On a Friday afternoon the neighborhood children gathered at a park not far from my front door. I live in Germany. The children speak German. They also yell, scream, and shriek with delight in German. These are conversations for which I need no interpreter. Joy and laughter are international as are cries from falls and bellows of frustration.
I wasn't adept enough at German to ask my neighbor if she was feeling okay. She'd parked her car in her driveway, which is very close to my driveway. Twenty minutes later she was still sitting there. She hadn’t undone her seatbelt. The engine was turned off, but the key was still in the ignition.
Throughout my childhood, I observed as the women in my family went to others they thought needed something. For the longest time I thought they knew everyone in the world. I was a young teenager living in Wichita, Kansas, when my mother took me downtown to run errands and go window-shopping. We saw a middle-aged lady sitting on a bench at a bus stop. My impression of her was very different from my mother’s. I saw a middle-aged lady waiting for the bus. Mom saw distress. She handed me her purse without looking at me, as if I were a hat rack. The woman on the bench was just waiting there and along comes a lady with intrusive questions and too eager to touch someone’s arm.
I took up with the window of a bookstore while Mom imposed herself upon the woman. Suddenly mom snatched her purse off my arm and my own purse fell to the ground without her notice; then I was an embarrassed hat rack. Mom pulled pencil, paper, and a city map from a purse that wasn’t big enough to hold all that plus the twenty or so items I’d seen her retrieve and replace earlier in the day. “She was lost,” Mom answered the question I hadn’t asked as she led me back to our path of errands. “How was she lost?" I asked. "She was sitting right there.”
The woman had arrived in town the day before to visit her only living relative, a brother. He was in the hospital and had died the night before. She spent the rest of the night in a hotel across the street from the hospital and caught the first city bus she saw in hopes of getting to the Greyhound station to get back home. The bus driver told her he’d get her downtown near the station. Once there, he pointed her north. She got off the bus and started walking. She never found the station, but she had found a bench. An hour later my mother and her teenaged hat rack happened by.