Lucky

After several days of heavy rains the sky was clearing, the clouds drifting slowly into high, white masses. The sun shone down peacefully as if grateful for the respite. The air was clear and clean and after many days of silence, the birds were once again singing.

He was a middle-aged man, still slender but showing streaks of gray in his hair. Behind the wall of his brown eyes, a sadness and disappointment shone. He said he had grown up in a single parent family and although they had never gone hungry, there was never any money for the nicer things of life.

He had put himself through college, worked hard, and eventually rose to an executive position within a respected company. He had a devoted wife and two healthy children; a big house with a view, a sports car of his own, a travel trailer for family vacations, electronic gadgets and toys – in fact, all the things he had dreamed of owning as a young man were now his.

He said that when he looked at his life he saw many of his business associates starting their own companies, getting even bigger paychecks and bonuses, receiving recognition from peers in their industry. He wanted to know why he wasn’t lucky like they were. Why wasn’t he happy too?

Lucky. When we feel lucky we feel full, complete. When we feel unlucky, there is something empty inside us that wants to be filled. Some want to fill that hole with money or fame or love or God. If only something ‘out there’ could be obtained and put ‘in here’, all would be well. We would be complete, we would be happy.

This ‘thing’ that we believe we need is always just ahead of us, just a little out of reach, around the next corner, in the next relationship or the next job – and if we just try a little harder, run a little faster, we can get what we need and finally relax and finally be happy.

And when we do get that prize, we do feel better for while – a few hours, a few days, a few months – and then that awful ‘wantingness’ comes back. The happiness we felt with that fulfillment was not because of the ‘thing’ we finally obtained but because, for a while, we had no desires. It was the cessation of desire, not its fulfillment that allowed the joy to be felt. Joy fills all emptiness.

So it is not how many things we have, or their quality. In fact, possession has nothing to do with peace. We are lucky, we feel fulfilled, only when we stop wanting. When we stop wanting, we can recognize how lucky we indeed are. Gratitude for what is, no matter what that is, is the foundation for all joy.

It was not many months later that the man developed cancer which seemed to prove to him that he really was unlucky. But when he left this life he was surrounded by all the people who loved him for his courage and devotion and then he understood.

The Next Day

The thin crack in the pale gray clouds
Silently open and the light gets in,
Just like Leonard said it would,
And the wet dark day is transformed.
A tall white-trunked tree stands proud and solitary
Against the blue sky, its shadow a hand on the dial.

At 30 degrees above the horizon,
The sun shines down impersonally
On good and bad alike and washed clean
Of last year’s karma, the soul of the earth
Stretches and preens and tosses its head,
Stripping the trees to reveal bare black skeletons

With arthritic limbs studded with buds
Like tiny furled fists ready to open at the least encouragement.
From out of cars and down paths and behind bushes,
From sidewalks and shortcuts and skyways, they arrive,
The sparrows and crows and gulls,
The joggers and children and old women with dogs,

The men with fishing poles and the mothers with babies,
All grabbing at the blue sky – for all had heard
More rain was on the way which is greeted with relief
As well as dismay by a thirsty land and its people.
A woman with a long white scarf that is echoed by her long white hair
Strides past the pond overtaking the bent lady in red pushing a walker.

Two fisherman, one old and one young, heads together,
Rods leaning against shoulders, hands holding delicate lines,
Stand in high grass and debate the merits of various lures.
Brisk winds from the north loft the football from the hands
Of the teenage boys who play amongst the children
Freshly sprung from nearby schools who run through playgrounds shouting.

A toddler, legs pumping in wavy circles, races across the field
Chased by a mother who calls out his name while another
Pushes arm-waving twins in a stroller pony tail bobbing with each step.
Dogs arrive, straining at leashes, noses to the ground,
Tails in the air, bodies twitching with energy,
Ready to leap and run, Jack-in-the-box with joy.

