I read an entire (library) book over the long weekend, which was wonderful in itself. The book made a big impression on me, and at times left me feeling pretty low. It’s a story you may be familiar with, but I hadn’t heard it before and can’t remember now how I found out about it. I even have a feeling someone reading the blog suggested it.

The book is called Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival and My Journey From Homeless to Harvard. It’s written by a young woman named Liz Murray who grew up in the Bronx with two drug-addicted parents. From the age of four she watched her parents shoot up in their squalid apartment, waited anxiously for them to come home from scoring drugs, and survived on bread with mayonnaise as they blew their monthly welfare check in a few days of bingeing and left the cupboards bare. Liz stopped going to school and evaded caseworkers with tenacity and creativity. By the time she was fifteen she was living on her own, carrying everything she owned in a backpack and surviving on what food she could beg from friends, or steal.

The story has an uplifting ending. This remarkable young woman has not only come to terms with her childhood, forgiven her parents, and made much of herself but now devotes her life to helping others realize their potential regardless of their circumstances.

One of the things that struck me most about Liz’s story was how invisible she was. For years she slept in stairwells or subways at night or in friends’ empty apartments during the day while their parents were at work. After a stint in “placement” she was terrified of being sent back into the system so never let on how dire her circumstances really were.

I was out for a walk along Broadway today and saw a young woman sitting on a corner. She was wearing filthy clothes and had a kerchief around her head and a dirty blanket around her shoulders. In her lap was a cardboard sign that said “Please help. $18 will get me a room at the Joyce.” I thought of the book, and of all the people who looked the other way while Liz Murray endured stunning neglect and thieved her way through her American childhood.

A hallway at the Joyce Hotel. Photo from hostelz.com, a hostel review site. Reviews of the Joyce are not for the faint of heart.

There was a dog curled on an old sleeping bag a few yards away, a bag of kibble propped up nearby. I smiled at the young woman and said hello but kept walking, unsure. After a few steps I turned around. The woman spoke. “She’s okay, if you’re worried about the dog. She won’t hurt you.” I went back and stood near the woman. Her green eyes were clear, her face marked by fatigue. Her straight white teeth hinted at the fact that maybe, at some point, someone had cared about her.

Her name was Carrie. We started to talk and she told me she’d been living on the streets for about a year, ever since she lost her job at a residential treatment center in Yakima. She grew up in Portland so, jobless, she headed back towards home. Her car died during the trip and she arrived penniless. Usually she sleeps under a bridge, but occasionally she collects enough coins to pay for a night in a four bed “hostel” room at the Joyce Hotel. She shivered under her blanket.

The paper cup held some pennies and other coins. It seems pretty cheeky in retrospect, but I asked her if she was using and I believed her when she proudly said she’d been clean for four years.

I reached into my pocket for the C-note I’d tucked in there earlier. “I don’t want to put this in your cup.” I said. “Here.” I held out the folded bill and she wrapped her hand around it and pulled it onto her lap. “Thanks a lot,” she said, smiling at me. A few seconds passed. “Did you look at it?” I asked her. “No,” she said and opened her hand just a speck, hiding it with her sign.

“Oh, my god! Thank you so much!” She started unfolding her legs in what seemed like slow motion and then her tiny self was standing in front of me. I towered over her, something that doesn’t happen often. “Can I give you a hug?” she asked. “No one’s ever done something like this for me before.”

She gave me a big hug and then I wasn’t really sure what to say.  I told her I was very sorry for what she was going through and to take care of herself. “And,” I added, “remember that there’s goodness and kindness in the world.” With a mildly hopeful smile, she said she would.

Portland has the highest proportion of homeless in the nation. This photo is from commonground.org.

Earlier tonight I took the garbage out, including the remains of our Thanksgiving feast and a discarded pair of shoes no longer comfortable. Empty wine bottles from our festivities fill the recycling bin. I got chilled in the few minutes it took me to empty the trash into the bins and roll them to the curb. I came in to a warm house smelling of fresh-baked cookies.

