daily preciousness

Sunday, July 07, 2002

blind matriarchs

I waltzed out of the drug store, incriminating evidence in hand.

Well, partially incriminating, anyway... The over-exposed pics of my debauchery in the Big Apple didn't really reveal much more than an unshaven, pale-skinned guy hamming it up in Times Square. But that's a story for another day.

I waltzed out of the drug store. As I walked through the threshold, I saw two blind ladies talking together. The diminutive black one with the tell-tale Ray Charles glasses was discussing child-rearing with the taller, lanky white woman, in similar glasses. They were both holding safety-orange walking canes. The two were chortling loudly and I overheard one saying to the other, "Know what I tell them youngins? I tell 'em, 'if you don't act right, I'm gonna pop you one!'" She punctuated the threat with a brusque motion of her cane, as if she was using it to smack the unruly tyke over the head. "Note to self," I thought, "Don't go messing with any blind black matriarchs. They could easily draw blood as they "pop me one" with those canes. And they probably have an eerie, ninja-like sense of aim. I was impressed by their bold (if somewhat threatening) sense of purpose. Blind or not, she was determined to rear those children with a strong hand. That's what I call passion. No wilting Willamina here -- she was going to take the bull by the horns, then, if need be, smack 'em around a bit.

The whole blindness thing was just a footnote. She was a Mom first, a visually impaired person second. Bravo to that.

It was a great way to end the eastern end of my walk down King Street on a sunny, blustery Wednesday morning.

Over the last five months, I have sculpted out a perfect Wednesday morning routine for myself. This is it:

I sleep late, lounging around in the soft warmth of my bed, squinting my eyes to the sunlight refracted by the undulating mass of emerald leaves in the front yard trees. I listen to the morning radio news and consider getting out of bed with the measured deliberation of a supreme court justice, except I make sure to allow for plenty of back-stretching time.

It's usually 9:30 or 10 when I finally drag my sorry carcass out of the sack. But the incredible sweetness of the sleep-in depends on my ability to escape from it. If I sleep past 10, then I usually feel drained and groggy all morning. (When it comes to bedrest, there's definitely too much of a good thing.) I read that getting more than 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night actually seems to lead to a shorter life span. But what a well-rested, leisurely life that must be! I guess my 9-to-7 sleeping strategy might be a bad thing. But I'll risk it. I like to live on the wild side, anyway.

Yesterday, I got a great compliment from a beautiful young african-asian woman at work. She had carted her two hyperactive kids with her to my storytime. One of them, a boy of about seven, pointed an accusatory finger at me and said, "Where's the LADY?" It was a typical response. I was filling in for Kimberly, who generally reads to the group on Thursdays. The little boy seemed satisfied with my storytelling skills by the second or third book. The woman must've been a little embarrassed by his outburst -- maybe that's why she took me aside as I was de-greeting the kids. "You have a wonderful temperament for working with kids," she explained. "You have a real way with them." I just responded with a surprised, "Wow, thanks!" I was a little shocked, since I didn't really feel like I was "in the zone" with my stories that morning.

But I must have met at least bare minimum standards for story-telling, despite my occasional stutter or pause. (I wonder if my little Oops-I-lost-my-place pauses are sometimes mistaken for dramatic ones sometimes.)

But the fact that I got some positive feedback from her (and the little visits I get from preschoolers to second-graders who come asking to talk with "Mista Jeffrey") answer a question posed by a newspaper article I read this morning. Craig Wilson, Life section columnist for USA Today, asked, "Would you do your job for free?" He cited the story of town librarian Yvonne Thomas of Berlin, New Hampshire. She decided to retire from her job and volunteer rather than see her library's materials budget cut by 8 percent. After 28 years, she decided to retire one day, then come back as a volunteer the very next. "If there's no money for books, this place becomes a bad museum," she is quoted as saying in the newspaper.

What a great example Yvonne Thomas sets for us. Not for just librarians, either, but for anyone. Just like the fierce blind matriarchs, she's got a passion for doing what she loves. And she loves it so much, she's willing to do it free of charge.

She reminds me of another breezy do-gooder. A man I chanced to meet on the metro last month wrote me a poem, just to celebrate the simple joy of running into me. (We'd met earlier in the year at a party and he remembered meeting me.)

Thank God for purposeful blind matriarchs, committed New Hampshire retirees and fresh-faced haiku writers on subway trains. It's little things like this that keep me going -- the exquisite randomness of my connectedness -- my interoperability with the people around me, physically and ideologically.

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