A young man starts his rusty Ford pick-up
And sings about fast women and faster cars
As the sun sinks slowly towards the tree line,
The clouds let loose the folds of their white skirts,
The edges quietly flowing across the sky
And settling in for an extended stay.

Wearing the face of an ancient Aztec,
An old man in bedroom slippers shuffles past
And raises one horn-hard hand,
Curved fingers tipped with yellow nails,
In acknowledgement of this person’s presence.

 

Here is a link to the ‘Leonard’ reference:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDTph7mer3I

Carrying Charges

It has been a warm and lazy autumn this year, the frost held at bay. The trees still have a firm grasp on their leafy dressing although they are changing from green to firery fall colors. In spite of yesterday’s strong winds few leaves are scattered across the ground at the park but their dry scent is in the air.

In the center of the playing field stands a teenage girl, her feet surrounded by a ring of bulging plastic bags. Her arms bend at the elbows and her hands cover her mouth as if in surprise. She looks around as if waiting for someone to rescue her. But after a few moments she bends down and grabs several bags in each hand and lifting them walks across the field.

For whose help might she be waiting? What cargo is she carrying with such reluctance? What is in those heavy bags, I wonder. Is she a street girl in the making, her bags holding what is left of her memories? Or is her burden more prosaic? Groceries, perhaps, although the nearest store is two long city blocks away?

When she reaches the pathway she stops again, her arms now stretched out long and straight, the bags hanging so low they almost touch the ground. She again looks to the right and left, pauses for a moment then continues down the path that leads out of the park.

As she disappears from my view I hear a voice shouting and when I turn see a middle-aged man with a long blond ponytail and shabby clothes pushing a shopping cart brimming with the flotsam and jetsam of his life. He angrily protests the sanctity of his inalienable rights to the occupants of the patrol car that is closely herding him down the parking lot toward the road.

“Is that what you’re gonna’ do? Follow me until I leave,” he yells, putting out a hand to steady his wobbling cargo. “I served my country now I can’t get a god damn break!” A rusty station wagon entering the parking lot swerves around him as he crosses the street and heads towards the creek. A woman gets out of the car and opens the rear hatch releasing the heavy bass beat of music from the local radio station.

She reaches into to the interior of the car, rearranging a variety of cardboard boxes and bundles. Then leaning against the rear fender, she lights a cigarette, surveys the scene and spots a young man with two dogs straining at their leashes. “Them pit bulls?” she says, squinting against the smoke in her eyes.

The dogs swivel their heads in her direction, legs stiff and trembling. “Yes,” he says as he drags the snarling dogs away from her and stuffs them in a nearby pick-up truck. “Sure look like a handful,” she answers, then flicking her cigarette into the grass, turns with a smile to greet two old ladies who are approaching.

“How are you girls today,” she says, as the two old women push their matching walkers into the park in step and in unison. They wear wooly handmade sweaters accented with bright yarn flowers, thick soled tennis shoes with wing logos and old world kerchiefs around their head.

“I got some real deals for ya’,” the station wagon lady says pulling something from one of the cardboard boxes and waving it towards the old women. “No want, no want,” they exclaim waving their hands in dismissal and continue on their way chattering in an unknown language.

When the black man with the blue jacket carrying a fishing pole and orange tackle box passes her, the station wagon lady pulls a boom box out of the car. Walking beside him she loudly complains that the friend who owes her money has not arrived yet but she can offer him this practically new radio for just a few dollars. Shaking his head, the fisherman picks up his pace and heads towards the pond.

The woman throws the radio into the car, walks to the park exit and with her hands on her hips looks north. When I pull out of the parking lot I pass a young girl standing before the open trunk of her car sorting through a pile of clothing and sports equipment. Why is it, I wonder, do we all carry so much stuff around with us.

In fact, there is a whole industry now that is built on storage – special boxes and drawers and chests and lockers and units to keep the things we once consumed but now cannot swallow. We pay others to keep what we do not use but cannot let go of.

