At the US Post Office

Reposted from an untitled draft, dated 2017

—– A scam was in process. At least, what I saw and heard pointed in that direction. The man was elderly, wearing old pants with a partially open mid-seam and frayed hem held up by a safety pin. He spoke loudly, probably due to a hearing deficit, and all of us waiting in line could hear. “I just won two million dollars. They told me to send this in by Tuesday.” He seemed to enjoy sharing the news. For sure, he got my attention.

The clerk I’ve known for years, a veteran employee at our tiny post office that sits sandwiched between a boutique dress shop and a cozy coffee nook. She calmly followed his instructions. Certified mail. He needed to fill out a form. Did he want to receive notification that his mail had been received? It seemed likely that he was sending money in order to receive his so-called prize. Recent reports of fraud had involved a similar situation.

I considered congratulating the gentleman and then asking if his children knew of his good fortune. We could have chatted and maybe, just maybe, I could have helped to prevent …… At least it was a noble thought. No, it was not my business. I convinced myself that the mail clerk, who has had years of experience, would pick up on the clues and try to do something, if indeed it were a scam.

Is she able, by law, to question what someone is sending in the US mail? If I were his daughter wouldn’t I be grateful if a well-intended stranger were to ask a few questions? Could anything I say avert an incident such as loss of money to a scam artist? Probably not. I held my tongue. Perhaps the clerk already knew something and would set his letter aside for investigation. My mind was racing……had I devised a conspiracy theory?

The gal in front of me was fidgeting with her phone the entire time. I don’t think she even noticed the man. The young lady behind me was pregnant and attending to a toddler and a stack of boxes at her feet. She had other things on her mind. I decided to quietly wait my turn and then make a nonchalant comment to the clerk about the lucky lottery winner.

“Do you think that gentleman actually won the lottery?” I blurted out. Not so subtle after all. She shook her head in dismay, while counting out my stamps, and replied. It turned out that she and her colleague have been trying to figure this out for some time. His sister died and left him money. Someone knows about it, she said with certainty. The man comes in frequently with the same announcement of having won a large sum of money and needing to send off a letter to confirm it. He lives in his home with a disabled son. Hm…….my concern was not unwarranted.

I don’t need to know if this particular elderly man was being taken advantage of, but my Saturday morning jaunt to the post office highlighted an increasing problem. Americans live longer today than in any past age. They may suffer from declining physical or mental health and need assistance, yet they have the right to age in their homes and try to care for themselves. For many, in fact, there is no other option. They live alone or with an elderly spouse or even perhaps with a special needs adult child. They may not see or care that their clothes are ripped or hems are hanging loose, but they manage. They want to remain independent and make their own decisions. They are incredibly vulnerable.

The gentleman moved away from the counter and walked slowly toward the door, a bit shaky and cautious with each step. Then he turned and called back to the clerk, “See you next time.” And he left. —–

Heat Wave

It’s mid-summer and the weatherman warns of excessive heat on the East Coast. As political ads begin to fill the airways, we’re still in the midst of a deadly pandemic, something that’s changed our lives drastically in the past five months.

Notable to me is the great divide that marks our lives. In a phone conversation with a new acquaintance I can tell in the 1st conversation which TV news he is watching, just by the way he speaks of the many riots occurring in our cities. Another friend banters away on FB about peaceful protests in our cities.

A kindly older man in my neighborhood walks daily, always with a stretchy mask covering most of his face and neck, while others stroll along in groups, wearing no masks, laughing and shouting. A lady enters the grocery store and cleans hands and grocery cart handle with the sanitizing cloth provided at the door. Up and down the aisles, she fastidiously cleans her hands again after touching each item.

Several shoppers follow the arrows and 6-feet markers diligently while others move around as usual with no attention to social distancing. A tall food rep in jeans and t-shirt stacks shelves with pretzels wearing a small mask that has slid off his nose. He certainly doesn’t understand the reason for masks or, if he does, isn’t taking it seriously. I find his exposed nose repulsive and quickly side step the situation and head for the cashier.

Young mothers are nearly hysterical in their online conversations re: home schooling curricula, hybrid models, or simply returning to a normal in-person school schedule like the good old days.

COVID relief should include tax benefits for certain people or COVID relief is strictly about victims of the economic shut-down. The police force should be reformed or defunded, depending on your side in this polarizing conflict. It goes on…and I’m sure you’re surrounded by it also.

How sad that we can’t cross the divide and tackle the common enemy together, a pandemic that is unprecedented in our time. We could commit to joining forces in dialog and creative effort, to practicing safety precautions prescribed by experts, and to providing quality care to all who are sick and vulnerable. Surely then we would gain the upper hand in this challenge.

Indeed, we’re having a heat wave in more ways than one!

