The Old Lady With the Crooked Back

On the other side of the bridge that spans the river where the great white Japanese herons build their nests is a rusty old building. Actually, it’s the dirtiest, ugliest old building along the road. Made of what seems like centuries old wood and tin it leans slightly to the left as if it is just tired of standing straight all these years.

Not only is the building old and ugly but at first glance the grounds give it the appearance of being long abandoned. In the front there are rows of old, cracked plastic flower pots whose colors have faded to slate gray. Among the pots are dirt stained and worn Styrofoam containers that probably once held seafood judging by bits and pieces of label still stuck to them. They are now filled with dirt and weeds. The ground is strewn with rocks and what looks to be old car rims also filled with dirt.

The building is divided by what was probably a garage that has a set of stairs running up one side. Looking up at the grimy windows, dingy curtains hide whatever lays within.

The only tell-tale sign of life is the short clothes line that hangs in the garage. On most days there are several blouses, a few pair of socks, perhaps a skirt and some ladies trousers drying in the dusty breeze kicked up from the passing cars.

I needed to walk past that old building today and as I came up over the bridge I saw her. A tiny frail little thing hunched over the ground pulling up weeds. I was so startled to see her there. I had a hunch that the building wasn’t really abandoned but I guess I imaged the occupant to be totally different.

I slowed down as I approached the building. For the first time I began to see things that were probably always there but, I just hadn’t taken the time to notice.

Tucked right behind the old pots were six tiny rows of soil that had been carefully hoed with little ditches between them. Each row must have only been about two feet long and two rows were filled with autumn vegetables. So neat and tiny were these rows that I could tell a lot of effort and care had been put into them.

The old cracked pots including the Styrofoam containers had been cleaned of weeds and were now filled with flowering plants.  They were still lopsided, cracked and faded but no longer so forlorn looking. As a matter of fact, I could see that each container had been rearranged and supported by rocks or bricks.

She was working slowly and quietly on the side of the building. I watched as she meticulously plucked weeds up out of the rocky ground. There were patches of white flowers growing up out of that rocky dirt. I don’t know what they are called but the the leaves are long, like thick blades of grass and up out of the clumps of leaves grow little white flowers that look like five pointed stars. It was amazing to see those beautiful little clumps of grassy-leaved flowers growing up out of that dusty ground. There she stood, hunched over to the ground with her little crooked back and lovingly tended them.

Then I realized-she lives here. She lives in this creaky old building that looks for all the world like it should be condemned and torn down. She’s the owner of the worn clothing that hangs on the line. The one that lives behind the dingy glass windows. The one that lovingly tends the six tiny rows of vegetables.

I stood there and my heart wrenched. I will never see that building the same ever again.

This is not the end of this story. I’m sure there will be more in the future.


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