I am taking the shoelaces from a pair of dusty sneakers, the soles worn smooth and grass stained from mowing the lawn last summer. The purple laces, however, are barely used, swag from a domestic violence walk my mother and I went on together. There were cardboard cut-outs the size of real women, men, and children with names and dates written in large letters, set up on both sides at the beginning of the trail through a local park. The day was unusually hot for June. We were also given purple T-shirts for a foundation to end domestic violence, which less than a year later fell apart.
One reason I attended was I knew the band who was performing on an outdoor stage. The acoustics were awful. The band was drinking beer and vodka, which bothered me since it was a community event, albeit rather poorly attended due to a thirty year tradition of Scottish games, Scottish step-dancing, all things Scottish held right across the road, another fundraiser for Bonnie Brae, a home for troubled young boys, well sponsored and with a high success rate. We took our kids several years because my husband was half-Scottish. Men in kilts, bagpipers, traditional games, banners, flags, and food. Always made the front page of our local small town newspaper.
But it was the audacious color purple of the shoelaces that prompted my memory of a grocery store cashier to whom I said something cold weather related back in November. He replied, "I'm always warm from my feet up because I have back problems and thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the store has to provide a cushioned heating platform for me. All the other cashiers want one after trying mine."
I asked while unloading my cart, "Does it help?"
He smiled smugly and answered, "Well...that and I, um, only work part-time so I can collect disability checks. I felt like shouting, "Dude, you're young! You should be wearing rainbows on your feet and dancing for the sheer joy of being alive! Bring home flowers for your mother and balloons for your friends for no reason!" Instead I placed the last of my groceries, carrots and kale, on the conveyor belt, thinking of a haiku my older son wrote in his first year of high school, which read:
I'm not kidding about that
The cashier held up the kale and asked, "What is this? Parsley?" All I could muster was one word, "Kale". After putting the groceries in my cloth Reduce-Reuse-Recycle bags and paying, I drove home thinking of my son's 17th birthday. I decorated the dining room with seventeen yellow helium balloons on which I drew swastikas with a black Sharpie because as my son handed in his haiku, the creative writing teacher announced it was her birthday. As the paper went from his hand to hers, he said, "Happy Birthday." She misunderstood; thought he was giving her the haiku for her birthday, was moved to tears and hung it on the wall by her desk the entire school year.
The last time we saw her was about two years ago, hyper on prednisone, an IV pole at her side as she was talking with no hair to a nurse at the same hospital my husband was having his gall bladder removed. I called her name; she turned, delight giving her gaunt face a radiant glow as we all hugged. She told us she was at the end of the road, but her doctor wanted to try an experimental mix of chemo drugs to buy her one more year. She winked, saying, "What do I have to lose? It's been a great life although I have a few more things I'd like to do..." Then, in typical teacher fashion, she rattled off the titles of three or four books we all should read, then jotted them down on a scrap of paper.
(I found her obituary and she died in October, 2016, almost exactly one year after we saw her.)