Today I was at the Farmer's Market with my daughter and I spotted this gorgeous hanging basket. It stood out from the rest, a profusion of pink amongst all the other multi-colored ones. Pink geraniums, perfectly matched to pink million bells, my favorite hanging pot flowers. I instantly wanted it, I justified it by thinking of my sweet mother in law's birthday, and when the farmer lady (we always shop from her stall because her name is Natalie, too) told me if was $5 off today, I dug for the checkbook. Only to discover that I'd just spent the last one on organic hamburger patties. We'd already spent the piggy bank cash we'd raided on asparagus, butter lettuce, sugar snap peas and baby zucchini. I reluctantly declined, and we moved off.
But we hadn't gotten far when a lady tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a $20. I want you to have that basket, she said. I interupted her, "oh, that's ok. I just don't have any more checks, but it's fine." No, she said, I want you to have it in honor of my mother. Well, how can you refuse that? I thanked her for her kindness and told her I would pay it forward.
As I turned back to the flower stall to have Natalie the daughter pay Natalie the farmer, I heard the lady whisper, "I had a daughter once, too." And then she was gone. And the grown up Natalie and I cried together as she handed over the pot of flowers, their abundant beauty dwarfed by the loveliness of this woman's soul and the enormity of her loss.
I had to stop and wipe my eyes several times on the way back to the car, clutching my daughter's hand and planting more than one kiss on the severe part of her stick-straight ponytails. Later today they will be frizzy with good clean summer sweat and smell of dust from kicking her feet as she swings in the backyard, but for now they are smooth and shining.Was it her ponytails that made you look at us? Her pink princess socks that I decided not to veto this morning, though they don't go with her red pants? Or just our tightly clasped hands and the little skip in her step since she knows we have saved two dollars for the kettle korn wagon?
It's election day for Wisconsin, a rancorous recall that has divided our state and made our small town and so many others here unpleasant and wary. I voted before I went to the market, talking to my little girl about a Christian's duty as a citizen and the various issues that are at stake in our state and our nation (far more important ones than the economy, though that one gets the press). But for a moment today at the market, in the shade of the awnings surrounded by a sea of scent, there were no politics. There were just two women, one busy making memories, and the other with nothing but memories left to her.
You are a jewel in my heart, sweet unknown stranger. God bless your empty arms, and keep your memories sweet-bright and as vibrant a pink as those blooms. I will never forget you, or all the things you left unsaid today when you spoke your simple words and did your random act of kindness. I'm buying my mother in law a different hanging pot, because I find I cannot part with yours. And I will, indeed, pay it forward, as I promised, and I will tell them why and who it honors.