We all have baggage – old stories, old dreams, old memories, old prejudices, old thoughts – and we carry it with us from place to place and job to job and person to person like luggage on rollers. Conscious of our burdens yet unable to release them – we carry our past with us if not in our cars or in our homes, in our souls – we then look for others to share them. But when we compose our online criteria at match.com we demand that ‘no one with old baggage’ need apply.

CANTO VIENTO DEL NORTE

pyreneesA Story of Love in Five Parts

Canto One

It was a knight from the Order of Santiago who found the small girl wandering along the Way of St. James in the year of the Bad Rains. Charged with delivering a message to the Templars at Ponferrada, the knight had no time for crying children and, so, without a backward glance, left her at inn called The Laughing Horse in the valley beyond Pedrafita Pass.

Throwing a few silver coins upon the table, the knight said to the protesting landlord, “No doubt some distraught mother will come looking for her soon. If not, she is yours to do with as you wish.” Then he rode away and was seen no more.

Unclaimed, the pilgrim’s child was put to work and village eyes watched as the child became a girl, then maid. As she aged, all agreed she only grew more lovely.

“A gypsy’s child,” some said, “left behind for others to take pity on and care for. See how bold her flashing eyes, how sly her looks and her lips so crimson red.”

“She was born of noble blood,” said others. “Perhaps a princess captured by a Moor who cannot now claim her as kin. See how high she holds her head, her profile, the softness of her skin.”

Many pilgrims took their rest at The Laughing Horse and were doubly refreshed – first by the young girl’s beauty and, in later years, by her dancing, for when the music took her to its heart, she was a flame burning bright in the dark mountain night.

“Let us to Lisbon go,” begged the soldier, “where the sun is always shining and the ocean breezes blow. Pray, let us go.”

“In silk and lace will I dress you in Granada,” the merchant pledged, “and fill your every wish if you but grant a kiss.”

“Seville calls, my sweet,” the bishop whispered. “Courtiers will your praises sing, princes sigh. Come, my dear, let’s fly.”

But the maiden turned them all away saying, “Gold and fame are not my desires. Love is all I claim. Let it consume me in its fire.”

The people in the village laughed at her foolishness. The women watched her behind black lace fans and tapped their feet. The men looked at her from the corners of their eyes as she walked by. They called her Solamente – She Stands Alone.

And so the years went by, gradually, one by one.

 

Canto Two

One summer night to the inn a young man came and for his dinner played the song upon his guitar some call Yearning for Love. And the young maiden, who was busy at her window counting the stars, heard his song and knew it for her own.

As he played, she danced and as she danced, he sang. His shining song opened her soul like a rose bud in June and her heart was satisfied.

At the morning’s light, the young man donned his cloak, turned to her and said, “Although, my love, your lips are sweet, in Toledo is my fortune’s gate. One day, gold-laden, I shall return and make you my own, if you but wait.”

To which the once-maiden, now woman, replied, “If in Toledo’s heat, you feel against your cheek the cool touch of the north wind, think of me, for I am blowing you a kiss, and it is here I wait.”

The young man pulled on his traveler’s pack and walked off to seek his fortune. The woman stood at the very top of the highest hill and heard the lilting sound of his guitar playing a song some call Love is Sweet.

Some people in the village looked on her with pity; others thought, if she has one lover taken, might she another not. And so they called her Cederer – She Yields.

And so the years went by, slowly, one by one.

 

Canto Three

As dawn’s rosy fingers lifted the skirts of night, a most delicious fragrance awakened the young woman who used to be a maid from the palace of her dreams. Looking out she saw birds winging northward, and trailing in their wake, the scent of orange blossoms, soft and strong and sweet.

Her heart rejoiced. “My beloved comes!” She opened all the windows, then swept outside the door. She laid fresh linens on the bed and washed her hair. She drew on a dress sewn during moonlit nights, then ran quickly to the highest hill to wait.

