The Chicory Lady

Last month we went to Comerica Park to watch the Detroit Tigers take on the Minnesota Twins. Traffic slowed to a tangle near the stadium, allowing long looks out the window at dingy scenery. But a clump of chicory grew bravely out of a crack in the pavement against the backdrop of a cement barrier, creating a surprise spot of beauty among tattered paper cups and plastic bags and their trashy cohorts.

Chicory is my favorite wildflower. It grew with grace and vibrancy among the Queen Anne’s Lace in the ditches along the half-mile stretch of gravel road between my childhood home and my grandparents’ red house. Every year I’d try picking some, but even when plunged directly into water the chicory’s petals would close—not so much from weakness, it seemed (it can grow in cracked concrete, after all), but from stubbornness. It didn’t wilt; it folded up, not wanting to play the game of being picked. Chicory: sweet and gentle. Tough and resilient. Stubborn. Nobody’s fool.

An hour after the chicory had welcomed us on the highway, we had found our way through the park and into our seats behind the third baseline. The occupants of the row behind us wore matching blue T-shirts bearing the name of an adult day care center— several senior citizens, flanked by caregivers, out to enjoy the game. Most of them wore name tags around their necks.

Before we were completely settled in, one of the women leaned forward and started fiddling with my bag, which was under J’s seat next to mine. Perhaps it was in her way; maybe she wanted to stretch her legs and couldn’t because of the bag. “No,” she said when I inquired, folding the top of the bag over a couple of times and giving it a pat. “I just want to make sure nobody reaches in and grabs something from your bag. Steals something. That happens sometimes, you know. That’d be too bad if it happened to you.” She smiled, reassured that my bag was as it should be.

Next up: the announcer asked us to rise for a soloist’s delivery of the national anthem. We stood and listened, except for the aforementioned woman, who sang. Her friend stage-whispered to her, self-conscious: “I don’t think this is sing-along time. I think this is listen-to-the-singer time.” The woman was unmoved. “But I’m going to sing, though,” she said. And she did.

During the second inning J took Sonny, Ace, and their cousin to get their promised hotdog and soft drink. They returned bearing three hotdogs but only one soft drink; it seemed that the other two had spilled. (Don’t assume that the demise of two soft drinks was not a problem. It was. I assure you.) J got the boys seated and headed back to the concession area to redeem the soft drink situation. The woman, who had overheard the dark reports of being handed soft drinks with no tops in a tray that didn’t hold the cups securely, was concerned—concerned enough to lean over my shoulder.

“Do you need some water up there?” she asked. “It’s so, so hot. That sun is just beating right down.” I thanked her and said that we’d be fine; we had brought plenty of water with us, and besides J would return soon with replacement drinks.

“Are you sure?” she said. “It’s very hot. You could dry right up. You all need to drink something. You’ll dry up otherwise.”

That she didn’t have any water to share didn’t matter. She thought she did, and if she had, she would have shared it.

“Well, all right,” she finally conceded.

Now she pointed to Ace.  “I’m afraid that that hotdog he’s eating is just going to squirt right on out of that bun,” she said. “It’s sitting too loose. Can you poke it back in tighter? It’d be awful if he lost it. He’d hate that.” She watched closely until he stuffed the last bite safely into his mouth. Relief.

Perhaps inspired by Ace’s snack, she tried to order her own hotdog from the vendor touting refreshments in the aisle ten seats away. “Just toss it to me,” she hollered. “I’ll catch it!” The vendor believed her.

“Did you say you want ketchup with it?” he asked, reaching for a hotdog.

“No,” she said. “Said I’d catch it. Just toss it my way.”

One of the caretakers snapped off the transaction with a shake of his head and dismissive wave to the vendor, who caught on and continued up the steps.

“Hey!” the woman objected. “I’ll get you back for that. I get people back for things like that, you know!” The caretaker, not unnerved by her threats, turned his attention to urging her to put her name tag back on.

“Why?” she said. “I don’t need a name tag. I know who I am. So do you.”

“It’s in case something happens. Then someone will be able to know where you’re supposed to be.”

“I always know where I’m at,” she said.

One of our players hit a double. A tap on the shoulder. “He can really hustle his bustle, can’t he?” she said. “Look at him.” She nodded approvingly—whether at his hustle or at his bustle, I wasn’t sure—before leaning back and cheering.

At the seventh inning, when the last call for beer sales was announced, she offered to buy a beer for anyone who thought that sounded good. The caretaker: “No beer.”

“Why not? This is our last chance. I’d even buy you one.”

“You don’t have any money with you, and besides you don’t need a beer.”

Grumbling. “No beer today, I guess. Maybe next time,” she apologized to her friend. They both stood for the seventh-inning stretch and danced together to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and the little bit of “Brown-Eyed Girl” played before the game resumed.

Then she leaned forward and adjusted my bag again. “Got to be careful, honey. Someone could just reach right in and grab something. That’d be too bad.”

The eighth inning came to a close. The caretakers stood up and announced it was time to go.

Another shoulder tap. “You have such nice boys there,” she said, nodding toward my sons and nephew, who were eating cotton candy sprinkled liberally with Skittles. (Don’t ask.) “I’ve been watching them the whole game. They’re good kids. I’m so glad they’re having fun! Look at them having so much fun!” She smiled proudly.

Wise caretakers, getting while the getting was good, before the throngs clogged an easy exit. But I was sorry the group was leaving. I liked the woman who’d conversed with us, who had wanted to help us, whose vivacity had spilled into our row. She reminded me of chicory. Sweet and gentle. Tough and resilient. Stubborn. Nobody’s fool. She reminded me that those who shun kindness as indicative of weakness are not seeing straight.

