(This is a true story – well, mostly true – that happened to me a few years ago. It was the last occasion I visited a copy shop.)

I was in the local copy shop a few days ago more or less minding my own business when this old fellow with a hearing aid who was stapling his copies at the common table pipes up with “WOULD YOU MIND A COMPLIMENT?” loud enough to attract the notice of another woman two tables and three machines away.

Now there’s two ways to a woman’s heart: one is a compliment, the other is a gasp of astonishment when she reveals her true age.

“No, I love compliments,” I said, ready for any ball this old duffer might lob over the net.

YOU SMELL wonderful!” he announced.  “May I ask what perfume you’re wearing?”

I immediately wanted to deny I was wearing any perfume at all but innate honesty and modesty got the best of me. “Cabotine,” I replied demurely.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” he bellowed so that the man four tables and six machines down looked up.

“Cabotine,” I said, moving closer and smiling tightly.

“Boy, I’m gonna TELL MY WIFE ABOUT YOU!” he said, waving the stapler in the air. I edged backwards towards my copier, trying to look busy.


“C-a-b-o-t-i-n-e,” I muttered.


“C-A-B-O-T-I-N-E,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Would you mind writing that down. I like to get some of that stuff for my wife. YOU SURE SMELL good.”

I hurriedly wrote down the name of the perfume on the slip of paper he proffered me and as I turned away, he announced to the woman from two tables down who was now on her way to the check-out, “I sure like the way SHE SMELLS.”

By the time I returned to my copy machine, my knees were wobbly and my forehead moist. Well, I thought after a few moments, the poor old guy couldn’t help it.  One of these days I’m going to be old, too and maybe I won’t hear so good either. And wasn’t that sweet that the old duffer wanted to get his wife some perfume. What a nice old guy.

You see how the idea of distance lending enchantment can creep into your thinking, for it was my smiling kindness towards the Old Duffer (OD) that predisposed my kindness towards his even older counterpart, the Little Old Lady (LOL).

This little elderly woman was wandering disconsolately through the copy machines, winding around the sorting and stapling area and bumping into to the cutting boards. This way-too-soft-heart of mine said to myself, “Hey, look at that old broad. One of these days you might be old and confused in a copy shop, too. Why not give grandma a break?”

Which then prompted me to go up to her and say the fateful words, “Do you need some help?”  Tears rose unbidden into my eyes as I saw the joy simultaneously spring up in hers.

“Oh, yes!” she gasped.

“What do you need,” I asked in my kindest, be-nice-to-old-people voice.

“I have to copy this letter to Mildred,” she replied, waving the five-page, hand-written missive in my face with her one good arm, the other being cradled in a sling.

“Right this way,” I said confidently and led the way to an idle copier. “You just line the paper up right here and push the button. That’s all there is to it.”

I mentally dusted my hands together in satisfaction at this good deed well done and consider the gold star that was even now appearing on that Big Scorecard in the sky (BS). But as I swaggered back to my own copier, I happened to glance back and saw her struggling with her one good arm to raise the heavy copier lid. I did an abrupt about face and solicitously said, “Let me help.”

“Oh, thank you, dear, how kind you are,” she said batting her eyes and looking up at big, strong me with little less than complete adoration.

“No problem,” was my don’t-worry-I’ve-got-it-covered reply. I opened the lid, lined up the first page and said, “Just push this button here,” pointing to the big green-for-go button.

“This one,” she queried.

“That one,” I replied, giving the button a hard push.

“OHHHH!” she squealed as the first page of her letter shot out like a bullet.

“AAAH!” she cried as the second copy was propelled through the machine.

“NOOOOOO!” she screamed as the third copy blasted out the side of the infernal equipment. “I only wanted one copy,” she cried at me with watery blue eyes.

I desperately started punching the big red-for-stop button on the copier, the sweat popping out on my forehead with the same alacrity as the copies were flung out of the machine. Why isn’t this stopping, I cried to the God of the Old Testament who is the same God in charge of computers and other machinery with no mercy.

Finally, with a small hiss of laughter, the copier slid to a stop like a player stealing home. In the old woman’s hands were a dozen copies of the first page of her letter.

“What am I going to do?” she wailed.  “I just wanted one.  I can’t pay for all these copies.”

Feeling lower than a skunk in the hen house, I nervously said I would find someone to help and scurried off. I button-holed the first person I saw with a pocket protector and said, “That woman needs help,” in my most authoritative voice and pointing.

He ambled over to the old woman. From the safety of my own copy machine I thought I heard a low snickering sound. I saw the old woman crumpled and weary, explaining the whole fiasco to the clerk.

Then, in a loud Tweety Pie voice, she said, “And it was all her fault!” and with her good arm, index finger honed to a rapier sharpness, pointed across the aisle towards me.  “She made me do it. She made me make all these copies that I don’t need.  She should pay for them.”

In one smooth motion, all heads in the copy shop swiveled towards me, their eyes accusing, their mouths bowed downward and pinched. I psychologically curled into a ball just like the garden snake did when Mimi the Cat tossed it in the air while sitting under my desk last month. Unfortunately, there was no one to come to my rescue and carry me out to the garden on the end of a spatula.