He came not that morning, nor at noon, but on the third hour, from afar, the young woman saw approaching a fine knight in silvered armor accompanied by his men.

When he drew nigh her, the knight who used to be a young man said, “On a Prince’s smile have I my fortune built, but in the midst of Toledo’s heart the cool touch of the north wind was upon my cheek, and I hungered for your kiss.”

Then he filled her lap with gifts – sweet oranges and scarlet pomegranates, golden almonds and the dark raisins of the south.

That night the young knight played upon his guitar the song some call Love Returns to Love. And while he played, the young woman danced and her bright eyes flashed and her red skirts swirled in the moonlight like ribbons of blood.

Three days and three nights they spent together and on the morning of the fourth, the young knight said, “Destiny calls, my love, and while sweet, here I must not linger but follow this road of riches to its source and gain the fame for which I long.”

The woman answered, “The praise of princes is a heady brew, but one day, a deeper draught you shall crave. Remember then, this mountain pass and the love that I save.”

The knight put on his silver armor and climbed astride his tall black steed. He called his men around him and rode off to claim his fame. The woman, at the top of the highest hill, saw the sun glinting from his armor and heard him singing the song some called Love Renewed.

The people of the village talked amongst themselves and looked sideways at the woman who had danced in the moonlight for a knight in silver armor. They called her Esperanza – She Waits.

And so the years went by, swiftly, one by one.

 

Canto Four

The harvest sun was high in the sharp blue sky and the vines swollen with juice. The lush woman, who used to be young, walked through the garden, stopping here, pausing there, touching the fruit, breathing in the fragrance of a scarlet rose.

“He comes,” said the bee, buzzing by her ear. “He comes.”

Her heart leapt within her breast and gathering up her skirts, she rushed to the top of the highest hill. From afar, she could see approaching, many men and many horses and many wagons. And from a golden carriage flew the standard of a king.

A Great Man with medals across his chest and a long golden sword at his side descended. Bowing deeply before the woman, his plumed hat brushing the ground, the Great Man said, “Behold!”

At the snap of his fingers, two young boys shook out a bolt of sheer China silk spun as dark as midnight and shot through with golden stars; brought forth a chest of coins new minted and gleaming; lay before her a cask of the finest wine and tender fruits from distant ports in wicker baskets.

The woman clapped her hands and spun around in delight. She put yellow roses in her hair and smiled.

The Great Man laughed and sent his men away. He played for her the song some have named Answering Love’s Call. As he played, she danced for his pleasure and wore, as her only garment, his desire.

His touch was not as light as once it was, nor was her step as quick. But the spirit was strong within them and came forth as Flowing Generosity. Many nights and many days they spent together until, at last, a messenger from the distant waiting prince arrived, bearing news of a coming war.

The Great Man turned to the woman and said, “My duty calls and my prince awaits within his tower. But one day I shall return with fortune, fame and power.”

The woman replied, “While you plot intrigues and plan strategies behind your castle wall, I will a garden plant, count the stars and listen for the north wind’s call.”

The Great Man and his entourage marched in stately process down the mountain road. The woman stood at the top of the highest hill and the wheels of the carriage sang and the drums beat out a martial air some call Love is Triumphant.

The people of the village, knowing war was near, gathered up all they had and in the dark of night slipped away. When they thought of the woman left behind, they called her Constancia – She is Constant.

And so the years flew by, heedlessly, one by one.

 

Canto Five

It was the cool touch of the north wind upon her cheek that drew the old woman slowing up from her well of dreams. She looked out the window and the winter stars showed in silhouette the shadow of a man walking alone through the snow-filled valley.

She added wood to the fire, then laid the table with fine linen and lace. She sliced bread and put the soup on to heat. She sat and watched the door until at last it opened. An old man entered, his pockets empty, his name forgotten and his only crown the silver of his hair.

