The Woman at the Stoplight

I did something a few weeks ago that I have never done before.

We have a phenomenon in Madison that the city officials are trying to disallow.  There are certain intersections in the city that are often frequented by people who are asking for money.  The panhandling occurs as cars are stopped for a red light.

The person who is doing the panhandling — man or woman — usually looks rather “rough.”  A few belongings are seen nearby.  He or she is holding up a hand printed cardboard sign asking for money and perhaps indicating something about their difficult circumstances (e.g., lost a job, can’t find work, homeless).

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I have never seen a panhandler being aggressive toward a driver.  They seem to stand silently in place in the median, letting their personal appearance and handmade sign speak for them.

One time, at one such intersection, I saw the driver in the car ahead of me roll down his window, stick his arm out, and hand the man a bill.  That was the first time I had actually seen a driver do that — hand money over to the person in the median.

So what I did a few weeks ago was exactly that.  I was stopped at a red light, and a woman was standing in the median right next to my car — belongings located at her feet, looking rough, holding her sign.  I scrambled to get a $5 bill out of my wallet, rolled down the window, and called out to her.  She took the money, looked me in the eye and said “God bless you, God bless you.”

Now, I don’t know what she’ll use the money for, I don’t know what her circumstances are, I don’t know if she ekes out a few dollars a day from her panhandling or (as some claim) hundreds of dollars a day.  But it’s hard for me to imagine anyone standing out there, with their downtrodden and impoverished circumstances for everyone to see, unless they are genuinely desperate.  In the moment, it felt like the right thing to do. Other thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

A Beaded Collar as Autobiography**

John Lean, mustered into the military service of the United States on the 30th of August, 1862 (Civil War).

  • Treated for a wound at Fort Worth, Virginia, October 23-27, 1863.
  • Treated at Battery Rogers next Alexandria, Virginia several times during the period January 1864 and October 1864.

John Lean, mustered out of the military service of the United States on the 26th of June, 1865.  

John Lean was Ed’s great grandfather.  He was born on Bradford Farm,1839, in Blisland, Cornwall, on the edge of Bodmin Moor.  We have visited Blisland and the farm a number of times. John came to the United States as a 9-year-old in June 1848 via Quebec on the vessel Clio.

We have in our possession the beaded collar he made during those wartime hospital stays — for his bride-to-be, Hannah Hooper Burton.  John and Hannah were married on November 13, 1866.

 

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A very early example of occupational therapy!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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**Title borrowed from an article in a recent New York Times Magazine, written by Alice Gregory, titled “Objects as Autobiography.”

“Are You Still in Your Own Home?”

In April, 2013, I wrote a blog about the experience of being 74 years old.  I made the statement that, “Daily life is not without its aging reminders.”  I gave some examples such as being offered a seat on a crowded bus, attending matinees rather than evening performances, being referred to in a waiting room as “that lady with white hair.” These are all the beginnings of feeling somewhat at variance with the world around me.

Now, three years later, a new phenomenon has shown itself.

In the past two months, at least four different people have asked me if we are still in our “own home.”  The question makes sense, these are people I haven’t seen for a while.  It’s a perfectly reasonable and interesting thing to bring up.  And yet–the question is also a very heavy “aging reminder.”

Being in one’s “own home” in older age serves as a powerful symbol of well-being and independence in much of western culture.  I remember my mother, then past age 90, responding to people’s concerns by saying, “I’m doing all right.  I’m still in my own home.” Have Ed and I reached that point of vulnerability now?

Living into these later years definitely takes courage and fortitude, folks — definitely.