Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Street Ivy

*This is based on a real person I met decades ago on the streets of Houston, Texas. The imagery and what little I learned has stayed with me since. Enjoy*

They called her Ivy. No one knew her real name, for the elderly, tiny, silver-haired woman rarely spoke.

But she always smiled. It was a joy-filled, toothless smile that brightened her always shining eyes in a wrinkled and aged face.

Ivy lived on the streets and was known as a cart keeper. Everything she owned packed in a worn, rusted shopping buggy with duct tape wrapped around the busted handle. The wheels were squeaky and one would perpetually spin to never help the other three carry the load. But Ivy was proud of her cart of "treasures".

Not a day went by that Ivy did not share the wealth of foraging for the most meager of items. Stale bread was broke with others without a meal that day. Sticky tossed candy handed out to the street children. A holey jacket plucked from the trash to someone shivering in the chill of night.

To Ivy, a treasure was never more valuable until it was given to someone who needed it more than you. So usually, by the time night fell, those three wheels with the rebellious fourth had very little to bear.

There was only one thing that Ivy never completely gave away from her cart.

It sat on the seat where normally a child would perch.

A potted Ivy. The plant sat in a cracked clay pot. The paint long gone and duct tape found there as well to prevent a crack from becoming worse. The plant had taken over the whole space atop the cart; its long vines twisted around the rusted bars, trailing down to the ground.

Ivy loved this plant. Every day she made sure it had time in the sun as she sat on a bench and told it stories and shared her secrets whispered with it. She made sure it received the cleanest water she could find. Sometimes dripped from the fountain through her arthritic grungy hands; her fingers, though shaky, bathing each leaf. At night, as Ivy sought out some place safe to sleep on the streets, she always made sure to keep her plant safe from frost while she curled up under an old, threadbare moving blanket exposed to all.

None us of us knew why Ivy loved this plant so. Just that when any of us shared news of a long needed job being obtained, or the news of getting even a simple room, a rat infested apartment (all huge steps up from living on the streets), Ivy would tenderly, carefully snap off a small piece of that precious plant and with that smile of an angel, press the piece in your hand, pat with her own and give you something to grow in your new home. And then shuffle away without a word.

I am proud to say that one day I was blessed with a piece of Ivy's love after living for over a two months that time in a car, stomach large with my first child. When Ivy pressed that sprig of ivy into my hand, the tears that sprung in my eyes were both joyous and humble at such a simple gift. I remembered how frail Ivy's hands felt in mine. And how warm and tender both her eyes and touch were. Even though her fingers shook, the strength of that woman's soul was rock steady.

Years went by and I eventually became a volunteer for a street feed team with a local church. I once again found myself in the part of town which I used to haunt as an invisible person. Very few of the faces were the same. The homeless are a sorrowful gypsies as well as tragic ladden by death, violence and illness.

But as I handed out blankets, sandwiches and other donated goods, I noticed something that once again brought tears to my eyes and reminded me to never forget...a treasure is never more cherished until it is given away.

Ivys grew in the strangest places. In window sills of the slum buildings.In old coffee cans and busted buckets. In carefully loved boxes...even an old boot.

I would find out that Ivy had passed away less than 6 months after I had left the streets that fall. The people of the streets wanted that beautiful soul...the same soul Ivy had poured into that plant...to live forever where that smile brightened up all their lives. So they had carefully taken a piece of her beloved ivy when the morgue had taken her body as she died sitting in the sun. No doubt whispering tales of her past to her leafy companion.The authorities had left her cart with her plant behind.

All that now fostered Street Ivy's plant's descendants carried on the tradition Ivy started and would giveaway a sprig when good luck blessed some.

Street Ivy would always live on in the hearts of those whose lives she touched.

And so would the hope she always gave with a smile.

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