… and then there was a photo not taken.

I’d walked a long ways, from downtown Boston, across the Charles River and into Central Square.  It had seemed a good idea in the beginning.  Walk. Take pictures. But by the time I hobbled into Central Square and parked myself on a bench, I was done.  I took one last look over my shoulder into the bushes behind me.  A sea of pink blooms and a single stalk of white. This is it, I decided, and then tucked my camera away.

After determining that despite aches and pains I could complete my journey home by foot, I rose and began to meander down Mass Ave.  Ahead of me was a man clearly seeing impaired based on the white cane he swept before him.  I was planning how to slip past him at the next street light when, all of a sudden, his cane knocked over a homeless man’s Dunkin Donuts cup full of change.

Now, this homeless fellow has been a regular in Central Square, an elderly gentleman curled up in a wheelchair.  As far as I knew, he’d never wheeled himself about by hand.  I’d only ever seen him move himself by one foot, very, very slowly.  I suspected he had a compatriot who occasionally whisked him from one side of the Square to the other, else it would take him all day to move one block.

In any case, the homeless man was twisting in his chair trying to reach for the overturned cup and speaking unintelligibly all the while.  The blind man was reaching out but not having much success.  I was close enough to gently take the blind man’s hand and say, “It’s okay, sir, I’ll help him.”  He nodded and moved on, cane once more sweeping out.  Then I knelt and scooped up the coins.  As I wrapped the homeless man’s hands around the clear cup, I better understood why he did not wheel himself.  His hands were gnarled, the fingers twisted.  I felt like I was holding carved oak.

“Here you go,” I said.

He garbled, “Do you have any change?”

That was when I looked into his face in a way I’d not done in all the times I’d seen him before.

Like his hands, his face was like oak.  Dark golden brown and deeply lined.  While I thought him elderly from afar, up close I could see that most likely he was not.  It was the elements, and other life events, that had chiseled his face, browned his skin and grizzled his unkempt hair and beard.  His eyes were blue and shone with such intensity that if we had not been in shade I would have thought they were lit by the sun.  An unforgettable sight.

That was the photo not taken.

“No, sir,” I said.  “I do not have any change.”

I patted his hands and made my way home.

a different sunset

a recent summer sunset


He kept asking for money but that I would not do.  In part, because I had too little of it myself and because I could not trust him.  He would most likely spend it on alcohol.  If he did not spend it on alcohol, I was worried that “friends” might siphon him dry.  I did want to send him something, to stay in touch, in addition to the occasional chat by phone.  I wanted him to know that I cared about him as much as I knew he cared about me.  I was still his baby sister and I respected that he was one of the big brothers who so carefully looked out for me as a child.

I think one day, with those thoughts in mind, I looked up into a cabinet and saw the dusty box.  I took out a couple of bags, dropped them into an envelope, included a note that said something like “Drink this and not that other stuff!” When I told him what I had done, he just chuckled, as delighted as a child.

I became a connoisseur of tea design and flavor profiles.  I was not especially picky.  Whenever I stayed in a hotel I’d pocket the teas left in the room for guests with a goal to send them to him later.  While grocery shopping, I’d occasionally splurge on an herbal tea sampler and split up the packs to send him different flavors.  Later, I’d quiz him about which teas he’d liked and didn’t like.  Blueberry was a favorite but all flavors were welcome, I was told.

They had to fit inside a standard envelope (which I occasionally decorated).  Ideally the weight was such that I would only need at most two stamps so that I could drop my packages in a blue box on my way into work.  I didn’t want to wait in line in the post office to mail a larger box.  Sometimes I’d jazz up the mailings with little packages of coffee but I knew from childhood memories that he was more of a tea drinker. He and my mom would sit at the kitchen table drinking Lipton tea, her dark cup sweetened with just a bit of sugar, and his almost white with milk.

Why does this story surface?  Well, it has been a long summer in some ways.  Aside from a few mailings of seeds to family and friends and postcards to my kids club, I did not do much other mailing.  This weekend I was on the phone with this brother. We were having a good chat and as I was about to hang up he said, “Hold it. What happened to it?”

“What happened to what?”

“My tea,” he said.  “You haven’t sent me my tea.  It does help, you know.  When I have tea, I don’t drink.”

“Okay,” I said brightly. “I’m on it.”  Both laughing, we hung up. And then I cried.

That night I pulled together a short pile of envelopes and addressed them all to him.  The next day I bought a box of tea, many flavors.  Yesterday, I mailed him honey vanilla.  We’ll see what the next week holds.  Maybe strawberry. I think a big box of blueberry will wait until Christmas.



where the roses grew …

There is an elderly woman who lives in my childhood home in Virginia.  My brother tells me that she loves to grow tomatoes like some people grow wildflowers.  In every available space, as a border to the porch, in the spots where the roses and hydrangeas grew, all now tomatoes.  While wonderful to see such eccentric growth, it was also hard for my brother to see.  There was a part of him that wanted the old yard back, the flower beds and vegetable garden and the swathe of green grass just big enough for children to run about with clothes lines arching above.  He wanted the fence line back that separated our property from the neighbor’s, a wire fence covered in honeysuckle and milkweed and edged with wild mint.  And he wanted the trees, the maple, the plum and that short-lived apricot.

All had been gone for near two decades but in that moment, of seeing those tomatoes, he fiercely wanted it all back and with it the parents now deceased and the siblings spread far and wide.  “You alright, Daddy?” his son asked.  He looked down at his five-year old who was sprouting up like an oak.  “Yes, son.  Daddy was just remembering.  Remind me to tell you about the seeds I planted in this place.” The son nodded and then said, “Okay, but can we go to the playground first?” My brother laughed, tickled his son, and let the past fade knowing it would never disappear.  “Yes, son, let’s go.  We must have our priorities.”

the empty glass

Before I built this nest

I did discover this guest

Whom I freed before I sat down to make this small salad.



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