It is a hot August afternoon when she takes her walk beneath the sun that bakes lawns and casts shadows through trees. I watch her, my neighbor, everyday and wonder.
Does she wonder about me?
I would guess she was seventy years old the winter I was born; nearing one hundred this summer that baby James will come. She carried babies herself once, I know this because she lives with her daughter. Other children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren come to visit.
We are separated by years but the bond of motherhood is tight like a thick rubber band. I imagine she sees my swollen belly and remembers the feeling with a memory that defies age and man’s reason. I know this as I know that in seventy years I will remember the way his feet feel as they compress my diaphragm, making me short of breath as I watch her shuffling steps on the sidewalk. Her hands grip tightly to her walker. Mine grip tightly to my toddler boy as he pulls me in circles around the yard. Tiny boy hands laced in mine, tiny baby feet inside me. The motion must catch her eye, she turns her head toward us, against the sun, and I see the briefest nod. A nod I imagine says, “oh yes. I remember. It was yesterday.”
My wonder overflows into compassion when her eyes look lonely and turn back down to the sidewalk. I take my toddler boy by the hand and we cross the street. We say “hi” three, maybe four times before she hears and stops, smiles, eyes disappearing briefly into folds of soft wrinkles.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” She asks.
I assume that she is asking about the baby, large like a beach ball stretched beneath my skin. Then I realize, her eyes set on the head of my toddler boy, that she is asking about Wynn.
“He is a boy,” I say. “He is two.”
“A girl?” she yells back.
“No, he is a boy,” I say much louder and slower. “He is two.”
She shakes her head, despairing, “I can’t see or hear much of anything anymore.”
I pat my belly and say, “this is also a boy, he is due in September.”
She smiles and nods. I am itching to know so I offer, “I imagine you remember exactly what this feels like.”
She hears me perfectly well this time. We are speaking a common language.
“Oh, oh yes, ” she says, the words drawn out, her head nodding. “Yes. That you do not forget.”
She proceeds to tell me that her first of three children, a girl, was born while her husband was stationed in Okinawa during World War II. That the baby took two days of hard labor to come. That she was nine months old before her husband first held her. She mumbles something that I can’t quite make out about how the war changed them.
She thanks me so sincerely for crossing the street to say hello that I am ashamed I haven’t done so every day all summer. I would have crossed the street if Jesus had been walking there.
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’’ Matthew 25:40
I promise we will be back.
“What is your first name?” I ask her.
“Eunice,” she replies. “Horrible, isn’t it?”
“No,” I fib and we both laugh.
Mother to mother, on this hot summer day.