Caussey's Corner

Christmas Holiday in the City: A Texan’s Memory from 10 Years Ago

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It is wonderful, this city called New York. During Christmas, bright lights and festive sounds smash against one’s senses with the same furor as a Bronx taxi or Queens’ delivery truck.

The city is restless, never sleeping. Like a misunderstood Krakatoa, she bubbles and blows, mesmerizing her citizens, admiring their strength, as she lures them into her lair.

Many famous people live here. Politicians and movie folks like to be heard and seen on the center stage of New York City’s humanity. Frankly, most celebrities I found were boring, and about as interesting as having a political discussion with Brittany Spears.

There was one person I saw that did interest and intrigue me. Although I never spoke to her I could still identify the wounds and feel the despair. But after a period of observation, I began to perceive a realm of contentment that dissolved my original misjudgments. What I discovered was someone more content with their station in life than most of the other millions of New Yorkers.

Christmas Holiday in the City: A Texan's Memory from 10 Years Ago

Photo: @itgnet via Twenty20

She sat there on a park bench, surrounded by swarming pigeons and swirling snow. The pigeons crowded around her feet like affectionate housecats at their morning feeding, sometimes taking flight when she suddenly reached her hand into a white sack for more breadcrumbs. In flowing motion, like a gifted maestro, she scattered the crumbs near her feet. “My Babies, My Babies,” is repeated. The wind caught her words and occasionally carried her voice. Other times her voice was snuffed out by the engaging wind, and like the snow, fell about her.

Resting to her right at the end of the bench was a grocery cart that long ago lost its luster. It is stacked high with clothing, blankets, and rolled up paper bags. Snow covered the cart, making it hard to identify. A large orange colored barrel container that must store water was strapped to the under carriage by a yellow nylon rope.

She wore what appeared to be several layers of clothing. A gray stocking cap was pulled down past her ears, yet could not quite cover her bright Aegean-sea blue eyes and a few strands of golden hair that escaped over her red cheeks. The cap was soon laden with snow and pigeon droppings, as was her coat and the park bench.

Her outer coat was buttoned at the very top just under her chin helping to harness the drafty wind flung from nearby granite building corners. Her gloves were mismatched like her shoes. On her left hand there was a tan leather glove, and on the right, a white red wool mitten.

Christmas Holiday in the City: A Texan's Memory from 10 Years Ago

Photo: @isohount via Twenty20

Peeking out of her left coat pocket was the top of a brown paper bag. On occasion she would remove her leather glove and pull out the sack and remove a large green wine bottle that occupied that space. “Good stuff, Good stuff,” she proclaimed as she returned the bottle to the pocket and placed her hand back in the glove, wiping her mouth.

Strangers moved along the sidewalk either alone or with companions as pigeons pecked, and flew into neighboring trees, on stoic statues, or other park benches. Depositing their waste along the way.

Here she sat, this befuddled woman feeding the pigeons as they courted- in-strut, cooed-in-sound, ate-in-sequence, and defecated all the time. Then took flight, landed somewhere and returned, starting the cycle all over again.

Once the white sack became empty, she reached inside the cart, digging as she talked to herself, and retained another white sack labeled Mariano Italian Restaurant, and proceeded to feed her beloved pigeons. Caroling sounds were lifted on the wind strong enough to outlast taxies honking and large trucks backfiring. The music appeared to come from a large church down the boulevard.

Christmas Holiday in the City: A Texan's Memory from 10 Years Ago

Photo: @itgnet via Twenty20

People passed the woman and her Watcher without noticing. They held the hands of children, or leashes of their dogs, while couples closed their arms around their partner’s waist or shoulder.

It was growing dark. The light had dripped like hot butter into the saucepan of the streets. Yet the Christmas lights bravely faced the approaching darkness with spiritual light of the season.

My legs and rear felt frozen from standing against a leafless tree or sitting on an adjacent cold metal bench.

Unexpectedly the woman rose to her feet, wobbled momentarily, anchored herself as she shooed the remaining pigeons away and dusted the bread crumbs from her blue corduroy pants. Reaching into her coat pocket, she removed the paper bag and took one long laborious drink until the bottle was held skyward, the blue glass reflecting off the Christmas lights. She folded the brown paper sack and placed it into the cart.

Then she turned directly toward me and smiled with a wink. She gathered her cart and began to push it toward me. The wheels were frozen and it was hard to navigate the icy terrain. Then it really began to snow. Through the large flakes I watched her approach. Building, street and Christmas lights provided ample lighting for me to see the distinguishing features of her face. The chorus is heard over the rising wind. Before me, she stopped, locking her eyes on mine. I could feel her breath and see clusters of snow, and smell the pigeon poop on her hat and coat.

There was just a momentary pause in time, but it felt as though an eternity would pass. Her breath was warm and sweet. The words, “Glory to the newborn King,” were carried on wintry currents through the park, beyond the streetlights and ice-cycled trees. As we looked eye to eye, she said in a clear and strong, unbroken voice with textured softness, “Be kind to strangers for they may be angels in disguise;” “When I was hungry, you fed me!” and “I will remember even unto the foundations of the world.”

She moved away. I turned into the wind and the direction she had gone. Her large, lumbering figure was disappearing into the snowy Christmas night.

Durhl Caussey is a columnist who writes for papers around the world.