She took his cloak, then led him to the waiting chair where they in silence sat until at last the old woman said, “In spring, we shall plant a garden and keep bees. In summer, sit and count the stars as they wheel overhead. In autumn, we shall press juice from the vines and in winter, spin stories and sing songs of love.”

That night while the mountain winds blew, the old man played on his guitar the song some call Love Endures. The old woman swayed within the chords and first became the spark, and then the flame, and then the fire.

By that holy light, the young boy and the young maiden looked into each other’s eyes and at last their hearts beat as one. The people of the village who had returned to the mountain town saw the light in the old woman’s eyes and they called her Ardiente – She Burns.

And the years flew by silently one by one until the day the southern birds carried the scent of orange blossoms on their wings. The old man in garden drew a deep breath and the old woman by the well sighed. The cool touch of the north wind blew soft upon their cheeks.

That night they closed the door to their little house. They untied the dog. They climbed to the top of the highest hill and listened to the stars sing the song some call Timeless Love. Hand in hand, they followed its melody through the high mountain passes and were seen no more.

When the people of the village tell the story of the two lovers, they called it Canto Viento del Norte, The Song of the North Wind.

THE NIGHT LIGHT

“Turn up the lights. I don’t want to go home in the dark.”

Last words of O. Henry

Her name was Mary but as a small child I could not pronounce it and so I called her Mimi. She and her family were part of the Croatian diaspora of the early 20th century. She was second generation and spoke English fluently but she never learned to read or write. She certainly never drove a car – that skill was carefully guarded by her tall, silent husband whom I always circled warily.

She was of middle height with thin mousy brown hair that only looked good on Saturday when she had a standing appointment at the local beauty shop for her regular wash and set.  She had a plain oval face, large ears and a distinctive nose. As a young woman, her body must have been delicious for even in middle age, which are my earliest memories of her, she had fine, heavy breasts and slim hips.

Mimi cleaned houses for a living but her own home was very plain and drab, like a floor that had been washed with Spic and Span so many times that all of the shine was gone and only gray linoleum remained. There were very few decorations or knick knacks in the house except for one I remember well. It was a little figurine of an old peasant with a kerchief, or babushka, on her head and broom in her hands.  Mimi told me she was a “stada baba,” a name meaning “old grandmother.”  She would say to me, “One day when I’m an old stada baba with a babushka will you come see me at the Poor House?” I would say yes and she would laugh and hug me.

In those days the County Poor House was the terrifying specter and the only option for those who were poor or without children to care for them in their old age.  Social Security was still a new-fangled idea and many people like Mimi who worked on a cash basis never even had a number, a regular paycheck and certainly no medical insurance – like many people today.

There were three local radio stations in our valley in those days and every Sunday afternoon one of them would play the music of the ethnic tribes of Europe. There was the Italian Hour, the Polish Hour, the Serbian Hour, the Irish Hour, the German Hour and so on. When the Serbian Hour came on at 1 o’clock I would go over to Mimi’s house and she and I would dance to the wild gypsy music of the chardash.  We would twirl and spin around until we were both out of breath and dizzy. Then she’d laugh and say “Let’s have a little nip.” She would pour me a bit of beer in a small jelly glass and say “Now, don’t tell your mother.”

By her forties, the years of scrubbing floors on her knees, of hanging out of second story windows to wash them, of soaking her hands in water that was too hot and full of chemical cleaners, eventually exacted a price on her strong peasant body.  Her joints became swollen with rheumatoid arthritis and her thin arms and legs were often dark with bruises from falling. There was always the look of pain behind her eyes.

Sometimes at night I would be watching television and hear the back door open.  Mimi would hobble in and say “Don’t be mad at me for bothering you, Marie.  My legs hurt so bad and I just didn’t want to be alone anymore” (for her husband worked nights). Always she would apologize for interrupting me, for intruding her pain into my superficial teenage life. Often she would cry. We would watch a few programs together and then at nine o’clock she would go home.

