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Do you have a quarter?

April 11, 2012

As I pulled in to the post office parking lot this afternoon, I saw the little old guy standing with his back to the building’s wall, ten or fifteen feet from the entry, gazing out at the parking lot as if he were waiting on a ride.  He seemed to watch my car drive past.  Instantly, I knew he wanted something.  And somehow I didn’t think it was a ride.  Skipping the last remaining parking slot nearest the building, I opted for a slot on the other side of the drive area.  Yep – my initial effort to avoid him.  Silly of me – which I was thinking even as I turned my steering wheel away from the building.  Silly that I think he wants something and silly to already be in avoidance mode.  I noticed how quickly I’d made my assessment and taken action.  It took seconds.

And then, I forgot about him as I leaned toward the floorboard to wrestle my little box out of its nest – that nest being my beautiful Fair Trade hand-woven basket that I carry with me on my walk to the mailbox at home each day.  It serves double-duty as my “go basket” in the car to keep all my stuff in one place when I’m running errands.  Stuff in that basket helps me remember where I’m going next!

I grasped the hand-taped box.  It held three carefully chosen 5×7 prints of photos I took during my last trip to the Big Island.  That was in December.  I’d finally purchased some embarrassingly inexpensive frames for the photos – all with the plan of sending them, along with a long overdue thank you note to the folks who’ve inherited the beach house where I stayed with my older son most of those 10 days.  The photos wouldn’t even hold themselves in place when I sat down on my new loveseat a few nights ago to finish this little project.  The frames actually needed a mat.  Instead, I used tape to hold them in place.  Good grief. 

Are these nice enough?  Will they think I’m just completely pathetic with my little gift?  Amateur photos, edited with only the software that came on my computer and packed into a re-purposed Amazon box?  Well, they are, at least, thoughtfully created.  And there’s a full-bodied, handwritten thank you note in the box too.   I want to give them something to remind them of their beautiful place when they can’t be there.  I want them to decide to keep this memory-rich family home. I think keeping it will be good for their souls.

Box in hand, purse on shoulder, keys in hand, I open the car door.  I’m still wearing my sunglasses but I know I will have to put on my so-called “reader” glasses when I get inside the post office. And there he is.  Right there.  He’s crossed over the drive to my car.  There are twenty other cars around.  There are plenty of other people around.  But he’s chosen me.  He wants to speak to me.

Judging from his accent, I believe he is probably middle eastern. He is small, no taller than my five feet, four inches and he’s faded; thin on hair, age spots on his face, a gentle but sprightly look in his eyes.  Very friendly smile.  I think he has been in the U.S. a long time.  Perhaps in this mid-western town for as long.  We are a college town, after all.  “Do you have a quarter?”  He looks directly at me but also seems to tip his head in older-generation politeness.  I’m pondering in fast-motion as I quickly and brightly say, “You bet!” Amazingly quickly for me, I fish my red leather coin purse out of my shoulder bag. .  We both bend our heads toward the coin purse while I try to finger out a quarter.  As I’m doing this, I ask him, “Is that all you need?”.  “Yes, yes”.  I finally get my fingers on what looks like a quarter and I pull it out into the sunlight.  “Wait – that’s a nickel.” I drop it back in my coin purse and, with relief, I think I spy a quarter next to it.  I manage to pull the sole quarter out, inspect it to make sure it’s not another nickel and I hand it to him.  I joke, “I can’t see!”  He laughs, “Your eyes better than mine!”

I see that he’s holding several white letter-size envelopes in his hand.  I don’t think they have addresses on them.  I wonder what in the world he is going to do with a quarter.  I am ready to disengage; I feel a mild panic setting in.  I think he thanked me.  I’m sure he did.  And I think he walked toward the street.  I didn’t watch him.  I scurried on inside to mail my silly package.

But I should have watched him.  What in the world can you do with a quarter these days?  Make a phone call?  Buy a stamp?  No.  Something wasn’t right.  I should have paid attention.  I should have made sure he was okay.  I had plenty of time.  Did his demeanor remind me of an elderly person with some dementia?  Of course.  Does that trigger memories of recent up-close and personal life experiences?  You bet.

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