Weeks have gone by, and still, I can’t get her out of my mind.
Because I am invited to inflict my blatherings upon WAMC’s Northeast Public Radio listeners every few weeks, I was able to wangle seats for my wife and me on the station’s bus caravan to the big Jon Stewart- Stephen Colbert rally in Washington, D.C.
After a snappy 6-hour or so overnight journey from Albany, we were decanted onto Constitution Avenue at 7 a.m., fully five hours before the scheduled start of the rally.
We could have proceeded right then to the National Mall, but instead stumbled upon a McDonald’s that provided a welcome shelter from the morning chill _ and facilities several cuts above the port-apotties at the rally.
We settled in at a table, and that’s when I saw her sitting across the aisle.
I suppose she would be called a bag lady, or perhaps a kinder term would be street person. I’m terrible at guessing people’s ages. She could have been anywhere from her late 60s to early 80s.
What did not appear to be in doubt was that everything she owned in this world was next to her in three parcels tightly stacked one on top of the other on what was once a shopping cart.
Her face was weather-worn and craggy, her hair utterly gray and poking out from under a soiled knit hat. She wore two light jackets over her shirt, and I hoped that somewhere in her bundles she had a heavier coat to fend off the coming winter’s cruelty.
I wasn’t sure why I was so taken with her. I was born in New York City, and I’ve seen plenty of people like her before.
You don’t see them, though, in Oneonta or other towns in our area. It’s not that we don’t have homeless folks around here, it’s just that you don’t see them sleeping on warm-air grates or living under bridges.
There was just something about this woman.
She drank from a large McDonald’s paper cup, the purchase of which was probably why the management didn’t hassle her.
She was eating a hard, dark roll, obviously not purchased under the golden arches.
You could tell that what teeth she had must bother her, because of the way she maneuvered the bread to bite off a piece.
Then, it hit me. Most of us eat casually, our minds often on conversation or a book or a television program, with nourishment almost an afterthought.
This woman was eating with a sense of purpose. This woman was eating to survive. Despite her straitened circumstances, she had long ago decided to live.
On her face was a determination I found myself not only admiring, but envying. She had a dignity that said without words that she had paid for her coffee and had every bit as much right to be in that restaurant as anybody else.
After a while, she slowly rose and limped gingerly to the ladies room, leaving everything she owned unguarded in the cart. It was still there several minutes later when she returned.
She winced twice as she settled back down in her seat _ who knows how long it has been since she’s seen a doctor _ and began to read from a newspaper magazine section that someone had left behind. She didn’t seem to be in a rush to go anywhere.
I thought about walking over and giving her a few dollars, but somehow that would have been an intrusion, a tacit insult to her self-esteem. What I really wanted to do but didn’t was give her a hug … and ask a million questions.
Who had taught her to read? Had she been Daddy’s little girl? Had she ever giggled with a brother or sister on a see-saw? Had she been married? Does she have adult children somewhere?
How did her life come to this? Did some man _ or men _ treat her badly? Had she done drugs or fallen prey to alcohol? Why was she in D.C. when there are far warmer places with winter on the way? Does she have a safe place to sleep? Where does she get her McDonald’s coffee money?
And where does she find the immense willpower to get up each day and deal with the cold, the aches, the poverty … the loneliness? She was still reading the magazine when we left and made our way to join the 200,000 or so people at the rally. After it was over, we got back on the bus, then came home to a warm bed and a life of privilege I take for granted far too often.
The weeks have passed. It’s getting colder, and it’s almost Thanksgiving. My mind goes back to an old woman with bad teeth eating a hard, dark roll at a McDonald’s with the express purpose of wanting to live another day. And I wonder _ and doubt _ whether I could ever be that strong.
SAM POLLAK is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208.
Weeks have gone by, and still, I can’t get her out of my mind.