How can I forget, even for a moment, that I am profoundly and deeply blessed? But I do.

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This afternoon I headed out to do a bit of shopping in preparation for Thanksgiving. I only had a couple of things to pick up so decided to bundle up and walk the mile or so to the store.

I was at Safeway down on Broadway near the Dollar Tree with a C-note in my pocket. After I paid, I saw a man standing in front of the lottery ticket dispenser. He was rifling through his wallet. “You ever have any luck?” I asked. “Yeah, every once in a while,” he said. “One time I hit one for forty eight thousand! Forty eight thousand five hundred and twenty.” “Wow! What’d you do with the money?” I asked him. “Oh, I have five children and 100 grandchildren,” he said, rather bitterly. “That’s where most of that went.” I wished him luck and headed out.

It had started to rain by the time I left the store. I thought of Frank from Day 27 and listened for his harmonica as I crossed the walkway. I would have loved to see him but hoped he was at home, warm and dry, rather than outside selling his newspapers. I was dressed for the weather but still felt the sting of the windblown drizzle on my cheeks. The sky was white as chalk.

I stopped for a minute under the Dollar Tree awning. No Frank. I was trying to decide whether I would wait for the bus or set off walking home. I had a scarf around my head and was all bundled up in an old coat. Just another gray-haired lady trying to stay warm. A handsome young store employee was standing inside. He gestured for me to come in, then opened the door and held it wide. “Come on in!” he encouraged. “It’s awful chilly outside!”

Tyrone

I didn’t need anything from the Dollar Store, but couldn’t resist the warm invitation. His name tag said “Tyrone”. I stepped inside the store and teased him a little. “I didn’t really want to come in. but I couldn’t resist you!” He laughed and said that Dollar Tree was paying him to be a greeter. “Can you believe it?! A greeter! At Dollar Tree!” He said he loved to surprise people with friendliness and respect. Especially if they have problems, and if they just need to talk.

We settled into a comfortable exchange and he told me had been in Portland for 18 months. He had been running with the wrong crowd in Pasadena and one day realized he had to turn things around. He left his old life behind and arrived in downtown Portland on the Greyhound, penniless. Everywhere he turned, people reached out to help him. He got a shelter bed, then a job, then another job, then an apartment.

A steady stream of customers came through the door. One woman had a couple of plastic bags in her hands. “Excuse me, ma’am. You have to put your bags into the locker while you shop.” “Does it cost money?” she asked. Tyrone responded in his easy-going manner. “You put a quarter in to lock it, and you’ll get your quarter back when you return the key. And, if you don’t have a quarter, I’m here. I’ll keep an eye on it.”

One man came in and shook Tyrone’s hand like an old friend. He stopped a few more people carrying bags and politely asked them to use the lockers. He told me he is so grateful for his present life that he sometimes breaks down and cries while he is preparing his lunch for work. “I can’t help it! My life is just so good now.”

He said someone told him once that you can make any situation better by putting love into it and he is starting to think that’s true. “I wish I’d learned these lessons earlier. You just gotta do the next right thing. Simple. That’s all.”

I asked Tyrone if he would get in trouble if I gave him something. “Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. I think they worry more about money, like they don’t want us to be taking no tips. Really? Tips? Ha!” His good-humored laugh took any sting out of the words. I told him I wanted to give him something, but it wasn’t a tip, it was just a gift for the holidays.

“It’s legit,” I said. “But I don’t want to get you in trouble.” I gave him the C-note and he slipped it into his pocket. “Oh, thank you so much.” He turned away, fighting back emotion. “Look,” I said.”If anyone asks about it, they can check it out. I’ll write down my name.”

I showed him some pictures on my iPod and he asked if I could email him a photo of the two of us. He called a woman over and put his arm around me as she held the camera up to her eye.

He wrote down his email address and I said I would send him the picture. I patted at my hair, laughing about a chunk that I could see sticking up in the photo. “It’s down now,” he said, smiling. We shook hands.

