Several weeks ago a woman came to our front door and introduced herself as Grandmaw.
“I like your columns in the Berkeley Daily Planet,” she said. “But I saw some of those negative letters to the editor about you and I thought you might need a hug.”
Although I’m not in the habit of embracing every stranger who rings our doorbell, she was correct in her assumption, so I let her hug me. I invited her inside and introduced her to Ralph, Andrea, and Willie. We talked for a while and I wondered, momentarily, if she might be a serial killer, and if welcoming her into our home was a mistake.
She was dressed simply in slacks, sneakers and a well-worn parka. She carried a handmade pocketbook that was actually a pair of cut-off blue jeans sewed together at the bottom and attached to a long strap. Inside the shoulder bag she carried newspaper clippings and some plastic containers. She explained she used the containers to save lunch leftovers for her neighbors at the nearby senior housing complex.
She said she was on her way to visit acquaintances at St. Vincent de Paul down on San Pablo Avenue. I offered to give her a lift but she said no, she enjoyed riding the bus. She showed me her AC transit pass. It was encased in plastic. She kept it on a string hung around her neck.
I asked her if she would like some of the greens Andrea had just cooked and she said she’d stop back after lunch and pick them up.
I walked her to the southbound bus stop at 51st Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. As we strolled along the sidewalk, we chatted about the weather, her children, the places one could go for a free meal, and the best way to cook collard greens.
She told me she was 83 years old, a vegetarian, an avid reader, and that she walked and rode busses everywhere. As soon as we arrived at the bus stop the No. 15 appeared. Before getting on she gave me another hug. This embrace was more intimate and I could feel her ribcage through the thick layers of clothes she wore. She disappeared up the steps, into the bus. It pulled away from the corner, spewed exhaust, and rocked southward on MLK.
Several hours passed by before she returned. “Lunch was good,” she informed us. “You never know who you’re going to run into down there. I have the most fascinating conversations with the people I meet.”
We filled her plastic containers with well-cooked greens, and I joined her on the short trek to the northbound bus stop at 53rd and MLK. Once again the bus appeared just as we reached the corner. She gave me another hug. She promised she’d come back and see us again soon.
I walked home, surprised and delighted by the surreal visit, by the three unexpected hugs, and by the magical way in which the two buses materialized the moment Grandmaw and I had arrived at each corner. But I have not seen or heard from her since, and now I wonder if she is a figment of my imagination. I go over the details of the encounter. It all seems real enough to me, except for the part about the buses miraculously arriving just as she needed them. Could she hold some supernatural power over the public transportation system, and if so, could she share a bit of that mojo with me?
But, more importantly, where is she now? If anyone out there knows Grandmaw, please tell her Suzy Parker could use another one of her hugs.n