Twinkling Green Eyes

By Monica Schrager

"Dirt has played a large part in most of my life," said the old woman with the yellow scarf around her head. I could see a hint of white hair coming out of the scarf around her face, and her bright green eyes were open wide as she sat next to me waiting for the bus.

"So many memories…" she said as she began to smile. It was just the two of us so I assumed she was talking to me, though she wasn't looking at me. "Digging in the sand with my shovel and pail…" she continued, with a look of fond nostalgia on her face.

I started to reminisce about searching for sand fans and butterfly clams and swimming out to sand bars along the coast with my sister when we were little, and then something the strange woman said caught my attention:

"From dirt we were created and dirt we will become again."

I'd recently heard that same phrase at a friend's funeral. And not long before then, that same friend and I had talked about the calming aspects of nature—about how if you're feeling frustrated or stressed, you should lay down under a tree, in the grass, grab a handful of dirt, and let the earth re-energize you. Of course, this is more difficult in the concrete jungle of the big city: The only trees have no dirt around them because they grow out of attractively designed grills. But to make this regeneration work when you do come across a park in the big city, you have to believe in nature, and not everyone does.

I do, and so did that friend of mine. My mind began wandering again as the old woman talked about how she was always in the dirt as a kid and her mother had finally come to accept it, and about how she'd gotten to know the neighbor kids by playing in the dirt with them.

I went back to second grade, and the sandbox there.

As Catholic-school students, we girls had to wear camouflage-colored plaid jumpers while the boys somehow got away with navy-blue pants. As a tomboy I never let that skirt get in my way. I'd flip upside down on the monkey bars and flash all my fellow second graders (none of whom really cared at that time). I'd sit in the sandbox and create kingdoms of stick animals and dry and wet sand forts.

One day, while I was in the sandbox with sand in my yellow hair, pulled back into a ponytail to stay out of my way, down plopped a little boy, casting a shadow over me by standing right in front of the sun.

When I looked up his green eyes seemed to twinkle through the chunks of tousled sandy hair that fell in front of them. He asked what I was doing and I realized I couldn't explain. No one had ever asked me before and I couldn't figure out how to describe this kingdom I was creating, so I just said, "Playing," and went back to constructing a lion out of sticks and long blades of grass. He sat down next to me and asked if he could play too. Without looking up I said, "OK," and we got to work.

That's all I recall about our first meeting. But from then on, we were always together—through grade school, through high school, through college, and after college. When he was selected editor of our high-school paper, he ran and found me before he told anyone else. When a college fling didn't work out and I was a bit bummed, I called him at his school on the West Coast for comfort.

We were modern-day hippies. He went off to Utah to take troubled teens on camping trips into the mountains to find themselves, then to Maine to work at a girlfriend's father's stained-glass shop, then to Taos to build a house and write. While I stayed in the big city where I went to college, I satisfied my nomadic urges by using up all my vacation time on short-term volunteer trips to Mexico and Nepal and visits with friends and family in various overseas locales.

But no matter where we both were, we always stayed in contact. And when the local Native American clinic sent him to a real doctor to have that reocurring pain in his leg checked out and he learned he had cancer, he called me first. And we had that long talk about the healing powers of nature.

The day after his funeral I returned to his gravesite, sat in the dirt that covered him, and made a little fort as I talked to him about how I was feeling. I did my best to construct a lion out of sticks and long blades of grass, but somehow I'd lost that touch I had as a kid and it didn't work out too well...

I came out of my thoughts as something cast a shadow over me.

I looked up directly into the setting sun and saw the old woman standing above me. The sun was making her yellow scarf glow. She was smiling and her green eyes seemed to twinkle.

"You know what I mean, don't you?" she said, and she turned and walked away. I smiled as my eyes followed her down the street and out of sight.


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Copyright©2002 by Monica Schrager.

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