I stepped back outside into the drizzle. Somehow, it didn’t feel cold at all. The guy I had seen at the lottery ticket machine was at the bus stop. “Any luck?” I asked. “Nope, not today,” he said. “Maybe next time,” I offered. “Yeah. Maybe next time.”

That's Tyrone and me

I guess I was just born nosy, because I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t like grilling people with questions. Maybe it’s simple curiosity, but I seem to have a greater tendency and need to pry than most. This serves me well in my work as a physician, which is really all about stories and getting to the bottom of things.

Having the intention of giving away $100 really opened up this part of me; I became like a question machine. It was a natural part of the giving process but moreso a by-product of feeling more aware and connected. I am simply amazed at how willing people are to share personal information with a total stranger.

That’s what happened today. I was back at good old Fred Meyer, along with most everyone in the neighborhood. There was a C-note tucked in my pocket. I had stuff to pick up from all over the store, so I covered some ground. I saw the cashier woman from Day 31 and was happy to see that she seemed to be in a better mood. I said hello to a few people I knew as I worked my way through my list.

New can opener: check. Bag clips: check. Spotted a coupon for “buy two gadgets and get one free”. Third gadget: check.

I was inexplicably browsing through the oral health supplies when I spotted a young girl with a white cane. She appeared to be about 14 and was holding on to a slightly older kid’s arm. Every so often he would stop and she would feel her way along the shelves. “What is this?” I heard her ask. “It’s candy. And gum and stuff.”

Seems like I went around the store in circles a few times but I finally grabbed my last item, a bottle of canola oil. A few yards down was the blind girl. She was standing in front of the packaged pudding, the boy standing somewhat protectively at her side. A woman was behind them, giving her directions. “Look to the… I mean, feel to the left. No, I mean the right. That’s Jello.” “It’s already cooked?” asked the girl.

The woman had a shopping cart full of packaged food. She was in her 60s, had a soft round face and short spiky hair. She saw me looking at her and smiled. She took a few lurching steps and I noticed that one of her legs was about four inches shorter than the other. The kids came over and they all conferred quietly. A large man joined them and I realized he was part of the family too.

I stood there and pretended to compare the prices of brown sugar. Lots of people were coming and going. Finally the five of us were alone in the aisle and I wheeled my cart next to theirs. I said hello to the woman, who fixed me with a friendly and open gaze.  “Is this your family?” I asked her. “Yes, we drove up from Medford.” She cocked her head toward the girl. “She’s going to the School for the Blind. So we’re getting stuff to get her cupboards set up. You know, stuff she doesn’t have to cook very much. It’ll be the first time she’s been on her own.” I looked at the small girl standing next to me. “How old are you?” I asked. “I’m eighteen,” she said, her eyelids fluttering.

We stood there chatting for a while as if we were old friends. I felt the cocoon of love, pride and concern that was surrounding this brave girl. I flashed back to the emotion of dropping my own son off at college not long ago.

“I’d like you to have this. For good luck.” I tucked the bill into the woman’s hand. She looked at it and then at me. “Are you sure? Are you sure??” I smiled and said I was. The woman reached out and pulled me into a big hug. She pressed her soft cheek against mine in a tender and surprisingly intimate gesture. Then she whispered into my ear, “Thank you. I’ll give it to my granddaughter.” She left a damp spot on my cheek when she finally pulled away.

“What is it, Grandma?” asked the girl. “It’s some money, sweetie.” The woman thanked me, her eyes glistening. I  said goodbye and turned to go. I’ll never be sure what she meant but as I pushed off toward the checkout stand I heard the girl say, “Grandma? I told you I could see with my heart.”

Mr. Brown's Shoeshine Stand

I decided at the end of my Month of Hundreds that I would aim to give away $100 every week through the end of the year. Something about having that C-note in my pocket makes me more aware of what is going on around me; it’s just a fact.

