On the Passenger Side of my Mother’s Car

We were waiting at a red light, our old Chevrolet idling noisily, when I noticed that look in my mother’s eyes again.  I nervously followed her gaze and saw what she was focused on. A man was standing near the curb, his eyes empty, his clothes shabby. “That poor man has no socks!”  my mother said, her voice vibrating in that way I’d come to dread. “It’ s bitter cold today!” I saw then what she was referring to.  The man’s unlaced shoes were hanging open around bare ankles.  “Here, quick!” My mother rummaged through her purse and pulled out a dollar. “Run into Penney’s and buy that man some socks! I’ll drive around the block!”
“Noooo, Mom, noooo!”  It was the thing I hated most about driving places with my mother. She was always spotting people to help. Then guess who ended up doing it? On the passenger side of the car, I was so nice and handy. But what choice did I have? I was fourteen and at least two years away from driving. Generally though, it was just old ladies caught in bad weather or who’d just missed the bus. Generally, I could just call out the window to offer them a ride and didn’t even need to get out of the car. This was far worse.
“The men’s department is right in front. Buy a pair of socks—good warm ones and give them to him! That’s all you have to do. I need to turn here, but I’ll go around the block and be right back. With all these people around, you’ll be fine.” I knew from experience that there was no use arguing when she was like this.
I sighed heavily, took the dollar, and with the enthusiasm of a French royal  heading to the guillotine, exited the car. Why did she do this to me? I’d never even bought men’s socks before! How was I supposed to know which socks to get? My mother was a widow and there were just the two of us. And why’d she told me not to talk to strangers when in the next second she made me  talk to them? What was I supposed to say to this guy anyway? And what would I say to the clerk inside the store? I didn’t even know what to say to the kids at school. That was another thing. What if one of them saw me talking to this man? That would be mortifying!
Somehow I managed to buy the socks, and soon I’d found my way back out of the Penney’s and was looking around for the man. It was cold all right and the sooner I got this over with, the better. So where was he? I squinted and sniffed as I surveyed the sidewalk. A crowd had gathered at the bus stop, but I didn’t see him there either.  Had he left? Maybe he’d left! But then I spotted him. He was on the far side of the bus stop, partially hidden by a pole he seemed to be hanging on to for support.  I took a deep breath, my eyelids flickering. I don’t remember what I ended up saying to the man as I handed him the socks. Maybe I mumbled a “Here,” or “These are for you.”  I do remember that  he stared at the socks for several seconds as if trying to register what had just happened.  Then he looked at me through filmy eyes. “Thank you,” he said.
“Can’t wait until I can drive,” I complained a few seconds later as I hurriedly climbed back into our car.  My mother smiled and patted my arm in understanding.  By the time we got to seventh east, it was starting to get dark. I stared out the side window at the bumper to bumper cars all trying to make there way south. An impatient driver honked and waved out the window. Great! I had hours of homework to do and here we were going about two miles an hour in a traffic jam! Oddly, though, I didn’t really feel that bad about it. In fact, as light flashed through the Chevrolet’s windows, I caught my reflection in the passenger side window and saw that I was smiling.
It’s been many years since that experience. Times have changed and these days  many stand on street corners and solicit help. It’s easy to become suspicious and cynical. As I find myself philosophizing on when or even if  I should stop and give, I hope I never forget the warm feeling I had that cold day. I hope I will keep my heart open to the spirit so that I will be able to discern who around me and in my life needs my help. I hope I continue to remember what my mother helped me learn—that there’s something about giving that feels good and right.


A Big Shiny Star to Jessica!


After losing 150 pounds

  I hadn’t seen her for a while, and I didn’t know it was Jessica until she laughed. Nobody else has a laugh that hearty and happy! Our friend Jessica has lost 150 pounds.  How did she do it? She did it the old-fashioned way–moving more, and eating better. Dang it. I was hoping to hear about an  easy and fast new gimmick, but nooo, Jessica didn’t even join Weight Watchers!

Jessica had been pretty sedentary for practically her whole life and about two years ago, she started running and exercising. She and her family were also in the habit of picking up fast food several times a week, and they stopped doing that. Jessica started including far more fruits and vegetables in her diet. Twenty-one months later she looked like a new person. Jessica’s husband Matt says he lost fifteen pounds from just hanging around with her. Jessica e-mailed me these pictures–the same ones she sent to Dr. Oz ‘s people a few months ago. Dr. Oz showed them on one of his programs. “That was awesome!” she said.

I asked what motivated her. “I was sick of being fat!” she said. That simple. It all came to a head when she went to her daughter’s kindergarten registration and realized she was the biggest parent there.

Seeing Jessica and talking with her was inspirational. As we drove home, I thought, If Jessica can lose 150 pounds, I should be able to lose a measly twenty or thirty or okay, forty.

Jessica and Matt and their little girl are moving this weekend from the duplex next to my mother’s, and we will miss them. They’re gold star people in so many ways, and we hope to stay in contact with them. Thanks, Jessica, for your good example. You definitely deserve a big shiny gold star.

If You Want to See a Picture-Perfect Home, Try Next Door

When some old friends dropped in recently, I’m sorry to say I wasn’t as happy to see them as I should have been. We were just in the process of cleaning up after dinner and these people saw this. They saw the gunky dishes we hadn’t gotten into the dishwasher yet. They saw that we actually eat in our house!

Even though our society has become far more casual in the last few decades in regards to what we wear, it seems to me we continue to have an uptight and far less than casual or even realistic attitude towards our homes. When we have people drop by, there are those of us who think our homes are not acceptable if  there is any evidence that we do things in them. I know a few women who get upset if you see so much as a crumb on their counters or a cup on their coffee tables. For those of you who, like me, have trouble meeting such high expectations, here’s an idea. Turn in your home for a duplex. One side of this duplex would be for living in, but the other side would be just for  “show.” When a guest stops by, he could quickly be guided to the unused side where there would be no uncleaned dishes, papers left out, grooming things, or even unflushed toilets because, well, nothing is ever done there. You’re right, that would be just a little wasteful and expensive. Most of us can’t afford the luxury of a second unused place. It would be cheaper if we all began to accept that people are going to do things in their houses. I saw a little sign that maybe we should all hang: It read, “Sorry about the mess, but we live here!” Living in our homes is the whole point, right?

I still remember an article I read about a woman whose ex-boyfriend and his fiance paid her a surprise visit, catching her  in a mess of toys, papers and dirty lunch dishes. She was mortified. It wasn’t until after the couple left that the woman reviewed the situation and decided she should be happy that she’d done some good in the world that day.  Had she and her home looked perfect, this young, newly engaged woman might have wondered if she could measure up to her fiance’s apparently flawless ex-girlfriend.  And since perfect people are hard to find, the ex-boyfriend might even have wondered about his decision to marry someone else.  As things were, the engaged couple left happily contented, even giddy. So the next time people stop by and my house looks messy, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just going to be happy to see them and remember that by letting people see my family and me the way we really are, they’ll be more apt to let others see them the way they really are.