I met Betty sitting outside on the sidewalk.
Betty spends a lot of time there. She lives in the adjacent building. It is a place for older folks who need a lot of help and don’t have a lot of money. Betty lost both legs, below the knee, at some point. She wears a curly wig pulled down low on her head, and she is usually smoking a cigarette, out on the sidewalk, accompanied by a few other residents from her building.
I walk by Betty’s building a lot. “How are you doing today?” I always ask the residents as I pass.
The building is made of brick, in a pattern that looks like weaving. This has led my husband, Peter, and me to privately call it the “basket building,” and its occupants the “basket cases.” I know this is not nice, but it’s what we do.
“Doing great! How are you?” Betty and most of her companions always reply. There is usually a gathering of residents, most of them in wheelchairs. They always say they are “doing great!” as they sit in their wheelchairs, smoking cigarettes, gossiping about things I will never know about.
One day, I saw Betty out by herself.
“I don’t actually know your name,” I confessed.
“Nice to meet you, Carrie.”
Then, yesterday, I was on my way to the drugstore, and there was Betty, several blocks from the basket building, with her wheelchair parked and facing the street.
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I said.
“Oh, it is!” she agreed.
“What’re you looking at?”
Betty gestured across the street. There was a small park with trees, and taller buildings in the background. There were flowers in the foreground and a brick walkway in the park.
“It’s beautiful, don’t you think?” she asked. “The whole thing; it’s a beautiful picture.”
I was not in a hurry to get to the drugstore, I realized. I looked across the street. It was late afternoon, and the sun was shining through the trees in the park, and the bricks were shiny, and the flowers were in full bloom. Betty was right. It was beautiful, and I would have walked right past it without a glance.
“I sometimes sit here and just look at it,” Betty told me. “One day, they had a wedding here!”
“Oh, that would be a great place for a wedding,” I said.
“Uh-huh,” Betty agreed.
“What was your name again?” she asked.
“Carrie. Like the Stephen King novel.”
I stood there in silence for a long moment, looking at the park, taking in the scene.
“Well, I’ll see you around, Betty,” I finally said. Betty smiled and looked back at the park.
As I headed down the sidewalk to the drugstore, I took one last look back at Betty. She was sitting in a patch of warm autumn sunshine, and her eyes were focused on the scene across the street. She had a smile on her face and a peacefulness about her that I only manage for moments in a day — if I’m lucky.
I don’t know a thing about Betty. And, when I see her on the sidewalk, in her wheelchair, smoking her cigarettes, I’ve been pretty quick to assume that hers is not a happy life.
But I had to wonder, if in her place, I would have wheeled myself down three blocks just to look at a sight that pleased me, just to sit in the sun, just to take in the beauty.
I hope so.
Till next time,
Carrie photos from the column and a link to YouTube videos can be found at CarrieClasson.com.