Many thanks to the First Baptist Church’s Downtown Fellowship for the warm welcome on Thursday! It was lovely to share my story with such an attentive and insightful group. I met many wonderful people, including a couple who were married in the church 60 years ago! What an inspiration to meet Marian Boehr, who graduated from medical school in 1950 (one of four women in a class of 180) and then served as a medical missionary in India for 30 years. A few loyal readers showed up; thank you for being there and for introducing yourselves!

At Downtown Fellowship

After a day like yesterday, it’s easy to get lulled into thinking that summer really will arrive before the end of June. Then comes a day like today and we all come back to our senses. Ah, right. Here in Portland, summer arrives sometime around Labor Day; how could I have forgotten?

Not that I’m complaining. Not really. When I stop and think about it, the weather here is just about perfect for everything I love to do. Granted, I’m not wild about walking the dogs in the rain but there’s something very comforting about the cool grayness.

A vague dread accompanies my childhood memories of sunny summer days. These mornings always started the same way: my mother declared it a beautiful day and commanded that I “make the most of it!” I never knew quite what that meant or how to accomplish it, and usually ended up feeling I had come up short. I still feel somewhat tyrannized by the unspoken demands of perfect weather, a shadowy sense of inadequacy following me through each sun-drenched moment.

No such worries on a drippy, dreary day like today. Perfect weather for a visit to the library and a couple of other errands. My last order at the dry cleaner came home with someone else’s sweater instead of mine, so I headed over there after the library. If you’re missing a beige silk turtleneck, please let me know.

The cleaner/laundromat has appeared in these pages before. While there is much I love about doing laundry, spending hours in a dingy laundromat can be pretty depressing. So, as on this day, I thought maybe I could bring a smile to someone’s face.

Going through the back door, the first thing I saw was this man playing one of the video games.

I started to talk to him but he gave me a pretty determined brush-off. I was trying to decide how pushy to be when I realized I had left my bag (with the hundred, among other things) hanging from a chair at the library. I dashed out and scurried the block or so back to the library. There was my bag, right where I left it.

Back at the laundromat, I noticed that the place was hopping. I took care of my business at the counter and then took a serious look around. The man I’d noticed earlier went up to the counter for some change and then was back at it, standing cheerlessly in front of the video game. A neighbor I recognized came in and pulled a couple of sleeping bags from one of the big dryers. I saw a gray-haired woman talking quietly with a young boy and I watched them for a bit. They acted like family, but the pairing was a bit out of the ordinary. I was intrigued.

I walked closer and said hello. The boy was busy doing something on his phone but the woman met my glance and returned the greeting. We chatted a little about the weather. The boy lifted his face for a quick glance at me. He was older than I had realized. And beautiful. Then I told the woman that I was paying forward a gift and had something I wanted to give her.

She was very quiet for a long time. “That’s not something I’ve ever heard of before,” she said. “What’s it called again?” “Paying it forward?” I asked. The woman nodded. I explained what it meant and she silently took it all in. “Well, that’s a very interesting idea. It’s a good concept,” she decided. I had the bill in my hand and set it on the table in front of her.

“Oh, that’s a lot,” she said quietly. She looked over at her son and said, “I’m going to put this aside for something that you need. Something we can’t afford.” He smiled, but his eyes stayed down.

The woman told me she is a single mom and adopted this boy as a baby when she was in her forties. Things aren’t easy but they get by. Soon he’ll graduate from high school and go off to college. “Wherever we can get the best scholarship,” she said with a faint smile. Like every mom, she worries about her kid. Will he be safe? Will he be happy? Will he make the world a better place? Will what I’ve given him be enough?

I told the woman about the blog and she was wary. She did not want their photo taken and asked that I not publish their names (eerily similar to what happened with the other laundromat gift). I didn’t really understand it but figured she had her reasons and promised I would respect their privacy. Suffice it to say that her name starts with J, like mine. I gave her a card with the blog info. “If you visit, you’ll know this story is about you,” I said. “But no one else will.”

We said goodbye. She thanked me and shook my hand. I snuck one last glance at the two of them as I slipped out the back door. Leaning over the table on their elbows, their heads were down. They were talking quietly. And smiling.

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2 Responses to Starting With J

  1. DJan says:

    What a great story. I don’t need to see a person’s face to feel connected to them, if the story is told well, my imagination take care of the rest. Good job, Jill! They came alive for me.

  2. J. Kathleen says:

    “I always still feel somewhat tyrannized by perfect weather a shadowy sense of inadequacy following me through each sun-drenched moment…”

    Jill I LOVE your writing. I’m always moved by your portraits of giving and connection when I read your blog, but today I couldn’t stop grinning at how you absolutely nailed my experience of falling short on being able to live up to the demands of a sunny day.
    I love the cool gray ones for asking so much less outward demonstration of our happiness.

    Just felt like sharing. And saying thank you for all you give. Thank you.:)
    J. Kathleen

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