Saturday, May 22, 2010

Another Day in Paradise

Walking with Shadow at the end of a busy day  - just a quick spin around the dirt path behind the school and a walk through the fairgrounds was my plan. But right away we came across an off-leash dog, Stormy by name, sweet by nature. I unhooked Shadow and the two trotted towards one another, did a bit of circling and sniffing, then continued on to greet each others' women. The other gal doesn't live in the neighborhood year-round but shows up in summer to stay at her sister's for a while. Delighted to see Shadow, she seemed amazed at how fit the dog is.  "She's not even limping anymore!"  This past year of consistent daily walks, increasing our distance, has been good for us both. Shadow trotted off, signaling time to continue our walk, and I caught up and leashed her. Another perfect afternoon was passing too quickly.

Then we were walking through the fields at the fairgrounds, another woman walking towards us. She was carrying a couple of canvas shopping bags in one hand and what looked like an empty glass pie dish in the other. I recognized her as a local artist who I've met a few times and called out:

"Foraging for pie?"
"What?" she queried back.
"Are you foraging for pie? Because I don't think you'll find any out here - doesn't hurt to try."
"Whaaaaaaat?" she said, thoroughly puzzled.
"Oh!" said I, "that's not a pie plate after all. Sorry - I was being silly."
"Wondered what you knew," she said "because I was just having pie, but no, this dish had poppyseed cake in it."

She offered Shadow the dish to lick, saying "Now I won't have to wash it." She said she'd just been at her friend's memorial service and that it was a very good one. Given the direction she was coming from, I asked if it was for Etta. Yes, it was.

Etta is one of the first people I met here. She had a flower farm next to the fairgrounds, a beautiful place. She made bouquets and put them out at the end of her drive in canning jars on a table with an umbrella to shade them. She kept a small, slightly rusted tin there and a sign saying "Bouquets $6." You could put the money in the tin, or there was paper and a pencil if you needed to leave an IOU. Her bouquets were beautiful - sweet peas in spring, then peonies, then a grand variety of blooms and colors through the season. We walked past often to look or to buy.

I'd first met Etta when my son's wedding was drawing near and his future mother-in-law didn't have enough blue flowers in her garden for the arrangements she wanted to make. I walked down her dirt driveway, knocked on her door and asked Etta if she would have many blue flowers in August. She said that she would and, true enough, sold us two big white buckets-full on the wedding day and at a reasonable price, too. Somewhere I have a photo I took of her Gypsy Wagon out by the flower field where I found her that day when I went to pick up the flowers. She told me she kept it there for sleeping in summer.

From time to time after that I'd see her walk across San Juan Ave. to Admiralty Ave. to get a horse she had pastured there. I was sad when I heard this lively woman had died of cancer. But today I learned from her friend that she'd done well at dying. She'd taken charge of how she wanted it to go and her family and friends had been there to help and support her.

Still, this woman and I agreed, it's hard to lose one's contemporaries. We all know we will lose our parents and that's a tough thing. But we don't think about our friends dying. And when they do (as I learned a few years ago when two of my dear ones died in a month) it's a particular kind of loss. Our closest friends know all our secrets and we theirs.  And though Etta and I were not close, it comforted me to hear that she'd gone as well as she could and that her friends were holding the memory of her close.

It's not a half-bad thing when even strangers you touch remember you well. Just yesterday I'd remembered a woman named Judy, stopped at the corner of Admiralty a few years back when I met her on my way to the beach. Her bicycle lay on the ground, helmet still on her head, as she picked and ate thimbleberries. Picked isn't the right word. She, in fact, introduced me to thimbleberries, which I had never heard of, and showed me how they will fall into your hand with almost no encouragement when they're ripe. She's gone now, too, but for memories.

What happened there in the field today, though, was that this other woman and I talked about how much we love living here, how we are steeped in beauty and are always reminding ourselves how lucky we are to be  here. Then she pointed and asked me was that an eagle floating on an updraft above us. It was indeed and we watched it for some time.

Then, as we parted the woman asked me to remind her who I am, how we know each other.

I thought for a second, then remembered.

"I met you first, several years ago, at a Verbal Tease, those monthly readings that used to happen Uptown. You read a piece about how you had lived on a boat and the practical difficulties of that and I liked your work a lot. Also, you stopped one day when I was walking in the rain, to see if I needed a ride. That was awfully nice of you, but I was nearly home and said no thanks."

She smiled and we hugged and went on our way in opposite directions, both carrying and riding the ebb and flow of life in a small town.

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