I wasn’t thinking about Germany when I got up this morning. Not even about my mother.
I was thinking about shopping. As you may have gathered if you’ve been following along for a bit, most of my clothes date back to the last century. Except for the things I’ve picked up at Goodwill. That’s some of my best stuff.
My son, Elijah, has a summer job selling men’s sportswear at the downtown Nordstrom. He kindly offered to help me pick out a few things before he started his shift today.
I even parked in the parking garage rather than walk from a great distance to save a few bucks. The sign said that you could get the ticket validated at Nordstrom for an hour of free parking. “You have to buy at least $25 worth of stuff,” Elijah warned. That seemed likely, and an hour would be plenty.
He was a perfect gentleman about it: extremely kind and helpful, yet honest. If you had passed by, you might have heard snippets such as these: “Do you even own any jeans?” “You need more color.” “It wouldn’t kill you to wear a dress once in a while.” “Oh, no, way too dowdy.” “Gaawd.”
Eventually I chose a magenta sweater that’s almost like a blazer; very nice. And reasonable. After Elijah went off to work I picked out a couple of other things all by myself.
I felt fairly triumphant as I headed back to the parking garage. Crossing the street, I noticed a big white tent set up in Director Park. Then I heard the music and noticed all the people sitting lined up in chairs.
Finally I turned to see what everyone was watching.
I love this town. I mean, really, how great is that??
As much as I liked watching the dancers, it was the audience I found most interesting. There was even a man kissing his dog.
There were quite a few people eating their lunch. Then I saw this woman. Something about her drew me in. She had a beautiful and interesting face and a lovely energy about her.
I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Do you know what this place is called?” I asked, indicating our surroundings. She nodded at me while she finished chewing, then swallowed, a bite of food. “Director Park,” she said. “Where are you visiting from?” I laughed. “Actually, I live here.” She told me she was pretty new in town, having moved here a year and a half ago. I asked if she worked nearby and she said no. “But I spend a lot of time at the library.” I told her how I had just been shopping and pretty soon was pulling up a chair. “Please do,” she said, with an expansive and welcoming gesture.
I can’t remember now how it came up, but she told me she was from Germany. She was planning a trip to Oakland to speak about forgiveness at the Gerlind Institute, which (from their website) “is dedicated to serving the San Francisco Bay Area community through the promotion and teaching of German cultural studies.” It just seemed like an eerie coincidence. I kept my eyes fixed on her, but with one hand I fished out the hundred that was stashed in my bag.
As we talked, I found myself telling this woman about my German mother and her painful legacy of scarcity and fear. I also talked about the many gifts my mother left me, including the one that inspired this journey of giving away hundred dollar bills. I had the bill in my palm and held it out to her.
“Oh, my god,” she said. “Oh, my god.” She stared at me. Into me, really. We talked and talked. She said she needed new contact lenses and would probably use the money for that.
Her name was Berta. She asked me a lot of questions and shared some of her personal story and beliefs. “I wake up every day,” she said, “praying that it be a day of magic and miracles. That I am able to make it so.” She encouraged me to visit Germany by taking a cruise down the Danube River. I’ve never really wanted to go to Germany (my mother never went back), but this idea struck a chord with me.
She called me an angel. I said she was wonderful. Many minutes passed.
When I got to the parking garage, I had overstayed my free hour and had to fork over $5.00. It was so worth it.
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