Living in modern society’s version of a manufactured Mayberry (the gated community) has its perks. One of those perks is that when the driver of a van pulls over and rolls down the window while you’re walking your dog, your first instinct isn’t to shout, “Stranger danger!” and make a break for it—dragging your aging canine behind you. So, this morning, when a strange lady in a van approached me, I asked myself, “WWABD—What Would Aunt Bee Do?” and plastered on my best neighborly smile.
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I have noticed that the people I encounter on my walks react in one of two ways: 1. They approach me with kindness, or 2. They hightail it around the corner to avoid making eye contact. Ah, the power of being a 47-year-old bald woman!
It was obvious The Strange Lady in the Van was not a hightail-er because, well, there she was. I was all ready to hear about her sister who had cancer or the miraculous benefits of turmeric, but what she had to say blew me away.
She said, “I know this is going to sound weird, but I want to let you know how much you and your family mean to me and my family.”
Say what? Now, to be fair, The Strange Lady in the Van was not a complete stranger, so I should probably drop the “Strange” portion from her name. We once had a conversation outside the petting zoo at a 4th of July shindig. (I told you it was Mayberry!) I remember enjoying the conversation, but couldn’t fathom how that was enough to cause her and her family to give a rip about me and my family.
She said, “Over the years, we’ve watched your family. When we first moved here, you used to walk with your two boys and the dog. Time passed and you walked with one of your sons and the dog. Then, eventually, it was just you and the dog. We call you The Water Bottle Lady because you always carry the same kind of water bottle. My daughter wrote a poem about you for school and, when she showed it to me, I cried.”
It is true that I have logged many miles around this HOA sanctioned utopia. To outsiders, it might have looked like I was circling the perimeters searching for a way over the wall. As my older son deduced, I could have walked to someplace really good if I hadn’t been going in circles. But I think I have “walked to someplace really good.” I’ve walked my way through my sons’ adolescent years with communication still intact. I’ve walked my way into friendships with several neighbors. Okay, so it’s a tad ironic that I started walking for health benefits and still developed breast cancer. Don’t even get me started on the unfairness of the fact I practically live on a diet of grass! Imagine the sad state I could be in if I sat on my rear and ate hot fudge sundaes every day?
The Lady in the Van and I talked for a bit then she said, “One of the lines in the poem was something like, ‘The Water Bottle Lady wears hats now. I hope she’s okay.’ Anyway, my family prays for you. You mean so much to us. You represent the passage of time and how life changes and evolves.”
In what will surely be a poignant talking point around her dinner table, I told her this was the first week I’ve had to take my dog on shorter walks and then drop him off at the house to continue on by myself. She said she told her daughter she saw me walking the past two days without the dog.
I didn’t cry when I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t cry when I lost my hair. Or when my lumpectomy didn’t yield clear margins and I required another surgery. Or when the other surgery still didn’t yield clear margins and I opted for a bilateral mastectomy. In times of crisis, I’m not a big crier. But, today, The Lady in the Van and The Water Bottle Lady had a sweet cry by the side of the road.
The Water Bottle Lady