This is a guest post, by Bruce Holmes:
Caren always hears somebody at the door before I do. This time, I didn’t hear anything at all, but Caren said there was somebody there. I put down a pot of potatoes and walked to the front door to find Amy pressing her face against the screen, trying to see if anyone was inside. I didn’t want to let her in. We’d just finished cooking dinner and were about to sit down, and once we invite her in, she never leaves. She once spotted us in a church parking lot and began talking to us through our car window, her head hanging halfway inside the car. After about 15 minutes, we told her we had to leave, but she wouldn’t stop talking. We began to back the car up, but she continued to walk with us, her hands and head inside the car, her body outside of it, until she could no longer keep up with our vehicle.
Lately, we’ve lapsed into a dangerous precedent, though, acquiescing to her visits. Now seemed a good time to reset the tone. “Amy, you can’t come in,” I said. She pressed forward to come in, despite my gentle but not so subtle discouragement. But then she is a missionary and has been pushing herself on unsuspecting people every day for a long time. She waived little white baby booties through the screen and promised she could only stay for a minute. She said she had to see the little mamma. Before I knew it, we were in my kitchen, Amy was hugging Caren, and we were getting out a third dinner plate. I could see from Caren’s hug and teethy smile that she was okay with it — unlike other times I’ve let Amy in.
Something clearly happened to Amy along the way. Born in Brooklyn and raised Jewish, she’s still sharp-witted, funny and savvy. But she now spends most of her time frantically limping around our little Methodist town on a bad hip, latching on to anyone who moves too slowly or doesn’t know enough to run away from her. Once caught, she starts preaching to them the word of God until they can’t take it anymore. She has wild grey curls that she tucks into a tie-dyed baseball cap that reads, “Jesus Lady.” Always unkempt, she looks like she lives in her beat up old Honda, which is filled with Bibles, bags of unknown but no doubt important objects, and loaves of day-old bread from soup kitchens that she hands out to people as a sign of gratitude.
Our relationship with Amy has escalated lately, perhaps because she spends more time on our block these days. Ever since she left her car in front of our neighbor Jim’s house last winter when she went on a mission to Mexico, she seems to view our block as her home turf. You always know when she’s driving down the block because she doesn’t even slow down for the stop sign at the end of our street, and you can hear the cars approaching the intersection come to a screeching halt — though miraculously, there’s never an accident.
Given that she’s on the block more these days, she’s taken to stopping by our house more frequently. Amy may have found Jesus a long time ago and raised her grown children as Christians in a Waspy New Jersey area, but she seems to share a Jewish kinship with Caren, giving them some kind of connection. She’s always told us she was praying for us, and praying, specifically, for us to have a baby. She would tell us she was certain we were going to have a family and suggest ways in which it was going to happen. And she would regale us with anecdotes about really old people who had conceived. She believed in us before we did.
She used to stop by our house with stale loaves of bread. Lately, she keeps bringing us stuff for the baby. While all of our neighbors have been pleased about the pregnancy, smiling and wishing us well, Amy seems to be the most excited of all. She has brought us boots for the baby to grow into, hats, scarves, a few baby outfits, and two well worn child rearing books that she bought at a garage sale and had already gone through with a highlighter and dog-eared some of the pages. Most recently, she brought us a wood cradle, though it was so small, it was unclear it would fit anything much bigger than a newborn.
Of all the things she’s given us, my personal favorite is a Sherlock Holmes outfit: a brown and black plaid cloak, and a matching plaid hat with peaks going in opposite directions. After giving us the cloak and saying it probably wouldn’t fit the baby until it was about four, she picked up one of the well-worn pregnancy manuals. She sat down on the couch next to Caren, her hat cockeyed and the earpiece of her eyeglasses held in place with a paperclip, and proceeded to flip through the book and read aloud some of the passages she had underlined. Caren had been in the middle of cooking a meal to break the fast on Yom Kippur, and had just finished making the chopped liver. She lathered a few slices of matzo with liver and put them on a plate with a few pickles and set them in front of Amy, who excitedly asked if there was schmaltz in the liver. As Amy gummed the matzo and pickles, because her teeth weren’t working that well, she carefully explained to us that our child will have a mind of its own, and an identity of its own choosing, and that we can never make it what we want it to be. It will be what it will be.
When she rang our bell a few nights ago just as we’d finished preparing our dinner, she was carrying the white booties and promising she really couldn’t stay long. She said she was sick and late for another appointment — although it was hard to believe anyone would deliberately meet with her. But she did in fact leave after about 15 minutes. Two nights later, I nearly tripped over a wooden rocking cradle that had been left on our front porch. It was much bigger than the first one she had given us. Apparently, that first cradle was meant for a doll. A lot we knew. We had already placed it in the baby’s room with the rest of Amy’s gifts we’d been accumulating. As it turns out, the day Amy dropped off the smaller cradle, she was pacing back and forth on our porch waiting for us to come home when a neighbor spotted her, saw the cradle, and told her it was a doll’s cradle and was way too small for a real baby. Amy insisted it was meant for the baby’s early days and that Caren was a very interesting woman with very interesting taste, and she would appreciate it. Despite her conviction, Amy must have had doubts about it because a week later, the larger cradle appeared on our porch.
I am trial lawyer by profession. I am not religious nor am I superstitious. And I have long outgrown wearing lucky clothing items or going through courtroom rituals in order to win a case, like placing a penny under the right front table leg of my counsel table for good luck. And yet despite the cradle being too large for the baby’s room, and the fact that the veneer on its wood frame was cracked and chipping, threatening to give anyone who touched it a splinter, I spent a good part of last weekend sanding, priming and applying two coats of latex paint on the thing and found just the right spot for it in the nursery. I know Amy’s prayers didn’t bring us our baby. But I’m sure it didn’t hurt.