Shortage in the Ice Cream Aisle

There was evidently a run on mint chocolate chip ice cream! I’d heard about the toilet paper race and didn’t even enter that aisle. It was to be a quick trip to the store, with efforts to stay away from people. I did speak with the lady in the meat section, only to learn there was nothing left in the butcher’s stash behind the mysterious swinging doors. Quickly gathering up a ham from the bin, I headed for the dairy section. A few containers of milk, one carton of eggs, and a supply of cottage cheese lined the shelves. And then, on to the ice cream aisle before I’d escape to outside air and the safe haven of my car.

Creamy green mint sprinkled with chunks of dark chocolate…hm….I could already see it melting and dripping down the sides of a cone.  There were at least eight brands of ice cream and a decent number of options on the shelves, but not one mint chocolate chip remained.  Wanting to move along to the cash register, I hastily selected a runner up—butter pecan—and found the quickest line. Alas, the young man at the register was scratching his nose. Oops…I slipped over to another line and gladly paid for my few items and got away.

Life will probably not be the same when we get beyond this virus. I’ll use my own clean stylus when signing the screen for a credit card purchase, and avoid picking up a pen that hundreds have used before me. A friend decided to wipe down each grocery item with a mild bleach solution, after they had been hand-delivered from the food market. Sterile wipes will be in the car in case I find myself at a fancy restaurant with valet parking—not likely in the near future. However, my steering wheel could use a good wipe-down right now.  I’ll never stop hugging my grandkids, but if anyone is ill, we’ll use a hand gesture from the heart. Or at least try.

Little do we know all that will change, but I suspect education/schools will not be the same. Travel, a beloved activity of so many Americans, will be affected. Cultural events in concert halls and theaters are at risk, along with countless business venues such as restaurants and shops,….

Sad and unexpected as the current health crisis is, we can try to see it as an opportunity. A closer sense of community may grow out of the dismay and uncertainty, as we support each other at a distance. Families will begin to spend more time together playing board games, watching movies, cooking, just talking. Church leaders will invent new ways to connect with their flocks, and teachers will reinvent their skills and curricula to reach students with online instruction.

As for me, I’m quilting and have challenged myself to create a new quilt top each day. My blog, asleep for several months, will be a venue for communicating. Thanks for reading this, by the way. A friend texted to say she’s watching movies and cleaning windows. Another is binging on cross word puzzles to keep her mind stimulated.

Dear reader, I hope you’re taking care of yourself, staying at a distance until this passes, finishing an old project or two, reading a good book, and eating ice cream. If you happen to have mint chocolate chip in the freezer, please enjoy a spoonful for me!

 

 

 

 

Friday Morning

The sign said Fresh Pretzels and Logs. Interesting enough, but what really got my attention was the wonderful aroma of yeast, sugar and cinnamon, plus a smidgeon of savory sausage and melting cheese!

Behind the glass wall, a young Amish girl rolled out dough, stretching and pulling and then cutting it into fist-sized balls, laying aside the extra as she began to shape one portion at a time. Working quickly, she snipped off a long piece, then rolled again, tied a loose knot and flipped the newly formed pretzel onto a large baking sheet.
Without a pause she darted over to trays of freshly baked pretzels, carefully picked up each one with a tong and dipped it into melted butter. As a lineup of customers waited at the counter, mouths nearly watering, the warm buttery treats landed in a drawer of cinnamon sugar and then into small paper bags.

Three little tables stood tucked in beside the glass window on the customer side, fully occupied. One kindly gentleman had an elderly mother at his side; he spoke loudly and tended to her constantly, picking up her napkin whenever it fell and offering her another cup of coffee.

Several mid-aged ladies looked like they were ready for a casual date wearing colorful sweaters, smart leather shoes, and a touch of jewelry. A few sported freshly done hair, as if they had just come from the salon. They looked fit and healthy too, though were eating warm pretzels dripping with butter and sweetness. Several ladies munched on sandwiches filled with meat and cheese. Everyone was smiling.

Not one young person was among them. On the porch outside, I had seen a handsome- looking older couple on old-fashioned rockers, chatting as if it were perhaps a first opportunity. Could these folks be members of Seniors Meet or Match.com for the silver sneaker crowd?

The event was an informal convention of retirees, it seemed. Very likely, in fact. According to data, ten thousand Americans turn sixty-five each day, and they are the healthiest and best educated generation in our nation’s history. They are out and about. Well-tuned representatives of this population were snacking on freshly-baked pretzels and enjoying their Friday morning, right there in the local farmers’ market.

I was on a speed visit to get a few donuts for the weekend, but decided to slow down and take it all in: a stroll through the country furniture aisle, a sample of home-made pickles, people-watching at the gourmet wing counter where at least eight different flavors of chicken wings created some drama, a leisurely visit at the corner shop that sells everything from buckwheat pancake mix to chocolate-covered strawberries.

