pocket, paid the cashier, and carried it home with the lights.

Ben arranged the strand at the top of the tree. It’s easier for him as tall as he is. Ryan plugged in the lights and all was right with the tree again. I held up my little flannel stocking to share with my boys. They looked at my prize, then at each other, and shrugged their shoulders. They gave me that look that says they don’t understand me, but love me anyway.  I tacked that sweet little sock up with Ben’s Santa soaring over rooftops and Ryan’s sectioned and sparkling snowman stockings.

This year gave us happiness and sadness alike. Ben graduated in May from Ferrum with a major in History and minor in Political Science. He applied to grad school at James Madison University in the school of Kinesiology and was admitted in August. He’s working on a Master’s in sports leadership and management. His first semester came off without a hitch, but with lots of reading and writing.  He’s found a truck he not only loves, but can ease his six foot six inch frame into. He’s also living back home with us.

Ryan adores having his big brother in the house again. They have their moments, like wrestling in the hallway where someone’s head and shoulders plowed through the drywall,  but they’ve got each other’s back and no one messes with the other.  Ryan’s a Junior at Western Albemarle and he has turned into our math whiz. We hold this trait in awe. It’s not genetic, but an anomaly. He scored an advanced pass on the Algebra II Standards of Learning tests, and we celebrated for weeks. He’s holding his own in other, less interesting subjects and shop, his sole ‘A’.  He mentions college occasionally. We encourage him to excel in school, but Ben seems to get the most effort from him.  It’s a good thing Ben is his brother/surrogate parent. Bruce and I would be lost and shaking our heads otherwise.  

We lost Grandma Patsy in June. The cancer treatments were just too much for her heart to take. She was able to attend Ben’s graduation though, and couldn’t have been prouder of him. We miss her, but we all know she is not suffering from the effects of cancer anymore. 

Bruce and I discovered Chincoteague in February of last year and fell completely in love with the area, and a little more with each other in the process as well. The island off the eastern shore of Virginia is a quaint little town with people who are real, and scenery that  is beyond description.  We purchased a half acre lot on Big Glade Creek and visit every opportunity we have.

Bruce still mulches and does yard maintenance. I’m still caring for elders at the nursing home. Life is busy and often complicated. There are so many tasks in a day and not nearly enough time to complete them all. I find myself out of breath and struggling to keep up with all that needs to be done, but as Ryan told Santa when he was five years old and trying to reassure the jolly elf, “I have a plan and a goal.” My goal for 2012 is to simplify, find joy in every day, and in the little things around me.

I’m starting with one small striped cotton Christmas stocking.  I wish you the simple joys of life as well.

High Stepping

December 8, 2011

Her legs are not long, but when she was in her twenties they were as shapely as a pin-up girl’s. She has pictures to prove it. She’s lying on the beach, propped on elbows, one knee bent, white rimmed sunglasses cover her eyes, a wide, lipstick smile invites the camera in for a kiss. Bathing suits were one piece back then, and sex appeal was truth.

She was born in 1934 and Radio City Music Hall was built in 1932. They’ve both held up pretty well under the years.  Her physique is a bit more curvaceous than the Art Deco symmetrical lines of the theater, but both are stunning in their own right. They know how to shine. Both accessorize in crystal dangles, and drape themselves in gold silk.  The woman is small, standing one half inch over five feet tall. The theater is large, seating over six thousand, with a stage measuring sixty-six feet by one hundred forty-four feet. Its shape and style reflects that of the setting sun.  

Tickets to see the Rockettes are for the 11:30 matinee. She, the matriarch of the family now, has ridden all the way from Virginia, chauffeured through five states and multiple speed limits to the home of her niece, the one who procured the one hundred ten dollar orchestra seats for the show.

An alarm set for seven-thirty Saturday morning gives her and her progeny just the amount of time needed to awaken from their soft beds in a New Jersey suburb, don robes and slippers and sip coffee with cream over a toasted buttered bagel before having to bathe and dress for the event. Conversation is punctuated with soft laughter. She stops at one point, china cup in hand, and says, “It’s good to have my girls together again.”  The sun promises to be warmer than yesterday just because she’s visiting the city.  

She dresses in black wool slacks with matching flats for midtown walking. A soft gray cashmere pullover sweater is accented with a long knotted strand of vintage jet black glass beads. Their facets reflect light. Her short style of natural waves shines white atop her head.

Black has always been her favorite non-color. She remembers her brother’s funeral. He was buried in the family cemetery on a day hanging gray with clouds in 1944. It was war time and clothing was drab then, but even at age ten, she felt herself coming into her own. She sorted through her sister’s closet and found a simple A-line black wool dress. She wore it over a white cotton blouse with a peter pan collar. She found black tights to match the dress and slipped her feet into a pair of patent leather Mary Jane shoes. The eldest of her sisters admonished her to take special care of the strand of ivory  pearls she fastened around her little sister’s small neck that day. 

She pulls a tiny faded black and white photograph from her wallet to share. It was taken just before the funeral. She stands out amongst the members of her family, chin held high, gloved hands clasped together in front of her. The seriousness of her expression reflects the solemn occasion.  

She will not leave the house without lipstick.  She throws the charcoal gray wool cape over her shoulders, wraps the Blumen Tuch silk scarf from Germany around her neck, and pulls red gloves onto her hands. That and the lipstick are the only splashes of color she allows.

The seats are ten rows back from the stage. The lights lower and the curtain rises. Thirty sets of legs begin to kick in unison to the opening number. She reaches out to the niece sitting next to her, motioning her to lean in close. “As old as I am,” she says. “I can still kick up my heels.”

She is not to be doubted.