I spent the weekend in Boston, where Elijah is attending college. We had a great visit and talked, among other things, about my verifiable history as a cheapskate. He told me how the Oregonian reporter had called and asked if he could give her some examples of my cheapness.  He apparently had no problem coming up with a slew, and reminded me about the time I drove around the block waiting for the guys at Jiffy Lube to put out their “$10 Off” sign. Stuff like that. I am very glad to see that my kids are both sensible and generous without having absorbed any of my bizarre relationship to money.

The streets were positively teeming with people; scads of tourists as well as lots of folks who looked pretty down on their luck. It was chilly out, though nothing like it will be in a month or two. I saw people curled up in doorways, huddled in sleeping bags and sometimes under a sheet of cardboard.

On Saturday morning I went to get coffee at Borders and was doing some browsing when I noticed a well dressed man sitting in a comfy chair. He was sitting up straight with his eyes closed and appeared to be sound asleep. I watched him out of the corner of my eye as I thumbed through a book about the back roads of Ireland.

After a few minutes a store employee approached. He didn’t say a word, just grabbed the back of the guy’s chair and lifted it up. Then he let it bounce, hard. “Hey! Get up!” he barked. The sleeper’s eyes opened; he was now dazed yet alert.  The employee told him to leave, then stood there staring him down.

I found this scene very upsetting and impulsively stepped to the guy’s side. “Have you read this book?” I asked him. I guess I wanted the employee to know whose side I would be on if it came down to it.  The sleeper looked at me somewhat blankly and said, “No, I haven’t read that one.” Then he stood up and left.

I went to tell the employee what I thought of the situation and found him standing behind the counter. I understand that they don’t want the store used as a hotel, but the guy wasn’t bothering anyone and I didn’t see the need to be rude and disrespectful. He told me they had been trying to wake the guy up for a while (really?) and were about to call an ambulance. “And”, he preached, “These people generally don’t want an ambulance called.” I put the books I had selected back and left without buying anything.

When I got to the airport today I still had the C-note in my pocket. I had plenty of time and a long flight ahead. It felt good to stretch my legs so I wandered around for a bit. I passed a shoe shine stand and was offered a shine. My suede boots were not a good candidate but I stopped to chat for a while. The shoe shine man asked me where I was going and told me he was headed for Berlin tomorrow; he’s lived there on and off since he married a German woman in 1977. His wife doesn’t like living in the US, although they tried to make a go of it. He has a second job with the airlines so he flies for free and goes back and forth every few months.

My mother was from Berlin, I told him. “You’re German, then! That’s what I tell my kids! Don’t deny your heritage! Just because you’re American doesn’t mean you’re not German, too!” He told me his name was “Brown, like the color.” A man came to get his shoes shined and Mr. Brown turned away and got to work.

I walked around a little more and thought a lot about Mr. Brown. He was going to Berlin? Tomorrow? It seemed such an unlikely coincidence. And he didn’t strike me as an international traveler. But there I go again with my assumptions.

Berlin is the city from which my mother fled as a young woman and never returned.  The city where her wealthy parents had their business and all their property confiscated by the Nazis. I’ve never visited and never wanted to. Berlin seems… scary somehow.

I turned back and went to find Mr. Brown. I told him I had a favor to ask him. A bit warily, he said sure, what was it? I explained about my mother’s family and that they had been largely ruined by the Nazis. How my mother had left some of her fear planted deep within me. And that she had died not long ago. He nodded with understanding and watched me carefully.

I handed him the C-note. “It would mean a lot to me if you would take this with you to Berlin and do something good with it.” His eyes lit up. “Oh, wow! Yes, ma’am! Yes, I certainly will!” He wanted some ideas for what I had in mind so we talked about some possibilities. “There’s no homeless there, you know,” he reminded me.  “Germany has got it going on; they know how to run a country!” Then he said, “OK, I get it! You’re blessing me and I’ll put a blessing on someone over there.” Then, “I’ll be thinking about you the whole time!”

