Dollar Snow-Cone

The August summer heat would not relent as she defiantly arched her elderly frame to rise from the cracking concrete stoop in this ignored part of the city.

I walked up the block with a crumpled dollar bill for the ice – without the syrup.  Sweat scattered from my hairline.  My face and neck burned scarlet.

The makeshift plastic table was wobbly-arranged for quick sales anticipated from the two buses of people who visited for a mere afternoon, scheduled in to clean up the neighborhood through a service agency.  All in the name of peace and solidarity.

A battered aluminum urn, dented from years of use, held ice that would shave pieces into a forbidden Styrofoam cup – a cheap fix.  A neat row of glass bottles with plastic pumps each waited with their blaring color of sugar syrup attentively for its snow-cone debut – chartreuse mint, tangerine orange, bright violet grape – nothing known to Nature.  My only wish was the frosty shavings to melt my dusty, gritty throat.

She rose from the stoop as I smiled deeply breathing in front of a torn plastic umbrella, offering some shade.  Her cocoa-colored skin clenched hard onto muscles whose strength was all but gone from years of sacrifice.  Her knotted, ebony hands buckled from years of toil…fields, factories, mills?  I couldn’t imagine.  This heat would not stop her today.  Nope.  No way.

“Just ice please.”  I handed her the dollar bill.

She pulled the black plastic lever to shave the ice into slivers of cool relief.   Gently she extended her arm giving me a cup filled with ice shavings and started to count out change – one worn quarter, one dime and three nickels.  Her hand trembled as she counted and then my eyes rested on her wedding ring encircling the on her left hand.

The simple band was of thin gold, but the worn beveled edges reflected the mysteries of a previous life filled with more joy than today brought.   The pattern of the bevel was exactly the same as the wedding ring belonging to my grandfather which I wore in the middle of my right hand.  I had asked for it and wore it every day without fail since his death.   Nonu’s hands were the worker’s hands of a turn-of-the-century Italian immigrant – massive, skilled and unfaltering.  They could crush rock, melt brass or graft five different apples on to one tree for autumn pies Noni would make each year.

I reached for her left hand with my right so she would see my ring as I touched hers.    She slowly lifted her eyes to meet mine.  Her heavy blink under sagging eyelids gave way to a weakened smile as time and space held us united in some unexpected enigma made for this day.

“No change”, I said, “and God bless.”

boards baltimore

Advertisements

Let it go!

waves hair

I slid in the hard plastic-padded chair ready for my pre-school hair-do. It’s been a summer of contemplation like no other full of finishing touches on a teaching life of 17 years, looking at 20 which systematically beats daily with a rhythm that leave many questioning, especially me.

“The usual? Cut, shaping, coloring,” smiled my hairdresser with a down-to-earth readiness I’ve grown to trust over the years. “I’m not sure,” I replied with a sigh. My mind ticked. I’m not sure about a lot of things. Not sure if I’m making a difference, not sure about insisting on games that are supposed to convince that learning is really taking place, but most of all, not sure if my maternal and grandmaternal instincts have a place in today’s world of “If You Got It Flaunt It” and “Just Do It”.

I watched a younger woman in the salon, fussing and flipping her hair, tossing her head from side to side and glancing out of the corner of each eye to get the best glimpse of her new “do”, smiling in the wall-to-wall mirror as if she were flirting with a sexy prospective beau. She was delightedly absorbed in her look, her new-found beauty…it was indeed all her.

“My hair goes whichever way it wants,” I grimaced, “especially in this weather.” The roller-coaster heat tightens ringlets at the nape of the neck while cowlicks and waves appear in a cut that is supposed to be straight and sleek. Go figure! Then I heard myself say, “No color. Is there a cut that can just let my hair go where it wants to?”

“Well, we can do layer and scrunch,” my hairdresser suggested pulling up several strands of hair. “The length is weighing it down.” I certainly understand being weighed down. ” Cut it to just shoulder – layered,” I ordered. For the first time in my life remembered, I had no attachment to the long length of hair I had preferred for a lifetime. I felt no grimace, fear or embarrassment in releasing inches of protective security fall on the grey linoleum floor. The shampoo girl arrived just as quickly to sweep bunches of highlighted growth into the refuse piles. My hair now revealed that mousy shade of light brown with wherever-it-pleases grey and remnants of blonde in random waves that looked like spring high tides on Jones Beach.

My hairdresser blew-dried and scrunched the layers of hair with her customary ease. I watched as the new-do waved into its own pattern and direction. Not bad, I thought. My skin paled even more so under the harsh lighting of the salon, but none of it mattered for the first time. It was me. And me is just fine.

Perspective

suora 80 anni

Work ennobles the soul. Working with meaning makes your life rich with purpose. Your joy depends upon the realization that “you” are unique and purposefully make a difference, however small, in this experience called life.

