It’s my birthday! I wanted to make sure to give a gift in honor of my Mom. And the miracle of circumstance that brought me into this world. I am grateful to be here.

Birthdays aren’t so simple, though. It’s usually a time of semi-morbid self-reflection. And – although I am not a big fan of “stuff” – I could still be a little disappointed not to find a huge pile of presents waiting for me on birthday morning.

Poor Louise. She can’t win. If she buys me something as a surprise, I often ask her to return it. “A deep fat fryer?” I whine. “I’ll use it, like, twice a year. I’ll borrow one if I need it. Take it back.” Flowers seem like a waste of money – especially this time of year, when there is color and beauty everywhere you look. “A dozen roses?” I wonder. “That’s sweet, but you spent how much??”

Sigh. I’m not the easiest person, I admit it. The cheapskate in me can be a real killjoy. I do cautiously suspect that I’ve gotten less insufferable since I started this journey. But not entirely. When I came home recently with a Nordstrom bag, my son took one look and exclaimed excitedly, “You bought something at Nordstrom? At retail??” “Well,” I had to admit, “It was on sale.”

I was down by Lloyd Center today, right where I met Taylor a few months ago. A man came walking toward me; he had a big mop of gray hair and a black patch over one eye. He was hard not to notice. I said hello and asked him how he was doing. I could sense the hesitation as he was trying to decide whether to blow right by me or stop and talk. He stopped.

“I’m…okay,” he said. “Pretty good. How about you? Are you having a good day?” He looked me right in the eye. “It’s my birthday!” I said. He reached out and shook my hand. “Well, happy birthday,” he told me. I said thanks and that I was hoping he would accept a gift in honor of my mother. He pursed his lips, deep in thought. “Well… I guess that would depend on what it is.” I told him not to worry, there were no strings attached. “Hmm, now you’ve piqued my interest!” he admitted.


I held out the hundred dollar bill and he took it, slipping it into his pocket. He didn’t say anything for a while. Then he said, “Well, that’s really unusual. That’s a very unusual thing to do. It’s only happened to me once before.” He told me about a time years ago when he was living in an old garage (“almost homeless”) and someone gave him a hundred dollars. I told him I appreciated him accepting it. “You’re welcome,” he said.

He told me he had been on his way to McDonald’s. Every Friday they have fish sandwiches for a dollar. Then he told me about his eye. He was in a car accident years ago and there was damage to the nerves. He sees double without the patch.

“Without this, I’d see two of you,” he explained, tapping the patch with his finger. “And two of those hundred dollar bills. Then I’d probably have a heart attack right here!” He told me he had always hoped to win the lottery, but now thought he was better off without all that money. “I’m used to having pretty much nothing, and it would just be a nuisance.” We debated the pros and cons of a windfall, and chatted about how much is really enough. For two strangers, it was a pretty deep conversation.

We were getting ready to go our separate ways: he to McDonald’s for a fish sandwich, and I back home to start the birthday festivities. He reached out to shake my hand again. Just then a woman walked by pushing a baby carriage. Skipping along behind her was a boy of about four. I watched as they caught sight of John and his eye patch.

The boy was looking at John with undisguised admiration. “We just came from a pirate birthday party,” the mom said to me quietly.

For a moment I saw John as the little boy did. Not his worn clothes, tired eyes, and broken teeth. Not a lonely man in search of a cheap meal.

Just a fellow pirate.




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6 Responses to Seeing Double

  1. thewildhare says:

    Just found you through another blogging friend in Portland. I love your story and the fact that you are writing these stories and honoring your mother in this amazing and challenging way. Congratulations on all the connections you are creating and the goodness you are sharing. And congratulations on Patches feeling better. 🙂

  2. Renee says:

    Jill, sometimes you give me chills.

  3. Joanne says:

    Thanks again for the laugh and the smiles..Pirates huh?
    I hope your birthday was exceptional. I love birthdays and always make sure mine is fun if only in my own head!

  4. Haralee says:

    Happy Birhtday Jill! Hope it was a great day and wishing you a wonderful year.
    Love the stories!

  5. Martha Wagner says:

    Jill, I love this birthday story and the photo of your two pirates. What a treat! Happy Birthday!

    Martha (from NWPF classes)

  6. andrea gehrke says:

    Well I suppose you sorta had a birthday party with a pirate theme too, ehhh? Or is it arrrr? Oh boy, I’d better quit while I’m ahead. Happy Belated Birthday, Jill.

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