Before I relate my final conversation with Mimi, I have to include another piece of information.  As a child I had always slept with a night light on for I was afraid of the dark; that was when I felt most alone. To be in the light meant to be happy and loved.

One night, many years later, when I was in my early 50’s, I woke up within a dream. I was in a cloudy kind of place and, although it had been more than 30 years since her death, I was talking to my dear neighbor. I heard my mind saying to her mind, “How happy you must be now, Mimi.  You don’t have any more pain.  You can do anything and it doesn’t hurt.  You can even smoke as many cigarettes as you want.”

This was really a projection on my part because Mimi never smoked. I was the 30-year, two-pack a day nicotine addict who was one year into abstinence.

I felt Mimi smiling as she replied. “You don’t understand. You only come here when you don’t want anything anymore,” and I instantly understood that she was perfectly right. Heaven is being without compulsions and desires.

As she was leaving me she turned back to add, “You know, Marie, up here the light never goes out.”

A jolt shot through me and I immediately woke up. I remembered that just the year before I had lain in Intensive Care, drifting in and out of consciousness, living in a half-land of darkness and shadows. I had been afraid then that the light might go out for good. Now this kind woman from my childhood had come back to tell me that there was nothing to fear, that a place of safety was waiting, a place where the light was eternal.

I never forgot Mimi’s last visit. I think maybe she is waiting for me. When I arrive the music will start to play and we will both be young and beautiful and we will dance chardash again.

Sunday in August

A cloudy day and misty evening punctuated by fat lazy raindrops has made this morning fresh and clean and fragrant with the scent of pine. The unrelenting August heat has been temporarily suspended and the day is shaking its shoulders to toss off the clenched fist of the parched earth. The neighborhood is stirring, too.

My neighbor, Gina, drops in to recount her first-of-the-month errands that took her from the bank to Walmart to the grocery store to the 99 cents store. “I had to wait to go to Walmart because there was a wedding on my soap opera I didn’t want to miss.”

She has watched the soap for nearly forty years and this day would mark the marriage of a couple who had wed and then divorced, and now many years later would be remarried. In an aside she adds “It’s a long and complicated story so I won’t go into it.”

In a rush of words she relates that the groom came up the aisle in a wheelchair but stood up to say his vows to the astonished delight of his old/new bride. “He had had an accident, you see, because he was texting on the phone while he was driving his car. So now he can’t walk. I learn all kinds of things. These stories are so educational!” she concludes gasping with admiration. I have to love her for her openness and sincerity.

Meanwhile, the lady and terrier who wear matching outfits wheel by rapidly, she on a mission perhaps from God while the aging Siamese cat follows in their wake. The little Japanese lady scampers on by slippered feet, bobbing head murmurs encouragement to the white Shih Tzu who stalls and stretches his neck to sniff at entrancing spots along the sidewalk.

The Russian couple who live upstairs descend, loaded down with pails and trowels and bags to tend their patch in the community garden. Sweetie Pie the cat bows her head with regal condescension to the “Kitty, kitty,” they coo as they stretch out their gnarled hands.

The old man with the baseball cap rides his bicycle swiftly past, his back straight and erect as a heron’s leg, his eyes forward as a new soldier’s gaze. Round and round he circles the drive, white knit chest pumping in and out as his legs piston up and down in time to a cadence heard only in his inner ear. Round and round, a one-horse carousel, he winds up the morning like a clockmaker.

The gentle delta breeze glides inland over ripening fields and drying reservoirs traveling northward after its night in the big city that lies south and west, a painted lady by the sea lapped by pacific shores known for their cosmopolitan tolerance. Turning this way and that the air pirouettes within the cerulean sky like a coquette showering kisses on a generous patron.

What heavy promises lay waiting now in August harvests near bursting from juices made in sun’s sugar rays. Soon, next week, or the week after, a snap will be heard as the sun spears the horizon and autumn signals its imminent arrival. Overhead nine Canadian geese honk on their way to a nearby pond.

