hot apple cider
Jerry and his wife Jane have been next door neighbors of
Lauren and I and for many years. He and I talk regularly, usually while one or
the other of us is working in the yard or doing something else outside. He's a
nice guy, maybe a little conservative for my tastes, but he's kind and decent
and a good neighbor. Over the years I've heard many stories about his strong
willed mother. So when he told me about Helen and how she first got her job at
Macy's, and then how she'd been injured and unexpectedly laid off before finally
becoming a volunteer Greeter at Macy's, it prompted Lauren and I to do something
we hadn't done in a few years - we decided to take a drive into downtown
Minneapolis to see the holiday lights and displays. Maybe we'd even run into
Jerry's interesting sounding mother.
We went on a Thursday
afternoon, the second week of December, driving on I-394 for half hour into
downtown and then parking our car in the lot A ramp. We walked five blocks
across the city with the expressed purpose of going to Macy's to view the
recently opened 'Old Thyme' Christmas exhibit on the eighth floor, but as we
came through the Seventh Street revolving doors we were lucky enough to see
Helen. We'd never met her before but Jerry had described her well; there was no
doubt the friendly, white haired lady who welcomed us with a "Merry Christmas!
Thank you for visiting our store like we were long lost friends, was her. We
introduced ourselves as friends of Jerry and she was charming and gracious and
couldn't have been nicer.
We only chatted for a moment or
two before more people crowded in so we left and made our way through the
crowded aisles to the escalator and then up to the Christmas exhibit on the 8th
floor. That's' where the Old Thyme Christmas theme was really put on display for
all to see. A bustling, cobbled stone street scene had been created, and we
walked along wide-eyed, admiring the quaint shops on both sides with workers
inside illuminated by the glow of warm yellow lights. There were mounds of
cotton snow all around, and the scene was populated with men and women out and
about, carrying packages, dressed for winter in old time wool jackets and coats
with colorful scarves and hats. There were children playing - ice skating and
pulling sleds, and dogs running and cats hiding behind corners, and trees
everywhere decorated with pretty ribbons and bows and ornaments and lights that
twinkled. And, of course, softly playing in the background were the melodic
strains of traditional Christmas music.
After Lauren and I viewed the
exhibit we wandered around on various floors, window shopping and looking at
other festive displays. We even saw a jewelry counter decked out with sprigs of
evergreens adorned with tiny silver and golden ornaments and red bows. In a
word, the effect of the entire store was enchanting.
When we were finished with our
browsing we made it a point of making our way through the crowds back to where
we'd entered, just to say good-bye to Helen, but we didn't get the chance. She
was talking to a young Somali man with "Asid" on his name tag. They were
carrying on an animated conversation and seemed to be enjoying themselves
immensely, and we didn't want to interrupt them. I noted she was wearing a red
carnation on the lapel of her jacket, a gift, no doubt, from one of the many
friends of his mother Jerry had told me about.
Lauren and I left then, feeling
good and infused with a little more Christmas spirit than we'd had before we
entered the store. It was nice to see the older lady and the young black man
together. With all the crap on the news lately about people not getting along,
and everyone freaking out over the color of someone's skin or their choice of
religion, it was good to see those two together and how comfortable they were
with each other. It was really good.
We walked through the crowded
downtown sidewalks toward our car. The sun had set and every building had
displays of Christmas lights on, filling the night with an festive glow. If it
were to start snowing, it would have made the scene perfect. And then it did. We
smiled at each other and Lauren took hold of my arm. Was it the time of the
year? The seasonal festivities? Or could it happen anytime or anyplace? We
didn't know, but for one brief moment the world felt right and in sync with
itself, and we walked along smiling and nodding greetings to complete strangers.
Sound weird? Maybe, but it felt like it was the right thing to do and that was
good enough for us.
We took our time walking to our
car, talking about what we'd seen at Macy's and about Jerry's mom, enjoying each
other's company and the fresh snow drifting down and the pretty, colorful lights
of the city - even the cold bite of winter in the air. And, most especially, the
growing feeling that maybe Helen was on to something. Maybe it really was all
about opening your heart to others and putting differences aside. Maybe it was
about seeing those who were not the same as we were as people first and
foremost, and not getting hung up on the color of their skin or where they
worshiped. Maybe it was all about being humane and treating people with decency
and respect, like Helen was doing; and like her friends were doing. And if that
was the case, we were more than happy to join her. Which gave me the inkling of
Make no mistake, the city was
loud. There were buses blasting by and cars speeding, kicking up slushy snow,
and horns honking almost non-stop. In a way, it was kind of a madhouse. But,
balancing the mayhem, there were also carolers on the street corners and bell
ringers for the Salvation Army, and people like us, out having a good time,
enjoying the soul of the city and finding joy in the season.
Foremost in my thoughts was
Helen. In my mind I saw her back at Macy's talking to Asid and how comfortable
they were with each other and how happy they seemed. It was little things like
what she was doing that were making the world a better place, and she was doing
it for no other reason than it was the type of person she was. And so was Asid,
as well as all of the other friends Jerry had told us about: Clare, Simon, Leon
and Rico. They were open and generous with each other. Skin color and religion
didn't matter. The type of person you were was what counted the most. I wanted
to be part of that world.
My idea suddenly crystallized.
I stopped dead on the sidewalk and told Lauren about it and she agreed. We
turned around and headed with a quick step back to Macy's. Thankfully, Helen
thankfully was still there, in high spirits and just as cheerful as before.