- Big Chuck D'Imperio
Safety Patrol D.C. visits never get old
I asked Cam Morris, head of Eastern Travel/Oneonta Bus Lines, how many years her company has been handling the Safety Patrol trip to Washington, D.C.Continued ...
- My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital
- Catching a whiff of 'Vermont Vapor'
- Selections from the virtual mailbag
- Recalling days of 'Doughnut King'
- Safety Patrol D.C. visits never get old
- Cary Brunswick
We've become our own worst enemies
The past month has been marked by a seeming unprecedented number of man-made tragedies, as distinct from those caused by violent outbursts of the natural world, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.Continued ...
- Plenty of blame to go around for Bangladesh horror
- Obama is going against his word on Social Security
- Reflecting on a Florida trip
- Those magnificent spies in their flying machines
- We've become our own worst enemies
- Chuck Pinkey
- Guest Column
Records seizure is an insult to free press
Distrust of government secrecy has been elevated to an exceptional level with the disclosure the Justice Department covertly examined two months of Associated Press phone records to determine who leaked details to the AP about a foiled terrorist plot.Continued ...
- The evangelical view of same-sex marriage
- Manor's fate will be Otsego board's legacy
- A closer look at our economy - Part II
- Use fracking to fill budget gaps
- Records seizure is an insult to free press
- Lisa Miller
A view from above
Fire towers in the Catskill Mountains have always been destination points, built to capture some of the region’s best views. These sentinel stations served an important role for the earliest possible sightings of forest fires in the remote mountain ranges. But the fire towers and those who manned them fulfilled a multitude of other roles as well.Continued ...
- Being a parent is a constant learning process
- Healthy doesn't have to mean expensive
- A family era ends with close of Potter series
- Independent stores make up for loss of Borders
- A view from above
- Mark Simonson
General Clinton Canoe Regatta got a new home in 1972
Ever since 1963, when Charles Hinkley and a group of Tri-Town businessmen came up with the idea for what we know today as the General Clinton Canoe Regatta, people lined the shores of the Susquehanna to watch the canoeists as they made their 70-mile trek from Cooperstown to Bainbridge.Continued ...
- Sunday movies in Oneonta finally shown in 1934
- Politics, fitness and landmarks dominated local news in May 1968
- Local people sought income in many ways in 1933
- Local windstorm in 1983 caused tense moments
- General Clinton Canoe Regatta got a new home in 1972
- Rick Brockway
Kids have sparkle in their eyes
When I was in my teens, old Bill Naatz told me about a stream north of Lake George where a man had panned out enough gold to make his wife a wedding band. It was all rumors, but to his grandson and myself, it sounded like the makings of a great adventure.
- People make the outdoors even better
- Turkey season has ups and downs
- Spring air isn't always the freshest
- Adriondacks keep growing and growing
- Kids have sparkle in their eyes
- Sam Pollak
- William Masters
Schreibman tops Chris Gibson on women's issues
As the time to vote draws near, we need to remember how money can run politics more than we can. Raising funds is a prominent (if not the dominant) task of getting elected. Raising issues is also crucial, but those efforts are subject to distortion and fear-mongering.
- Republicans feelentitled to allthey can garner An entitlement is a legal benefit available from the government to individuals who are within a defined category of recipients, such as needing insurance for unemployment or health services.
Romney focuses on self; Obama emphasizes unity
Mitt Romney criticizes President Obama for saying a person's success is rooted in his community, and is not all his alone. Romney belittles this with his belief in individual initiative. He is better at the put-down than the push-up.
Romney shows little regard for common man
The Republicans in Congress have voted over and over, 33 times, redundantly and uselessly, to rescind what they call Obamacare.
Scouts' gay ban creates problem where none exists
The Boy Scouts of America's "emphatic reaffirmation" of its vow to exclude any and all homosexuals from its hallowed ranks is ill-considered and pathetic, especially in view of its having reviewed the matter for two years.
- Schreibman tops Chris Gibson on women's issues