I thanked him and we shook hands. He pulled a guy over to snap our photo then laughed at how small I looked. “At least I have a nice smile,” he said. He gave me all his phone numbers. In case I want to talk some time. And I really should make it over there. Berlin is a beautiful city, he said. With beautiful people.

As I walked away I heard him sing out, “Shoe shine! Shine ’em up! Shoe shine!”

Mr. Brown, I’ll be thinking about you, too.

Me and Mr. Brown

Thanks for all your lovely comments. I am amazed and truly humbled by the far-reaching impact this project has had. Please keep letting me know about your own ways of “paying it forward.”

It is weird to walk around without the mission of giving away $100 each day. I’ve been smiling a lot but otherwise keeping pretty much to myself as I go about my business. What will it take for me to reach out to a stranger? What do I have to offer?

As people heard about my project, I got a few direct requests for assistance. Some people assumed I have fabulous wealth and am looking for ideas on how to spend it (neither is true). One particular request captured my heart.

My son Aaron posted a link to the blog on his Facebook page. Richard, one of his college friends, is in Cameroon serving in the Peace Corps. Richard posted a comment on Aaron’s wall asking for help for a nursery owner he is working with. Basically he said that $100 could rescue the whole growing season for this guy.

I know that there are lots of wonderful organizations doing great work all across the world. I love micro-enterprise and I love bringing education to girls (and other living creatures). I was impressed by Richard’s pluck and intrepidity, and I loved the connection through Aaron. We wired $100 and asked Aaron to pass it along to his friend. We got this response from Richard (he even included a link in case we wanted to learn more about air-layering):

I’m just writing to express my sincere thanks for the donation of one hundred dollars that you’re sending via Aaron to me here in Cameroon. My tree nursery friend was elated to hear that he would be able to repair his air-layering propagator. It’s really good news for him, because he is just starting to cut down his air-layered tree branches, and without the propagator to assist in them budding, they would all die. Additionally, the gift will also have some far-reaching consequences. I’m putting together a school reforestation program for a variety of schools in my area where we will plant improved varieties of fruit trees and N-fixing leguminous trees. Because his air layering propagator will work now, we were able to add his local school to the project, so the 300 students there will be getting 200 new fruit trees in their school come April as a result of your donation. Again, thanks so much for your kindness. Happy trails.

A Jewish woman born in the 1920’s Berlin fled to England during the war and ended up in the US. She raised a family and lived a long life. She worked until she was almost 80 and left a small retirement fund to her daughter. The woman taught her daughter to be frugal and gave her the tools to be generous and open-hearted. Thanks to this woman, some people in Cameroon will be enjoying fruit and shade for years to come. That’s amazing.

The first thing I want to say is a very big “thank you” to everyone who has been reading and commenting. This journey really has been about me and for me, although I hoped maybe a few of my friends would take it to heart and be inspired to talk more about human connection and money, and maybe give a little bit extra away. I underestimated the power of Facebook (which led to the Oregonian article written by Nikole Hannah-Jones). And maybe, in these hard times, the power of some positive news. It has been moving, humbling and deeply satisfying to hear from people all over the country and as far away as Scotland that the stories have made an impact.

It’s the end of the month and I have thought a LOT about where things go from here. I need to take a breath and let the experiences of the past month settle. I still have lots of questions but I do have a few answers.

I have decided that I like giving this way. I will continue to support the causes I care about through reputable non-profit organizations. But I will go back to the bank next week for a small supply of C-notes and will keep them on hand. I will stay alert for opportunities to make a connection and, sometimes, that will include passing along a gift.

And, I will keep writing. My goal is at least a weekly post through the end of the year, when I will regroup.

After casting about for a plan befitting this momentous “last day”, I decided to head back to the place where it really all began: Fred Meyer (see Day 2: Not a Care in the World). That was the day I let the inner judgments start bubbling up to the surface and the first time I had a conversation with a giftee. I secretly hoped to see the woman from that day and find out how she was doing.

