In a sea of unknown strangers, we meet on the only soft couch in the break room. The silver-haired lady dressed always in varying shades of purples and lavender… and I.
Sofa buddies, she calls us. Taking a break from rock-hard chairs and dim computer screens. Sharing words like tea from a kettle…warm and satisfying.
Someone compliments her on her matching periwinkle sweatshirt and pants of the day and she smiles, puts her hand aside her mouth and leans over to me. “My favorite color,” she twinkles.
Bits and pieces of making conversation volley back and forth between us over the days. She’s a retired schoolteacher. I talk of freelance writing. “I wrote a book once!” she crows, regaling me with her former college thesis-turned-book theme. I tell her about my stories in Highlights and currently writing a piece to submit to Chicken Soup for the Soul.
“I’d like to do that!” she cries. I encourage her to do it, give her the web site info.
We talk of God and faith and how she tries to encourage the “young people” around her to think of Him in their everyday… even as she playfully teases a man walking by us about just that and he tells her she is right…
And before we know it, there’s a kindred spirit between us. Every cross-hatch line on her 75-ish face speaks to me of a lifetime of stories I wish there were time enough to hear, but this job is only for a few weeks.
Gently, I pull them out of her.
She begins with her dad. An austere, distant man on weekdays, overworked and too spent for family chatter. “But – oh, our Saturday nights!” she enthuses. “That’s when Daddy would become a kid again and we’d stay up deep into the night playing cards and board games until we’d fall over!”
Her blue-green eyes mist a bit as she talks…and I can almost see them all there, her brothers and sisters and dad…bending over boards scattered across their dining room table, contemplating their next game moves, whooping at the wins, moaning over losses. Her father tugging at her braids, giving her brothers a good-natured nudge in the ribs. Their window the only one brightly lit with the glow of sweet banter in a now dark neighborhood gone to bed hours ago.
Then, she’s on to her own family… seven kids, I think she says… Speaking of days when she was pregnant with twins…Sorrowfully, how one of them died as an infant.
“Do you think the twin who lived ever felt… lost…without his twin?” I ask, thinking how twins have that built in closeness even in the womb.
“The kids were all so close,” she explains, “I don’t think so…”
She goes on to talk of how they lived in a sprawling home far from neighbors…How her children became each other’s best friends out of necessity…how they too, still love their game night tradition to this day. How her dad was an inventor. She chuckles, remembering some of his craziest ideas, speaking proudly of others.
These days, she’s up at the crack of dawn, dropping her granddaughter off at school, wending her way across 45 minutes of freeways and traffic to this place. Again, I marvel at her stamina. I see her catching a few winks in her car at lunch, but she’s ever chipper on the job. We laugh together over some of the funnier things these kids write on the tests we’re reading… the cute ones… Wonder over some of the atrocious penmanship. “Never would have cut it in my class,” she expostulates, privately.
She tells me how she works here twice a year, and at a candy and nut shop over Christmas, boasts of the best cashews in the world at that place, and plops a little bag of them in my lap one morning with a mischievous grin.
“What’s this?” I smile.
“Just a treat,” she waves her hand dismissively. But I see her waiting for me to take a bite, rave over their succulent taste…and I oblige, heartily.
We talk of favorite children’s books and her love of scrapbooking and crafting and my old love of drawing and painting and how she’s looking for something fun to give her youngest grandchild for his birthday.
Next day, I’m waiting on the couch. She drops down beside me with a Hi’ya, sofa buddy! and deposits Amelia Bedelia in my lap. I exchange three Frog and Toad books she told me she’s never read. Two kindergartners at show and tell.
She giggles at Frog and Toad antics while I chuckle over Amelia’s mishaps, when I sneak a look at the impish dimple in the corner of her smile.
She feels me looking, glances up from the page and a butterscotch pudding cup in her hand. “Ohhh… I bet you’re thinking, why did I ever give that uncouth woman my book when she’s eating something gooey!” she laughs, embarrassed. “I have to force myself to eat these days, or I’d put it down, y’know…”
“Not at all,” I assure her. She is indeed thin as a rail, not interested in food much anymore at her age, she says.
“I’m buying these for my grandson!” she hoots over Frog.
One day, supervisors announce a posting of those who will continue on another project.
That makes us notice. “I don’t know your name!” we splutter together, chortling.
“Anne,” she says, as I’m wondering if that’s Anne with an “E,” like one of my favorite Anne’s…but I don’t ask. “I’ll go check the list to see if we’re on it,’ she says. “What’s yours?”
I laugh. “Pam…”
She isn’t on the list, but I am. She makes light of it, saying she has something planned in the middle of it anyway…but I know she’s disappointed.
Her project is nearing close the Monday after Mother’s Day, and it is suddenly looking like it will end unexpectedly within hours. I find a powder blue box shaped like a tiny bag with a heart cutout on top, filled with little goodies, at my computer that morning. One of the little Mom’s Day gifts she told me she was crafting for the women at her church. “I saved one for you,” she says with a friendly nudge, “because you don’t have to be a mom to have a mom’s heart.”
I’ve been mulling over getting her a card to say goodbye these past few days…something light and pretty, and purple of course!… and now time is running like sand through our fingers before I know it.
I muse whether I can make it to a local grocery store and back during our short lunch. Dash there and find the perfect one – Happy Mom’s Day in flowers and lavenders. Grab a pen from my glove compartment to pen her a few words… tell her how her stories make me see her mother’s heart, how I’ve enjoyed knowing her… Put one of my cards inside, in case she’d like to read some of my blog stories some time…Slide it by her computer before she returns from lunch.
I sit down to begin working, when I feel her fingers kneading my shoulders. Thank you… she says, close to my ear, with emotion… for the beautiful card. You’re a sweetheart. She grabs my hands and folds her own business card into them.
Before long… her side of the room is emptying out, project done.
I think of how transitory life can be. How God brings people into our lives for only a moment sometimes… like a brief chapter in a book…
Later, l look at her business card and smile. The woman’s energy never quits. It’s what makes her happy.
Creative Memories Consultant, it reads. Workshops and classes.
And I think…I like how God stamps His own creative memories across the momentary intersections of our lives… and how He often speaks His heart to me through the elderly. How I’ll miss meeting her each break, during the next project…
This weekend, I see a movie with a friend. It’s about a group of elderly people feeling lost in the emptiness of their lives… traveling across the world to a third world country in search of a hotel advertised as elegant and lovely…though anything but..
Hotel for the beautiful and the elderly, the sign reads when they get there.
Laughter bubbles up inside me at that…and snapshot memories of a woman who is passionate about purple and life to the full float across the screen of my thoughts.
The beautiful and the elderly… hmm. Sounds like a soap opera. I think I prefer God’s view on that…
Beautiful is He who satisfies our desires with good things so that our youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
And makes us like amethyst, in His Hand.
© Pam Depoyan
Now I’m telling the world your wonders;
I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray.
Has your life intersected with a stranger for one brief moment recently? If so, what did you find written there in that short life chapter?
After I read her piece, this post about Anne began forming in my mind… 🙂
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