LOCK, STOCK & BARREL

The day started out innocently enough. My neighbor Gina, of the blond wig and tiara fame, phoned me to ask if I was interested in going with her to the local food bank that afternoon. This month’s budget had been crippled by the annual car registration fees, a smog certificate and unexpected medical bills so some extra help in the grocery department would be great. Sure, I blithely replied, and offered to drive.

By the time she knocked on the apartment door an hour later she had picked up another neighbor named John who also wanted to go. We trooped out to my car and I flipped the switch so all the doors were open. I left them to get in and settled while I took a bag of trash to the dumpster.

Twenty-three and one-half seconds later I was back and saw that Gina had made herself comfortable in the back seat. I heard her say to John in her Tweetie Pie voice, “She’ll open your door as soon as she gets back.” John, who had been ineffectually tugging at the handle of the front passenger door, looked at me over the roof of the car.

Hadn’t I already opened all the doors? Oh, well, I thought, then beamed a friendly smile at him. I ambled, which is like strolling only more roly-poly, to the driver’s side. I reached down and gave the handle a tug. Locked. I glanced through the car window and saw my purse and keys lying on the front seat.

“Gina, this door’s locked too. You’ll have to open the car from the inside,” I called.

“How do I do that,” she asked.

“On the driver’s door there are lots of buttons. Push the top one.”

She reached over the front seat and began poking the various buttons on the console. “They’re not working,” she said, a hint of agitation circling her voice.

“Don’t bother with the window buttons,” I explained calmly. ”Push the top button on the left side.”

“It’s not working!” she cried, her Tweetie voice going up to hummingbird level.

“Don’t panic, Gina!” shouted John, who was bobbing and weaving on the other side of the car and periodically tugging at his door.

“It’s getting hot in here!” Gina squealed. “I feel dizzy!”

“Gina, calm down and listen to me.” I thought my voice sounded very self-contained considering my teeth were clenched.

“Help!” cried Gina. “I can’t breathe!”

“Don’t panic!” shouted John. “You’re not going to die!”

I shot John a look that in some countries might be listed under Grievous Bodily Harm. I wondered if I could get away with a plea of self-defense when they found the bodies in the parking lot.

“Quick! Break a window!” Gina gasped, which is like breathing with your stomach.

“Gina,” I said as my hands twitched in choking motions, “do you see all the buttons on the door?”

“Call 911! I can’t breathe,” she said while draped over the seat back.

“Yes, you can. Now press the top button on the left side. It’s a toggle button and goes up and down. Press it up and down,” I said

“Ahhh,” she whimpered and stretched out a shaking finger.

Wiggle, wiggle, pop! I pulled that door handle like a parachute ripcord at 1,000 feet.

“Good going, Gina,” I said, grabbing the car keys in a sweaty hand and collapsing into the front seat.

John got in and as he buckled his seatbelt turned to Gina and said, “Boy, you sure get upset easy!”

Twenty minutes later we were all seated on metal folding chairs at the Baptist Church, the location of the area food bank. Now as fully recovered as she would ever be, Gina chattered about her dietary requirements and how she hoped they would give her lots of vegetables as she was a vegetarian.

“I eat a lot of celery,” she said. “It’s real good for your nerves.”

“Maybe you should carry a few stocks in your purse in case of emergencies,” I offered with some asperity which is like vinegar but more bitter.

While we were waiting, Gina regaled us with the highlights from her recent colonoscopy ending with the statement, “John had one too only his polyps were bigger,” to which John responded, “Thanks a lot for sharing  my personal information,” and turned his back on both of us.

I was circling the edges of hysteria when my number was called – which is better than your number being up. An hour later with the adventure over and the time for reflection at hand, I felt grateful, not only for the generosity of the food bank but for the delightful people I continue to  meet on this journey.