A man in a dark suit and tie, carrying a briefcase, ran by us on the sidewalk. “It’s all in his head,” said the young man walking next to me on Fillmore St, “what is he running to? It must be something invisible, we all make stuff up and rush rush rush.” I chuckled and smiled at him.
This morning I walked from Presidio Heights, down to Pacific Heights, through Japantown and the Western Addition, down to the Lower Haight and further down hill to the Mission. It’s my grandma’s birthday today. I took a long walk to give myself time to remember her and appreciate the things I learned from her and the non-material gifts she gave to me. She was born in 1912 and died in 2009.
At the halfway point, I stopped at La Boulange at Pine/Fillmore for treats to eat on my walk. I felt like I was mostly alone on my urban hike. When this young man (who I’ll call Kurt since he reminded me of Kurt on Glee) started talking to me, it felt invasive.
When people try to talk to me on an airplane trip, I do my best to put on my earbuds and excuse myself. But not when I’m walking or on a bus. I’ll talk with just about anyone on the street or on a bus unless I’m in the midst of, like today, a particular thinking or meditating or reminiscing project in my mind.
I walked a bit slower than “Kurt” because I didn’t really want to chat, I wanted to walk and sniff out thoughts and memories from my mind, but then there was a crosswalk with traffic and I caught up and we both waited and smiled at each other.
As we both continued to walk, he walked faster than me, then he turned around and said, “be careful, that metal on the sidewalk is slippery.”
Another crosswalk with traffic where we both stood and waited for the light to change.
“It’s so cold here in San Francisco,” he said, and we picked up a conversation.
I told him about the hot weather in San Francisco in September and October and how my wife got sunburnt in early October in 2008 when we were married out by Ocean Beach. It had rained the day before, and in the rush to get our dresses on and hair done and ready to go, we forgot to put sunscreen on her back. She doesn’t usually wear a backless dress.
He said he’d been living here a week, to go to an art school, and was disappointed in the school and thinking of moving to New York, where at least he could get married if he wanted to someday, and there might be more or better opportunities to be a bohemian. He wanted to go to London and asked if I’d ever been to London. Yes, I said. “How old are you?” He asked. “40,” I said. “No way,” he said, “I’m 20.”
We exchanged names, I told him he’d do a lot in his life in the next 20 years before he turned 40, and we said goodbye as he turned a corner and I continued on Fillmore St.
I felt invigorated by the interstitial conversation during my walk, the many possibilities and hopefulness of being 20, and the friendliness of a stranger.
My grandma’s gifts were that she believed in me, gave me confidence, support, love, compassion, without any criticism or shame or blame or guilt. She was a devout Christian. She was a scientist (chemist) and a high school math teacher. She always was glad to see me and she always showed up. She was a maker and made a lot of things – knitting, crocheting, sewing, baking, cooking, gardening. I miss being able to tell her about my daughter, who wants to be a scientist, and who loves to knit and sew and cook and garden. It’s almost as though my daughter takes after her great-grandmother (even though they share no genes).
One of my first memories of her is of a trip I took to California in the 1970′s (on an airplane! My first airplane ride!) to visit her and my grandpa. They had a swimming pool and a lemon tree and a croquet set in their backyard. I thought California was magical because we could make lemonade every night from fresh lemons picked off of a tree (lemons, as far as I knew, didn’t grow in Oregon where I grew up, and most lemon juice came in a plastic container shaped like a lemon).
Happy 99th birthday, Grandma! I know you’re in a beautiful place and I keep you always in my heart and memories.