Whenever it hasn’t rained for a few days, we Portlanders get an irresistible urge to clean up our cars. There was quite a crowd at Washman this afternoon. I knew I would have to wait a bit, so I walked around making small talk. There was a woman in a leopard-print blouse drinking an iced mocha. We watched a Hummer get detailed. “I never really ‘got’ Hummers,” she said. “You can’t even fit very many people in there.”

A man was sitting on a bench outside holding a skinny black dog on one of the most beat-up leashes I’d ever seen. It was like six broken leashes all tied together. The dog wriggled sideways to say hi, shyly sniffing my hand. The guy’s car was ready and he was gone. Then I noticed a woman sitting nearby at one of the tables.

She had a purple sweater on, at least two purple scarves going this way and that, and a purple hat.  She smiled and I said hello. “I like your… you know, your… purpleness,” I said, making a circular gesture around my face. “Oh, thanks,” she said casually. “Is it for a special occasion?” I asked. “Oh, no. It just came together.”

“Wow,” I said, taking a seat at the table. “It just came together? I wish that would happen for me sometime.” “Well, let’s see, what do we have here?” she asked, giving me an undisguised once-over. “You got the blue thing, and the little splash with your purse. You’ve got it going on!” she declared. I laughed. “Oh, well check out these socks.” She cast her eyes downward and gasped. I felt pretty proud of my socks. “I love your shoes!” I had to admit my shoes were great.

By popular demand

It went on like this for a while. She asked if I was from Portland. No, I said I was from New York but had lived here quite a while. “We have the exact same color eyes!” she said, looking deep into mine. Then I told her I had something I wanted to give her. “Okay, I guess,” she said. “Depending on what it is.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the bill. I held it out.

She just stared. There was a long pause, then she said,”You had better have a really good explanation for this!” I started to tell her about my mother, how she was a Holocaust survivor who had been through a lot and come to have a very hard time parting with money. How she had died last year and left me her retirement fund. I was honoring my mom by giving money away, making connections with people and loosening the hold that money has always had on me. I thought I summed it up quite well.

“No, no, oh no no no,” she responded, shaking her head. “I cannot take your money.” “It’s a gift,” I pleaded. “You can do whatever you like with it.” At some point, I put the bill on her thigh and slid it slowly under her fingers. It sounds kind of creepy when I say that but it didn’t feel that way. “This is just a deposit, then,” she said quietly.”Until I find some way to pay it forward.”

“Yes!” I said. “You can do something for yourself or give it away to someone else.” Her eyes filled up with tears and she bowed her head down. “I can’t take it. I can’t. Wow, this is just amazing.” She fixed me with a steady gaze, confusion etched into her features. I asked her name and she stuck her hand out. “Hi. I’m Laura.”

This captures Laura's skeptical outlook on the whole thing

We went back and forth and she agreed that she had a long list of people who could use some help. She was waiting for her friend, whose car was getting washed. She pointed him out to me, a skinny guy in sweatpants, sneakers and shades. “It doesn’t look like it, but he’s married with three kids. We’ve known each other, like, forever.” She said I could take her picture but she wanted to go get her friend. We got up and started walking toward him.

Then Laura leaned into me and whispered, “I didn’t take your money.” “What?! Where is it?” I yelped. I looked into my purse and there it was. She was like a reverse pick-pocket, sneaking it back when I wasn’t looking. Her friend had joined us and was looking at the two of us, kind of puzzled. “What’s up?” he wanted to know. I started tattling, complaining that I had tried to give Laura a gift but she wouldn’t accept it. I showed him the C-note and his eyes got big. “I’ll take it!” he cried. “I could really use it!” Laura nodded. “Yeah, he really needs it.”

Alex, Laura’s friend, wanted an explanation for what was going on so I repeated the story. Laura stood there, smiling. He told me that he’s a musician and just got back from a road trip without a dime. “We never make any money,” he admitted. “Yup, still living that dream,” agreed Laura. He said he had just spent his last $100 on rent and had traded in his truck for the car he had with him now. “I really need to get it serviced. This will sure help.” He gave me one of his CDs and thanked me. Laura shook my hand one last time. “Wow,” marveled Alex. “This is some dope shit.”

I have to agree, yes it was.

Friends since kindergarden

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9 Responses to Old Friends (and New) at Washman

  1. Steph says:

    So interesting on so many levels. For instance, how many people are still good friends with their kindergarten friend?

    We are all so interesting in our everyday common selves.

    Jill,how about a picture of those great shoes!

  2. Betsy says:

    Wow. Don’t walk in front of my house in those things. I might have to knock you over and take them.

  3. DJan says:

    Amazing that she was so adamant about not taking the money. There are so many different kinds of people in the world and how we all process gifts.

    When I was in a position that encouraging people to tip me, I always took them and tried to be gracious about it, but I remember it was an interesting feeling, having someone hand me money. You are learning what that feels like now.

    How much I enjoy your journey into this world! Thank you so much for sharing it… and your shoes, of course!

  4. Steph says:

    2 thumbs up for the shoes and the socks!

  5. Fabulous tale, as always….it was great of her to pass it to him, because he sure sounded like he needed it. Your stories never fail to amaze me!

  6. Nancy says:

    I just stumbled onto you..& am so very glad I did! I am at the very beginnings of my journey caring for my aged & alzheimered mother & am hoping to blog about the experience. Its the slow process of letting go, on both our parts, that I’m sensing is the incredible story. And just now, meeting you within your words (& benevolent actions!) is encouraging and inspiring me to get going on it. Because, new blogsite friend, besides the fact that I will now haunt your site as tho it were a comfortable neighborhood cafe`, this is the very first time I have even left a comment on a blog. Due to my new circumstances, I am somewhat housebound. Now I get to live vicariously via your contacts. And Thank you! for being so connected to your mama that you are now allowing us all to connect to her. I love that you’ve given new life to her legacy. That & I have those same awesome shoes, only mine are bullfrog green :))

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      Nancy- Thank you so much for your sweet comment. I am thrilled to have you pull up a chair and settle in!! I hope you do get going with your writing. Not a moment to waste! Take lots of pictures, use a tape recorder if you can. I have a couple of recordings of my mom’s voice in the later years and I didn’t realize how precious they would be. It’s a tough road you are on. Stay in touch!!

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