Green Tomatoes


Yesterday as I left the house a women in her 50s, small, White, without teeth, was taking some books out of the free library in our front yard. I picked a fruit–- not as ripe as I first thought, and offered it to her.

“A tomato to go with your reading.”

She accepted the gift. “I lost my father yesterday. We had a beautiful service over at the Baptist Church. He always grew tomatoes in his yard.  This will remind me of him. I know to put it on the counter until it ripens.”

I left her to her book selecting, heading to catch a bus on 46th S, and 35W in Mineapolis, feeling ridiculously good about our encounter.

It’s two huge flights of stairs to the freeway bus stop — a closed system. If you wanted to get away from someone you’d be stuck. The other day I looked up from my own fear to notice the other faces — men and women of diverse ages and races — all looking as nervous as me.   Our fears are not making us safer, I thought.

So yesterday as I headed down the stairs, I was simultaneously hoping there would be a few people, not one man down there, and at the same time pledging not to let my fear show, to do my part to make it a more humane place.

There was one woman, waiting alone, African American, about 40, with a bright orange top and jeans. She was frantic. She could not find her transfer. She needed to get downtown, “Get my eyebrows done, do something for myself” and then back to her day- treatment in time. I told her I could pay for two fares on my card if she couldn’t find her transfer; that keeping track of my bus money or card was really difficult for me too, (true). We went through all the places it could be. She calmed down and found the transfer. The bus was late and her stress level rose again. I promised her it would come, as though it was under my control, reminded her how fast it would be when it did. –

On my way off the bus in downtown Minneapolis she gave me a magical smile. We wished each other a better day.

It didn’t make my day magic. While teaching my class the stress and worry about my little brother who took seriously ill a week ago caught up with me. At least I think that is what it was. My temper was short. My flashes of anger took me and my students by surprise. I tried to cover it with humor but only partially succeeded. To make up for it I stayed 90 minutes afterward so a student could finish a quiz he came in late for.

Walking home from the bus in the near-dark, October evening cold seeping into my bones, I felt low.

My spouse Dave returned home a couple hours later and I went out to greet him. Our neighbor, elderly Black man, was standing in the middle of the street. Dave spoke to him.  “He said his life-long partner had just died.”

Something about the way our neighbor continued to stand in the street told me that was not right. I went back and asked him what I could do.

“Ada passed this way and then went back that way. I called the police. They are looking for her.“

Ada had not “passed.” She had dementia, had walked out of the house and was lost.

I told him we would look for her.

We walked up and down trying to enter the consciousness of  the elderly White woman. Would she go for the bright lights? Look for a stoop?  I wondered if the cops were really looking. We saw no sign of them.

We did not find Ada.



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