The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes
I hedged posting this piece after burying teeth and so many matters of loss and death. I was talking to a commenter on this blog, "Home Before Dark," and we swapped some e-mails back and forth about degree of loss to the point it seems bottomless, half joking, "When does it end? When does a period of happiness ensue?"
I have never wanted happiness more than now in my life. Mentally and physically I have had enough. So I write this next bit with tongue in cheek, since, well, "Here we go again."
Over the weekend, I had a lot of errands to run. I had switched handbags from the very chi chi Mark Jacobs to the "seen a few years" Kenneth Cole, thinking it would be fun to carry a red purse during the holidays, but it needed a bit of touching up, so I went scouting for saddlesoap and red shoe polish. Trust me. Red shoe polish? Not easy to find. I knew of a few sources: the shoe repair shop at White Flint Mall (wonder if it's still there?), Fortuna Shoe Repair in Bethesda, and a tiny hole in the wall shop run by this Greek man named Joe. I can hear Velvet saying, "Go to the Greek."
I ran my errands. It was a long day and one heading for dark, stormy thunderheads. I did go to Joe's, and that's when it hit. An older obviously Greek woman was in there. The rest of the staff, Hispanic. They had my red polish from England, and the saddlesoap. I asked the old lady if she was married to Joe and how was he? She immediately teared up and held up one finger to make me stop. She was choked with tears. My eyes welled with tears. We stood there staring at each other with tears in our eyes.
She told me he had died a year ago. She was "all alone." I know she had had two sons, at the least, but I swore she told me one died in his teens. I'm still not sure about that. She was very emotional when she was talking to me. That and a language gap and who knows. I told her that I had loved Joe: his wonderful work ethic and business, and what a great personality he had--tons of charm. I said all of the right things. I did not have enough to cover the two items I was buying; falling 35 cents short. She debated about it. Quite a while. Finally, a Hispanic woman said, "That's ok," but I could see it bothered Mrs. Joe to let it go. I know. 35 cents. Yet, I understood.
I told her I would be back tomorrow with the money, also bringing a friend so they could express their sympathy to her about Joe. As soon as I left, I drove to the bank, not only to get some money, but another roll of quarters, (God bless you D.C. parking meters,) and...the money to pay Joe's widow. I drove right back to Joe's and gave her 75 cents. At this point, she was waving it away, telling me, "That's okay," but I insisted and she took it, telling me, "You and I are the same. I cannot sleep knowing I owe someone."
I agreed I was the same and that is why I had gone to the bank and come back. Finally. She smiled at me. I again reassured her that I would be returning with someone to let them pay their respects to her, and she told me to come back at any time.
Home? Are you reading this? Are you laughing? I mean right after our discussion?
I was up and having coffee yesterday morning, purusing The Washington Post, and reading the obituaries (a habit since childhood.) You are born and grow up in Washington, you read the obits. You know people. There was a period, during my parents prime years, where someone was always showing up. Now. Not so much.
There she was. My mother's old church friend: a lady whose family I grew up with, whose daughter I played with, and a woman I had been meaning to call for the past few weeks.
About a month ago, I made a call to one of the "church ladies," the few remaining who were part of my family's social circle at church, and I had to track them down because they had shifted residence. In fact, in calling another woman who had also lost touch with "the group," I found she had moved as well. So now with two women found, I told them both I would make two more calls. I knew where woman #3 was, as well as #4, but I wanted to tell them the plan on the telephone: that I would be writing them all a group letter, and then have a separate sheet of current names and addresses. They all loved the idea. I knew Mama was smiling down, saying, "I brought you up right, and thank you for helping my friends."
There's also this whole issue of social groups. The church group had splintered when a massive, old church with history in Washington had sold the church for millions, then moved to the suburbs. Demographics changed. People weren't happy. People left. Networks were broken. People were angry, too. The church's pastor had wanted to preach to college students, somehow overrode everyone and gotten the church moved to a piece of land my father had rejected ages ago for NASA due to it's problems, and the millions went into the bad soil and were lost. Then to make it even better, the pastor sought transfer and went to a parish in Florida with five churches. Money gone, church hanging by a thread, and long gone (those with money) parishoners. So the church will die, I am sure.
In the interim during of all of this, another woman died who they all knew, from a sister church. Another one down. I scanned her obituary, in case they had missed it. This is why, when I was talking to "Home Before Dark," I meant what I said, "Where does it end?" I sat yesterday evening and wrote for hours in my private journal what this woman had meant to me, to our family; and how she was one of a very few sources I could turn to for adult sympathy and support. I called the ladies. Some knew. Some didn't. Since they were her friend, as well, I knew they had to be secretly wondering, "Which one of us is next?"
The visit with Joe's widow? The shrinking generational circle? It's all taking it's toll on me. And I have to laugh because the next piece I was going to write was about London and Highgate Cemetery. Do you think you could stand it? Even if I made it funny? Even if I told you that Karl Marx is buried there? I dunno. We'll see. After that, what a deadbeat Lord Byron was, and come to think of it, he left a messy death as well.