A lot of the store employees were in costume; I especially liked one wearing a clerical collar, long black robe and a gigantic cross around his neck. It was hard to tell the shoppers from the employees. I noticed one woman stocking a display of shoes; she had a grim expression and her regular Fred Meyer duds on.

I wandered around somewhat aimlessly for a while. I went over to check if any of my favorite bottles of wine were on sale. I stood for a long time studying the labels and promotions. There’s a deli and little seating area nearby, and I spotted a store employee sitting by herself. I considered going over to sit down, but she seemed to be pointedly ignoring my gaze. I had a good chuckle with myself imagining the woman thinking “Ooh, look at that lady. All she can think about is WINE. I hope she doesn’t come over here!”

I considered keeping the money as a way of prolonging the month of October indefinitely. I saw a young woman wearing slippers and almost followed her. An elderly woman went slowly and painfully by, leaning into her empty shopping cart. In the next aisle was a mother and young girl dressed convincingly as matching zombies, both their mouths painted into a long scar.

I picked out one small item and headed for the checkout line. At the cash register was the grim young woman I had seen at the shoe display. There were two people in front of me and the line moved quickly. When my turn came I said hi and the woman said flatly, “Did you find everything okay this evening?” “Oh, yeah,” I said, “But it’s only one o’clock! Have you been here for a really long time?” I wasn’t winning her over. “You have an Advantage Card?”

As we finished the transaction I tried a few more times to get the woman to smile, or at least look at me. No luck. There was no one else around, and finally I kind of leaned in and said quietly, “Hey, I’d like to give you something.” She glanced at me suspiciously, silent. I reached into my pocket, pulled out the $100 bill and held it out to her.

“I can’t take that,” she said, grim as ever. “Why not?” I wanted to know. “Store policy. I think.” “It’s not a tip. It’s a gift.” “I can’t take it. But thanks anyway.” She turned and walked away.

It was unsettling. Maybe I really wasn’t meant to part with this last hundred. I set out across the parking lot toward home, the woman’s bad humor weighing on me. On the way I passed the bottle return and then spotted a Salvation Army donation trailer. A couple of cars were parked nearby. The drivers had gotten out of their cars and were handing items to a stocky middle-aged man. A bag of clothes and an old computer monitor disappeared into the dark trailer.

After the cars took off I struck up a conversation with the guy. He told me he’d been working for Salvation Army for about two months, first in the Happy Valley store and now here. He said he came from Cuba nine years ago and had originally lived in Miami and then Georgia. He still has family in Cuba as well as all over the world – he counted off children, sisters and brothers, and said his mom had died not too long ago. He’s all by himself here.

Carlos

It always amazes me how much of their story people will share with a stranger, and I was grateful for the connection. I told the man that my mom had also died recently and what I was doing to honor her memory.

I handed him the C-note. His eyes flew open, then he kissed the bill and started praying in Spanish. His eyes welled up with tears. He reached out to shake my hand then changed his mind and gave me a big hug. “My name is Carlos. Thank you. You have no idea what this means to me right now.” He said he works three days a week and gets paid $8.50 an hour; it’s really not enough to get by and he was a hundred dollars short on his rent.

Carlos thanked me again and encouraged me to come by sometime and say hello. He works Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. He let me take his picture, but wanted to put his Salvation Army cap on first.

Michael and Baby

I was a couple of blocks from home, taking in the fact that I had given away the 31st hundred, when a man sitting on a low retaining wall stopped me. He had a tiny dog in his lap. “You know, I just don’t understand people sometimes.” He went on to tell me how a man had come by and started petting his dog. “This is a service dog. Everyone knows you can’t do that. You have to ask permission before you touch a dog!”

He took off the dog’s tiny blanket to show me that she was, indeed, a service dog wearing an official service dog uniform. The passerby had apparently apologized in what felt like a sarcastic manner and then cuffed the guy on the back of the head. It was a deeply offensive gesture.

