I saw Sue again today.
Spry. Indeterminate age, but well into her eighties.
She saw me pull up and is coming briskly out from her garage because . . . why, I am not sure. I listen? I showed care for her once? I have her mail in my hand? I love her?
I do, as a gift from God, love older people, it’s true. And the very young also. Choice middlers, definitely. But, there is a segment of humanity for whom I cannot honestly say that I have anything but disdain.
I am ahead on time on my favorite route, “Gratitude.” I am sitting in my truck eating almonds and chocolate after finishing off a little tub of baby food carrots. I like those pureed carrots because they are often on sale, packed with nutrients, and easy to eat without finding a spoon. Today, it is convenient to use the lid of the container. I like the jars better—such cute little reusable glass wonders, ideal for all sorts of things later—but the little tubs were a much better price and they are better to pack in a lunch since I toss my bag around my truck a bit and a jar could break. This lid is making a good scoop for the beta-carotene and vitamin K and the flavor is nothing like a fresh carrot, but it is already digested. Yum. And now, these almonds and chocolate are my treat as I pray here in my truck beside the CBU (central box unit) of the apartment complex, half of which has 48th Avenue addresses and the other half Railroad Avenue addresses.
Railroad is where I can see him coming. I have seen this guy around a lot, and here he comes on his bicycle, not pedaling. I have never seen him pedal his bike, loaded with all of his possessions, a plastic bag and bungee cord home on wheels. Perhaps it is too unwieldy to pedal, so I always see him scooting along, sitting on the lowered seat, but using his feet on the pavement, sort of walking/rolling along now on this busy stretch of road beside the rails. Those tracks carry goods across the nation and they guide an Amtrak train too, where people sit in comfort, going from north to south, maybe Seattle down to Eugene and beyond. This guy has no comfort but does not seem to mind as he shuffles along.
This guy, I love. He brings no harm to anyone as he tries to survive best he can, living from bungee to bag. He travels beyond, too, perhaps with more style than the passengers on the train.
And then I hear and see a shiny truck approaching. This is not a working truck, I am thinking. It’s too clean and too loud and too tall and I know because of what I am seeing that it is a toy driven by a boy, not a man. What I am seeing is this boy, whatever age he may be, pulling up beside the guy on his mobile home, and then gunning the engine, a Dodge diesel it must be, because as he passes and presses the accelerator pedal a large billow of smoke blows out his tail end. This is a snort of derision coming from this little boy in his shiny toy onto this man who is using his feet to guide his entire life. And the effect is just as intended. Spite and a sneer at 45 miles an hour in a 30 zone cover my bike buddy, spilling all over him and into his nostrils. Without missing a beat in his steady rhythm, the survivor raises his handkerchief to his nose and carries on. And the boy, I imagine, laughs as he flies by, thinking he is the center of the universe. If only he knew, right now, what I am thinking . . . And I am not the only one, dude. You will need to seriously grow up, or you will be more miserable than you can conceive. You are only one flat tire from your own hell.
It is not easy for me to love that unkind kind, but I am called to do so anyway. I’ll need help, I am thinking—and praying—as I finish off the last of my almond allowance for today. Yep, I am gonna need some help. Amen.
And then, there is Sue.
She has bright eyes and a permanent grin, showing good teeth or at least well-constructed dentures, and as I see her coming out to greet me, I remember the first time we met . . .
That day I had pulled up with her mail, put it into her box, and then saw her coming. I took her mail back from her box, and idled forward, sidling up beside her driveway. No hello. Instead, “Can I ask you something?” she says. Sure. And she says not a word, but points to her head, just over her right, bright eye. There is an abrasion and a small bump, and she is asking me by pointing if the skin is broken or how bad is it? She is speaking with her finger and her eyes, and I say, oh you have a scrape. The skin isn’t broken, and I think you are going to be okay. How do you feel? Are you dizzy?
I am always a little dizzy she says with a twinkle. I smile and ask her to tell me what happened. Well, I saw you coming, and I was sitting in the garage, and when I raised up to come out I hit my head on that blue thing back there. My nephew says, Nana, you are only 28, and I say yes I am 28.
Then she leans into my truck as if it is our little secret, and says “I am a lot older than 28 . . .”
Do you have some ointment in your house? Because I think that you are fine, but a little antiseptic would be good. Oh yeah, I have that sort of thing, and I will get it on there and thank you for helping me. I steal a glance at my phone to check the time, and I turn off my engine to let her know that we can talk. It will also let her know that it is time for me to move on when I start my engine later.
And now, today marks the third time that Sue has come out of her garage. We have discussed all sorts of things in a very short while. Today, it ends with black-eyed Susans, and she giggles because her name is Sue. She’s a little girl not bound by her frailty. While smiling she is hoping that the person who did the yard trimming did not cut into those flowers and she does most of the yard work herself, and it is warm today, almost 90 degrees she says, when she had her coffee on her porch.
I smile, and laugh, and end with another smile, as I start the engine, and she steps back until next time.
I slowly pull away, and there are no tears this time as I think of the beauty in a vital presence, in any place, at any age . . .
Title Photogragh “Ageless Flowers” © 2018 Timothy Waugh