I see them every once in a while at the same coffee shop. Often, they are already sitting at a two top directly facing the entrance to the shop. A bookcase is at their back and I've seen the baristas greet them with familiar hellos. I've not yet deciphered what they drink; whether it's steaming Earl Gray tea for one, or a short, powerful espresso for the other. They sit talking or reading newspapers, but still find enough interest in me and my brood to look up and smile.
They look strangely the same and might be sisters, except for one is much taller. Both wear skirts that fall below the calf. The skirt on the little one is high enough to reveal her short, shabby boots with holes and frayed edges at the toes. She doesn't wear socks. Instead, a long wool dress coat, dirty and thin, appears to keep her warm both winter and summer. The little one has stringy long hair that streams out from a wool stocking cap. Her companion wears the same uniform, except a light nylon scarf is wrapped around her head and her boots aren't nearly as worn. Everything about them is muted grays, olive green, plum and brown. It would seem as if they had emerged from the woods, if modern life for seniors really made way for good witches and fairy godmothers.
But I learned today while pulling out of the adjoining grocery store parking lot that their world also includes a royal blue in the form of a sensible Ford sedan, likely manufactured in the late eighties. The tall one is the driver. Today, she focused on starting the car while the little one waived and waited for me to back my hulk of a minivan out of the parking space next to theirs. I waived back in thank you, noticed their current plates and then continued to think about the pair the rest of the day. The Little One and the Driver.
Shortly after meeting my husband, a/k/a Chris, I settled into the cozy and joyous notion that he was my true companion. The muscles he'd developed on his upper thighs biking across town to attend the prerequisite classes for medical school helped A LOT. Also, his openness to people and why-not-today-adventuresome spirit perfectly counterbalances my judgmental character and perpetually practical personality.
Some people are hard to like. I keep my nose to the grindstone and seek reasonable fun within boundaries. I don't like to ask directions and I've got to plan for days (okay, weeks) for people to drop by for dinner. Chris organizes elaborate events on a whim. He skiis like the Asian Jonny Mosely that he is and has served as a National Park naturalist by day and and river raft guide on weekends. Hot stuff. Then he went to medical school and that tamed his adventures a bit. Protecting lives can do that to a guy.
I knew Chris was the man for me and my future kids when I watched him with his beloved dog, a yellow lab/shepard mix and lover of all throwable things, named Dakota. Chris guided Dakota with a firm but gentle, for-keeps touch. Dakota responded in kind. And I got to bask in it, like a preview before purchasing. I was hooked then and I still am.
Today, my true companions tend to be the three little souls Chris and I brought into this world. We bumble around like a little band of merry women and one man. Off to adventures like two grocery stores in one day where everyone focuses on holding the cart, I SAID, HOLD THE CART!!!, while Nar strains to gum the handle and break free of the belt that's holding her back. We talk of spills on the sidewalk, treats that might await us at the bakery, mylar balloons in the shapes of space heroes, crunches (sharks) and princesses with loads of hair and dark pink gowns. Dee discusses her plans of living with the real princesses when she grows up and letting T be a king. T is mesmerized by a cardboard display of a movie "bad guy" and tells us he is going to "bam it!"
Throughout the day, the kids make these kinds of suggestions and I respond. It is a comfortable, welcomed part of life. In those early, not quite focused moments of the day when I first realize where we are in the week and the plans ahead, I am happy to wake up. Mostly because it is our day and that I won't be alone. I have an important purpose here, surrounded by these kids, smothered by these kids - kissed and hugged and ignored sometimes - but always with them. At least until first grade beckons and these hours that are all mine dwindle because their interests and development require a different focus and, sadly, different companions.
And then of course, I'll turn to other seeds I've sown. Hub, older kid family stuff and professional goals. Grandchildren and the golden years of retirement. But beyond that, I have hope that someday, in a land far away and hard to imagine, there will be a Driver for me (short as I am, and shrinking, I'll likely be the Little One). A woman, friend and survivor, who has traveled a road with different turns and dips, but similar still to mine. A fairy godmother of sorts that can offer me all that I really yearn for - companionship - and the occasional ride to the coffee shop when the weather makes the walk difficult.