Sunday Surprise

A lone black bicycle secured to the wrought-iron cemetery fence had me imagining a young man, possibly one of the immigrants I so often see earnestly pedaling to get to possible jobs at early morning hours with no resources other … Continue reading

Rate this:

Hunger 101

“It was rainin’ hard in ‘Frisco, I needed one more fare to make my night.  A lady up ahead waved to flag me down.  She got in at at the light.” (Taxi, Harry Chapin)

Many of us from the 60s generation recall the few opening lyrics and can’t help but sing with a certain nostalgia that echoes a time of hope, promise as well as an irretrievable feeling unique to those times.  Now, we find ourselves in situations of the same social urgency with fewer common resources, but oh-so-much-more knowledge!  On Long Island, Long Island Cares – The Harry Chapin Food Bank not only embodies the legacy of Harry Chapin, but maintains an exceptional array of outreach programming serving the greater LI public.   Thursday, November 7th, Christine Brown from LI Cares came to our school to engage students in an interactive workshop called “Hunger 101.”  Students learned the realities of hunger in local communities and were encouraged to “only imagine” how that situation might be “magnified” into various regions of the island, the state, the region, the country and the world.   It was an exercise few students and all-too few adults truly realize.   Ms Brown continued with a video detailing the programs that have developed from the dream of alleviating hunger so many years ago:  food delivery for the elderly, for veterans, an after-school cafe’ for kids with mentoring and nutritious food, as well as supplying food for countless pantries and soup kitchens on Long Island.    Students learned how they would deal with certain issues in their lives through role-playing with budgetary constraints, unexpected contrived problems and the choices they would be forced to make when these problems occurred in their families.  The results revealed brought a new-found understanding, just a touch more empathy about the world around us and hopefully a commitment on the part of others to understand that we are ultimately here for a purpose – to be engaged, be a part of goodness and to take little steps in creating a better world.

“Through the too many miles, and the too little smiles, I still remember you.” (Taxi, Harry Chapin)

007

 

009

 

disconnect

he waited patiently at the open door of the soup kitchen amid crunching brown leaves for the twelve o’clock whistle from the factory nearby to signal that guests could start coming in for a hot meal.  his hands trembled as he balanced himself on his wooden cane.  miles away, satisfied stomachs in pin-striped suits with enameled pins of patriotism and words as smooth as their silk ties argued over too much money being spent on entitlements.  These at stake were the very programs that he had paid into his whole life of hard work, paying bills, taxes and belief in setting aside for his future.  now, people whose entitlements are never in jeopardy are making and managing laws that further cripple others, but there is noticeably never sacrifice to their own elevated status for the benefit of those who elect them.  as i fill his plastic bowl with chicken noodle soup, i can’t help but wonder with what kind of conscience do others carry – those who cut funding, sustenance, jobs and life for workers, veterans, mothers and children, while raising their own salaries, toasting with a French Petrus Merlot and attempting to sleep soundly night after night?  what ring of inferno, real or self-imagined, will Dante and Virgil discover for those whose power has been corrupted absolutely?

mercy inn 6

noni

shuffling feet, dried crackling leaves, stone of granite, my heart bereaves
as if it were almost yesterday, the child’s laughter in gentle play.
your gnarled fingers worn by life, weaving, knitting yarns and strife.
your silken wisps of snow-white hair brush my soul’s nostalgic care
and concern for this is the day that years ago you passed away.
so as i brush a leaf away, a tear is shed, a smile will stay
for your deep love, i still feel today forty years since you’ve gone away.
you shielded me through your sacrifice. yours had been an immigrant life
protecting the child without, within, your selfless love erased the sin
that grew, collected over the years as children’s dreams became grown-up fears.
and so still today after so much time, immortalized within this rhyme,
you have become my light of hope, a ray of light inside to cope
with all these trials to endure. your mantle clothes me, soft and pure
with a grandma’s love, our lives of nurturing on earth and above.

?????????????????????????????

summers in avellino

all that’s left of family, he’s 85, she’s 63.
death, disease, some depression have left their marks without concession.
lives recounted again and again, quell the fears of where they’ve been,
but not the path of where they’re going. weakened eyes and minds not knowing
when the last embrace will be – a fading vision – the last to see.
as i sit and drink this wine, with family, table and time to dine,
i feel a presence, souls before, who watch and smile at the door
of heaven’s gate to greet their child as lives confessed go reconciled
in Love, in reaching what will be, in sadness, but with surety
that time will take its rightful score, that Love shall live forevermore.

avellino

small change

She emerged after Mass from the depths of the silent chapel.

She wore dark purple polyester pants with an elastic waistband.  A self-coordinated lavender T-shirt top, demurely covered by a pilled, white cardigan, probably acrylic.

In hand, a cane to steady her walk.  Her other hand held a stainless steel coffee mug with a Missalette tucked under her arm.  She was prepared for anything.

As she approached the altar for her final, daily goodbye, she bowed and saw a glistening 25 cent piece.

It’s not worth much these days.

She stooped her arched back to gather the coin.  She didn’t notice me.  She had trouble walking.

I waited for her to pocked the coin.

She veered off course, backtracking the way she came.

With reverence and ever so silently, she slipped the coin in the Madonna’s offertory box.

It’s not worth much these days.

But small change, in small acts that usually go unnoticed, reveal immense depth and spirit.

offering