On Saturday I saw Barbara again. Remember her? She’s the lady who came up to my porch and asked me to walk her pit bulls, the one who said, “I’m pretty sure the older dog won’t do anything as long as you walk into the room behind me.” She’s pretty sure I won’t get bit as long as I hide behind her. Yeah, that gave me a lot of confidence at the time.
Anyway, I saw her the other day, and suddenly James Street felt like my street, like my little part of the world. After a year here, I’m seeing people I know: Eric from across the street; Don, who helped me dig out half the cars on the block when we all got snowed in last winter; the young woman with the little girl who’s always drawing with sidewalk chalk.
I asked Barbara how she was doing. She said, “Pretty good.” She hobbled over to the tree just past my truck and we talked a little bit about the city, about how her life is going.
“Now how do I know you again?” she asked me.
“Remember, I walked your dogs a few weeks ago,” I said.
“Oh, that’s right,” she said, smiling big. “You live just down the street here, right?”
“I love it when people know me because of my dogs,” she said, sort of chuckling, proud of her connection with people. “I had someone just a few days ago say hello and start talking to me, and I asked them who they were, and they said they walked my dogs once.”
“What are you up to?” I asked.
“I just brought some bread out here for the birds,” she said. “I hung a bird feeder over there in that little tree, and I like to put bread around it.”
Hanging in the tiniest tree on the street was a little, ramshackle bird feeder. She limped over to the small, square patch of earth, crumbled up a few slices of dry bread, and scattered them in the dirt. The crumbs looked like dust, or pollen. I grabbed what I needed and walked back to the house.
* * * * *
A few days later I went down to the corner store for a gallon of milk – in our house, a gallon of milk lasts approximately 37 seconds. The corner store is where I go as often as possible, mostly because I like to support the neighborhood (even if they do sell boxes of cereal for like $6). I walked into the small store. A bell clanged against the glass door. There she was again. Barbara.
“Hey, long time no see. How are you?” I asked, happy to see her. I really was. It was like seeing an aunt, or the mother of a close friend.
“I’m good, I’m good.”
“You’re all dressed up,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, beaming because I noticed. “The church right over there, they had a picnic for the community. Anyone could go. They had hot dogs and salad. Everything was free.” And when she said that last part, her eyes opened up in astonishment, as if heaven had fallen from the sky. As if she were a bird who had just spotted a pile of bread crumbs under a tiny tree.
Who would believe her, when she made such a claim? Free hot dogs and salad? Who could imagine such riches?
“That’s pretty cool,” I said. We chatted for a few more minutes, and she got a quizzical look on her face.
“Now tell me again how I know you,” she said.
“Remember? I walked your dogs a few weeks ago.”
“Oh, that’s right,” she said. “That’s right.”
There’s something about Barbara that warms my heart, knowing there’s someone out there who overcomes incredible pain and inconvenience in order to simply walk down the street and give a few crumbs to the birds. It makes me happy that the Lutheran street on the corner provides her with such miracles. And there’s something about the fact that she never remembers me that I actually like. I love that I get to meet her for the first time, answer her questions again.
“Now tell me again how I know you?”