I want to be like her when I am old. Sweet and gentle. Tough and resilient. Stubborn. (Sorry, Sonny and Ace.) Nobody’s fool.

Her kindnesses were small—attentiveness to our bag, concern for our drink and food, offers of humor, encouragement regarding the kids—but flowed from her naturally and relentlessly. She reminded me of a line from a book I read years ago. The book’s title and author and even the topic have long escaped me, but this bit of wisdom sticks:  “You don’t just wake up a sweet old lady.”

Clearly this lady had had practice.

Clearly being like her requires practice also. Guess it’s time to get started.

I’m going for a walk tomorrow. I hope I will see some chicory. It won’t work to pick any, but maybe I’ll take a photo. It would be a good reminder.

 

 

Should Auld Reflections Be Forgot?

I’m a wee bit addicted to the online Scrabble-type games Wordscraper and Words with Friends. The other day I arranged the letters of bursae, hit “Play,” and was awarded with 33 points, which initially seemed respectable. But then! A new feature called Hindsight popped up unsolicited to unhelpfully point out that I had missed the opportunity to play a more lucrative word—bruxes—for 65 points. Given that the my B and E were occupied in bursae and therefore no longer available to participate in bruxes on my next turn, I wondered why Hindsight felt the need to speak up.

Hindsight continues to haunt my games. Jades was worth 34 points, but jambes would have scored 48. Eve earned me 7 points, but guess what? Ajee would have brought 13. Wanly was worth 40 points, but knawel? Fifty-nine. (What’s a knawel?)

Sometimes hindsight can be a bit of a know-it-all. A useless know-it-all.

Of course, Words with Friends aside, hindsight and I are old acquaintances. It drops in regularly to explain what might have been handled differently.  For example, recently I made the two-ingredient pancakes that are lauded on Pinterest. In hindsight, I should have foreseen obvious: that egg and banana “pancakes” would bear no resemblance to pancakes at all but might more accurately be considered banana omelets. Disgusting banana omelets, because is there any other kind?

In hindsight, I should have known not to answer the question “Mom, what’s under there?” with “Under where?” And I don’t do that anymore unless I want to send Sonny and Ace into homonym-induced hilarity that will render them unable to stand.

Hindsight offers up the perfect combination of words after the opportunity to utter them has passed. O hindsight’s wisdom, where wert though as I stood there stammering?

Hindsight has pointed out that not every unreasonable demand needs to be met with resistance—sometimes it’s harmless to concede. And because hindsight is a mysterious animal, it has also pointed out that speaking up is sometimes preferable to being still. (If foresight could show up more regularly to help me discriminate between the two situations before I react, that would be great, because I too often confuse them.)

Hindsight whispers that some moments were more important than they seemed at the time and ought to have been treated accordingly.

So hindsight’s lessons are useful, and I hope to lure them with me into next year. No banana omelets at my house in 2015, and by extrapolation, no black-bean sugar-free cookies. (Avoided that one in time. Whew.)  In general, I hope to give foresight a chance to speak more often so that hindsight won’t need to hover around sighing and shaking its head at me.

Other times, though, hindsight is as useless as the belated revelation that knawel would have been the optimal word to play. It drums up regrets after one has done one’s best; and perhaps the choice that was made wasn’t the worst choice at all. Maybe not as good as knawel, but still good enough.

So don’t let any worthless regrets crash your New Year’s Eve party. Tomorrow is a new year.

Enjoy it.

Just a Minute

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“You marked the minutes,” the old man said. “But did you use them wisely? To be still? To be grateful? To lift and be lifted?” —The Timekeeper by Mitch Albom

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Recently my day began at 4:48 in the morning, at which time a four-year-old climbed into my bed with his ant farm, usurped my pillow, and cheerfully sang “Five Little Snowmen Fat. Every verse. I marked the minutes—all 72 of them until it was officially time to get up. I’m sorry, but it was 4:48—4:48 in the morning (or have I mentioned that?)—and that is too early to start the day. (Similarly, “all day” is too long to have “Five Little Snowmen Fat” stuck in one’s head.)

. . . . .

This past weekend my parents offered to host Sonny and Ace overnight. Looking forward to the break, on the designated morning I marked the minutes until J and I dropped them off. And as soon as we did, I marked the minutes until they returned. (Funny how that works, isn’t it?)

. . . . .

We often have trouble getting out the door. It’s time to leave, or it was time to leave seven minutes ago, and there we are, stalled in the mud room. One child can’t find his left shoe. The other can find both of his but wants to see if he can put them on using only one hand. (He can’t, as it turns out.) I mark the minutes, because we are going to be late. And when we finally get into the van, I realize I have forgotten something and must go back inside to get it. More minutes marked.

. . . . .

This historic polar vortex has put us under house arrest this winter. Repeatedly, as though we were repeat offenders of . . . something. Not sure what. The shine of snow days has worn off, and we are cold, and we are all marking the minutes until spring. Shoo, winter, shoo.

. . . . .

I signed up for the Festival of Faith and Writing this year. I can hardly wait, and yes, I’m marking the minutes until it’s time. And when it’s finally Festival time, I will mark the minutes carefully to squeeze every possible drop from the schedule.

. . . . .

Marking the minutes: check. No problem.

But using minutes to be still, to be grateful, to lift and be lifted?  Too often a problem, at least for me.

It’s easy to come up with theories on how to do these things. Successfully practicing these theories, though, is a little different. That takes effort and spending minutes.

I could list the things that help me to be still, to be grateful, to lift and be lifted, but your list is probably different than mine. So.

What helps you be still?

For what are you grateful?

Whom can you lift, and how?

How can you allow yourself to be lifted?

Those things are well worth our minutes. Let’s do them.