I walked up to her when there
was a break in the crowd and re-introduced myself and Lauren as friends of her
son. She immediately remembered who we were. We chatted for just a minute before
I asked her the question we'd come back to ask.
"Lauren and I were wondering if
we could take you to dinner this evening when you're done working," I said to
her. She didn't bat an eye, and nodded enthusiastically as I was talking, but
before she could agree out loud, I added, "And maybe bring some of your friends
from work along, too."
And she did. And that's how we
got to meet Asid, Simon and Rico (Clare and Leon couldn't get away). We had a
nice meal together, good conversation and, before we parted, made planes to get
together for following Thursday. Hopefully, it was the beginning of something
permanent for all of us.
And that may have been the end
of the story except for one final thing. The next day I was out shoveling the
five inches of snow that had accumulated since it had begun falling while Lauren
and I were downtown. It had continued during our dinner with Helen and her
friends as well as during our slow drive home and then long into the night.
I had worked my way out to the
where the driveway met the street and was clearing what seemed like ten tons of
the stuff left behind when the city plow had gone past when Jerry drove up, slid
to a stop and beeped. He rolled down his window and greeted me with, "So when
are you going to break down and join the twenty-first century?" I was nearly too
tired to laugh, but I did anyway. This was our long running joke about my
insistence on shoveling my driveway and sidewalk by hand. Jerry, on the other
hand, had used his powerful snow blower earlier, finished quickly, and then had
run out to open the his hardware store before stopping home to drop off a gallon
of milk for Jane he'd bought on the way. I was happy for the break since I'd
been out for almost an hour and a half. The snow had been wet and heavy, our
driveway was long, my arms were sore, and I was beat.
I laughingly told him, "Never!"
Even though I'd been silently wishing for one for the last half hour, picturing
myself jauntily prancing up and down my driveway gripping a big, red snow
blowing machine with both hands, merrily flinging snow fifty feet into the air.
We chatted a while, being
neighborly, before he turned serious.
"So how'd your evening downtown
go?" he asked.
"Good," I told him, "Really
good." I took my hat off and wiped the sweat from my forehead. "The holiday
displays were great. Really pretty." But I knew that's not what he was really
asking about. "The best part, though, was that we saw your mom and even met some
of her friends."
"Really? How'd that go?" He had
a look between wanting to know and driving straight home without hearing my
Well, don't ask if you don't
want to know and he asked, so I went ahead and told him about our evening,
specifically about how happy his mother seemed and how nice her new friends
were. "There's a guy from Somali named Asid and he and Lauren talked cooking. We
came away with the recipe for a dish called Qado that sounded delicious. We
talked with Simon about the conflict in the Middle East. He used to live in
Lebanon but he's been in the States for fifteen years. He's a Christian and had
a pretty unique perspective about the different factions of Muslims and all the
fighting going on between them. And her friend, Rico, gave me a hint on how to
get rid of those Japanese Beetles that were feasting on my Morning Glories last
summer. He said all I needed to do was brush them off the flowers into bucket of
a little dishwater soap and water."
When I was finished with my
re-cap of our dinner, Jerry was silent for a minute, looking straight ahead
through the windshield, doing some heavy duty thinking, I figured. I told him,
"Your mom said she wished you'd come down there. She'd like you to see where she
works and meet some of the people she works with." I paused. He was quiet,
thinking hard, I'm sure weighing the pros and cons, so I added, "They're good
folks, Jer. You'd like them."
Finally he turned to me. I
always felt Jerry had a kind nature and I knew he cared a lot about his
mother."I'm glad you saw her down there. I've been thinking about maybe going
down there for a while now. My mom can be a force of nature, that's for
"I don't really think you have
anything to lose. When was the last time you and Jane were in downtown,
"A long time ago. Thirty years
I didn't want to make a big
deal out of it, but I felt a little nudge wouldn't hurt. "The eighth floor
Christmas show is done up old fashioned and is kind of fun. Jane would like it,"
I said, just to push him a bit more.
He looked past me to his home,
thinking some more. Then he said, simply, "Well, what the hell. Why not?" I
realized, then, he must have been ready, all he needed was a reason to convince
himself. It was really that simple.
We chatted a bit more, and I
told him about parking in Lot A. Then I waved good-bye as he drove down the
street to his driveway and turned in. I may have been mistaken, but I could have
sworn there was a look of relief on his face. Like he'd told me many times
before, he and his mother had always gotten along well. He must have come to the
conclusion that it was time to move on and accept this new phase of her life.
Besides, like I'd told him, her friends really were good folks. It wasn't going
to hurt at all to get to know them.
I finished my shoveling and
walked up my driveway to the back door. I was thinking about Jerry and Helen. It
was good he was going to make an effort to accept what his mother was doing and
the new friends she was making. I know it sounds like a little thing and it may
have been a long time coming and, yeah, I know change is hard, but you had to
start somewhere. And that's what he was going to do. You couldn't ask for
anything more than that. And, who knows, when all is said and done and for
everyone concerned, next year might turn out to be a pretty good
About the author
lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories
have appeared online in CafeLit
, The Writers' Cafe Magazine
Cabinet of Heed
, Paragraph Planet, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart,
Potato Soup Journal, Literary Yard, Spillwords, The Drabble
of Myth Magazine
, and in print publications: A Million Ways, Mused Literary
Journal, Gleam Flash Fiction Anthology #2, The Best of CafeLit 8, Nativity
Anthology by Bridge House Publishing and Gold Dust Magazine
. You can also check
out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com