He said his name was Michael and introduced me to his dog, Baby. “You can pet her if you want. She’s a sweetheart.” Michael told me how his wife had died of ovarian cancer and now the dog is all he has. “I’ve had seven heart attacks in five years. I’m on the street. If she senses something is wrong, she licks my face and then I go to the hospital.” The dog has saved his life on four occasions.

We talked for a while and then Michael looked at me hard. “I had to stop you,” he said, “because I just want to tell you that there is a purpose for everything.” I said goodbye and continued on my way home. I turned back to wave and he said, “Happy Halloween!”

I can still pick up a whiff of Carlos’s cologne on my jacket.

The grateful zombie

October 30! Day 30 of My Month of Hundreds.

My dread over the impending arrival of November has eased up; I am looking forward to having some time to reflect on this month and where I go from here.

Tomorrow feels like a big day. I’ll make the final gift of my Month of Hundreds and write more about my plans for the rest of the year.

A few things are clear: the month has been a great success; I am thrilled! One of my primary objectives has been fulfilled, and I feel much more…free. Free to smile at strangers, leave a generous tip, worry less about paying an extra 5¢ per gallon on gas, and hand out $100 bills! I can’t thank my mother enough for the gift that has made this possible.

As I went through my day today, I found myself doing some weird calculations in my head. Have I given to an equal amount of men and women? Age? What about older people? I haven’t really given to anyone OLD. People of color? Over-represented. I’m okay with that.

It felt like the week of Thanksgiving to judge from the crowds at the stores. People were a bit cranky. Kids in shopping carts were crying and begging. I saw a young boy of about two holding a little stuffed doll, whining at his mom, “Mama! Take it off! Take it off! Mama! Take it off!” He was tugging pitifully at the price tag that was attached to the doll. His mom was selecting spices in the bulk aisle; she turned and said to him, “No, honey. We’re not going to take it off, because we’re not buying that. We’re just borrowing it.” She turned back to her shopping just as the tag went flying. “I took it off, Mama. I took it off”, he said.

A few costumed shoppers were sprinkled through the aisles. The organic lollipops were flying off the shelves.

After my grocery shopping I went over to Walgreen’s. All the stores seem to smell the same, and walking through the door provokes an avalanche of memories. I shopped there weekly for supplies during my mom’s last year,  picking up the necessities then trolling the aisles for a treat that would make her smile or at least bring some light back to her eyes. Chocolate was always good, and she loved nuts until she started forgetting how to swallow.

There was a steady stream of shoppers. Halloween candy and costume supplies were in high demand. I stopped to chat with a few people, but didn’t really connect.

As I was walking out the door I saw a young woman rushing across the parking lot. She had a short skirt, seriously torn fishnet stockings and blood all over her neck and chest. Blue hair and a prim little blouse completed the look. She ran into the store and I followed her.

“Looks like you’re in a hurry,” I said. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I have to be in Salem by 6 to set up for a party!” She made a beeline for the costume supplies and grabbed a tube of fake blood. She didn’t seem to find it strange that I was following her and she kept up a friendly chatter. “A bunch of people are going to Eugene tonight. There might be a lot of traffic.”

I stepped out of the store and waited for her to come out. “Look, I know you’re in a hurry,” I said when she appeared, “but I just need a minute of your time. I have something I want to give you.”. “Okay,” she said, slowing down. “My truck is over this way,” she pointed as we walked together. “What do you want to give me?” She was tearing open the package of fake blood as she walked.

“You have to promise me you’ll drive safe,” the mother in me said. Then I handed her the C-note.

Why?” she yelped.”For real? This is for me?” I didn’t want to make her late and gave an abbreviated version of my story. “You’re doing it every day? Like a mitzvah?” I said yeah, it was just like a mitzvah.

She said her name was Karissa and reached out to give me a tearful hug. “Careful,” she said. “I don’t want to get blood all over you.” Then she jumped into her truck and pulled away, giving me a smile and a kind of shy wave.

I didn’t know zombies thought about mitzvahs. You learn something every day.