Of course I remembered the donuts, warm with sticky icing and fresh cream filling, and then made my way to the door, again passing the pretzel and log shop. The tables were still full, customers still smiling. I was tempted to ask them the name of their club but decided to simply come back next Friday and take a place at one of those tables. After all, I’m retired too!

Christmas Magic

The little envelop had been tucked behind my screen door. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” it said in bright red. I knew this was from the trash collectors. Each year I notice it and set it aside for a day or two. Before long, Christmas has passed with its rush of activity and I realize I have not thanked the service people who show up faithfully every week to remove my discards.
It was early this morning when I heard the truck rumble around the corner. Still in my robe, I quickly grabbed the envelope, stuffed cash into it, and darted to the curb where the blue recycling bin had just been emptied. The two men, quickly moving on to the next home behind their trash-laden truck, paused to say “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! And God bless you!” I heard the last greeting twice and it rang in my ears. Tears filled my eyes and I quickly responded with my own “And God bless you too.”

A curbside blessing at 7 AM on a bitter cold December morning. The younger man accepted the envelop with a gentle smile. Was he amused by the fact that I was wearing a big fluffy robe? He seemed to be truly grateful. The older man, all decked out with a long grey beard (almost like Santa himself), waved to me with his blessing, continuing to heave a garbage bin with the other arm. This all lasted about a minute.

I wonder how many people show appreciation to the service people in their lives. There are many possibilities, if you stop to think about it.

As a classroom teacher I enjoyed the little surprises that quietly showed up on my desk at Christmas. They included chocolate dipped pretzels with red and green sprinkles—a perfect pick-me-up for a tired teacher during the hectic days before holiday break. One year there was a lovely necklace in a box, another year a colorful Christmas tin filled with buttery hazelnut cookies, homemade. This was a treat that I took home to share. The building principal even stopped by with a gift to show appreciation for my work. There were personal cards, sometimes in German, which delighted me no end, and kind verbal greetings as the students left the classroom on the last day.

At the hair salon I see boxes of candy with bright red ribbons from appreciative customers. Sunday School teachers deserve recognition, as well as mail carriers, gas meter readers if you can catch them at their work, the plumber who comes just in time to fix a problem before guests arrive for the weekend.

If in each encounter we do or say something special to show appreciation, peace and good will could be spinning around in our communities like never before. Christmas magic that lives on and on. Now that would be a good thing!

Common Threads

Young or old, male or female, immigrant or Native American, educated or not, those of various religions and preferences, we are all human and share a great deal in common.  Sadly, it has been difficult recently to find the common factors.  The divide shows up among once jovial neighbors, friends who share a monthly bridge game, family members at the dinner table, co-workers in the staff office.  The parting of ways manifests itself dramatically on social media where unbridled frustration and fear appear at every click.  Uneasiness is apparent in polite conversation, as people try to be kind and avoid tricky topics.

My blog is about the journey—particularly about taking on new risks and adventures in the final quarter of the game. So why am I writing about the above?  Because it’s inescapable — and it’s part of the game.  What’s going on in our country affects the lives of our children and grandchildren and we need to pay attention.  I don’t pretend to have a solution to the divide we’re experiencing, but do suggest eight first steps:

  1. Listen to many voices, i.e. access varied sources of information

Intentionally read papers and watch news broadcasts that are known to be of the opposite political leaning from your own.

  1. Avoid hasty conclusions about people

Adopt a “no conclusion, no judgment” posture.  Period.

  1. Go out of your way to meet new people, especially those who have a different appearance, nationality, religion, or lifestyle

If you are Christian, visit a mosque. If you are Muslim, attend a Christian service.

  1. Smile more

This actually feels good and is perhaps the easiest way to say “Welcome to my world.”

  1. Take the time to hear people’s stories

Preconceived ideas about people (aka prejudices), especially about certain groups of people, usually vanish when we actually get to know a person.

  1. Give second chances

We are human!

  1. Choose gentle language

How differently we might view the  national health care discussion, for example,  if the plan were called a ”pilot program,”  which any new initiative is, to be reviewed and improved, rather than a “failure,” to be repealed.  Words are powerful and can be neutral or inflammatory.

  1. Be empathetic: imagine walking in the other’s shoes, figure out what makes that person tick

This may require all of the above. Experience a softening of the heart, let go of rigid beliefs, and become a more compassionate person.

Perhaps the above steps will help make a difference. It’s worth a try!

~ Post Script ~

For social media posters who share cute pictures and uplifting quotes, thanks for brightening my day.

For friends who approach me directly with honest respectful dialog about difficult issues, kudos to you for giving this a chance.

For leaders who take a stand for what is right in the face of repercussions, I congratulate your bravery.

For those who pray, please pray fervently that we will overcome the divide and again find the common threads we share as Americans.