After a Sunday afternoon cortado at a new coffee shop here in town, I walked down to the river simply to enjoy the day. I went down the few steps to the walkway at the river’s edge, passed a woman looking at her phone while smoking, waved at a father and daughter canoeing, exchanged smiles with a young couple, and then I saw her standing a bit further on. An older woman, she stood quite still looking across the river. As I neared, she looked at me and we met with smiles.
“It’s so beautiful and peaceful, isn’t it,” I ventured. She nodded and said she thought so as well. I asked if she came there often. “I used to,” she said, “until I got sick. Now when my husband is walking the dogs, he will bring me down sometimes.” Her voice had remnants of a stately eloquence that had been wracked by her illness, but it was clear that her mind still held a keen edge.
She showed me what she best liked to watch, white-barked skeletal trees amid all the fully green-leafed ones. She pointed out two in particular. At sunset, eagles would fly into the one on the right, while buzzards would assume their position in one further down to the left, both swooping down to the water to fish. As she spoke, I could see an artist’s vision and passion in her soul. I said so. Nodding, she talked of being in foster care in Montgomery, Alabama, as a child during the school year. Her hands made aggressive slapping and pushing motions illustrating her words of abuse. During the summers she was able to go spend time with her grandfather who had a tall house at the edge of the Everglades. In an upstairs window, she would paint what she saw with crayons. This was evidently a nurturing memory for her.
After I stepped to the edge of the walkway to take a picture, I asked if she minded telling me her first name. “Mary,” she said. “That’s my first name as well, though I have always gone by my middle name– Mochel.” As usual, I needed to explain the origin of my name. It’s my great-grandmother’s maiden name. She was from Dalhunden in Alsace, France, but she ended up in North Alabama. Mary exclaimed about how much we had in common. The woman assisting at her birth had traveled frequently to France with her employers. She gave Mary the middle name of “Ciel.” “Like the sky,” I said. “The heavens,” she again illustrated with her hands.
In taking leave, I reached for her hands. We blessed each other with words, as our meeting had blessed each others’ lives—four hands together, two dark and two merely tan, making a benediction.