The young clerk patted the old woman’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry.  I’ll help,” and tossed a scornful look in my direction before putting his head together with the old bat.

I quickly gathered up my copies and slunk towards the check-out. As I made my way across the room, the Old Duffer (OD) was chatting up a young woman. I heard him say, “You wouldn’t mind a COMPLIMENT, would you?”  I didn’t wait for her answer.

“There are three classes into which all elderly women that I ever knew were to be divided:

first, that dear old soul; second, that old woman; third, that old witch.”

 Samuel Taylor Coleridge




I got a phone call the other day from my Aunt Lucy in Florida. Aunt Lucy is 97 years old and the last of her generation in our family. Happily, she is in fairly good health considering her age. She still dyes her hair, wears red lipstick and nail polish, and, until a few years ago, wore high heels. She has to use walker and take various heart pills but her mind is still working on all four cylinders.

Her hearing is something of a problem, especially when she calls, because she takes off her hearing aid which she claims whistles into the receiver. After I pick up the phone and say ‘hello’ my part of the conversation is pretty well over. Although I am practically shouting, she cannot hear me and forges ahead over my ‘what about…,” “how is ….,” and “have you heard….”

Her voice is kind of quavery but still full of good humor as it has always been. Lucy, along with my cousin Mary, were the cheerful optimists in our family of depressives, victims and complainers. Problems and disasters of various sizes and complexions were handled with a shrug, or perhaps a good cry, and soon followed by an acceptance that life happens so let’s get on with it.

She has always had something good to say about everyone and has been more interested in her own life than in passing judgment on someone else’s. As a result, Aunt Lucy has always had lots of friends and is loved by all members of the family. In fact she was invited to spend her final years at the home of her grandson and his wife. She has told everyone that when she gets sick to send her to a nursing home because she doesn’t want to be a burden.

When her sister, my mother, died a few years ago, Aunt Lucy said, “Now that your mother is gone, I’ll be your mother.” Oddly enough, my cousin Mary said the same thing to me – the two cheerful ones best understanding sorrow. And when my own son was dying of cancer two years ago it was Aunt Lucy and Mary who said rosaries for him, who called me long distance and listened to me cry.

So this Thanksgiving I will be grateful for this dear aunt of mine who remains a model and mentor to me. I will pray that she goes gently into that good night when the time comes – as soon it must – and that if there is a gathering of the clan at the end of the day, she will be there to greet me upon my arrival.



The last couple of weeks I have been delving back into art. It seems that I write and paint in spurts – three or four weeks of writing, then a month of art. One of the big disadvantages to this approach is the ramp-up time needed to get back into some kind of flow. It can take several days before I allow the brush to paint or the keys to write. It requires a setting aside of the desire for a specific outcome, and a willingness to withhold judgment.

Who am I to say this piece is good or bad? I never have a good perspective on the quality of what is produced. In fact, I usually do not ‘like’ any pictures I may be working on and it only after I have hung them on the wall for a day or two that any beauty shines through. It is almost as if the painting continues to evolve and change without my interference (or is it because of it?)– sort of like the shoemaker and the elves. I wake up in the morning and the work is done.

Heart Land

When I paint I take one of two approaches – I may be doing a study of someone else’s work and trying to interpret some aspect of it; or I approach the blank page with nothing in my mind as an exercise (I am tempted to say) of meditation. But it is not meditation in the usual sense for I do not have any picture or image in mind, nor do I usually have a desired outcome – say a picture of a flower. The mind space is diffused and unfocused.

Instead, I just play with the ink and water with the beginner’s mind – for I really know nothing about art. I have never taken any lessons, just read a bunch of how-to books for technique. But I bring to this process a great admiration for this type of communication with these particular tools.

Since I have no idea or image in mind, there is no way that I can make a mistake. This is very attractive to my ego and the means I use to subvert it. So I come to the drawing board like child playing in the mud and relax into the moment. When I find myself slipping into judgment or into analytical thinking I recognize that it is time to stop.

Drawing Closer

Anyway, after several years of painting solely with ink, I have begun to explore the voice of water colors. Here are some of the latest explorations into an abstract country.







Golden November light liquefies,

melting my bones from the inside out

while I am a basking pool smiling under blue skies

as bee planes drone overhead, purring like contented cats.


Below the master aviators recline among the boughs

and relax along the limbs and hide beneath the leaves

and chirp and chatter in desultory conversation

as I drop at my ease, embraced by my solar lord.


From my deep pool depths I smile.

Each toe is cool and burning,

each leg languid, my elbows loose and silly,

my heart-womb green.


I loaf upon this rain softened earth and stretch,

swimming fish-like, through the swelling grass,

awakened at last and radiant with winter’s wet kisses.

Rising, I pour my granddaughter’s bubble soap,


then use her magic wand  to fill the air with fantasy

while I twirl and weave and spin

among the glistening, opalescent orbs.

Dizzy, I sink down and drink deep


the smell of earthworms and snails

and wet things that live within the Mother

letting their coolness slide provocatively

against my sun-drunk skin.


(pictured: Yellow Trees, 2011 Marie Taylor)