Leaving a children’s activity center the other day, I took a different way home to get gas. Standing on the corner of my small country town was an elderly woman dressed in rags and waving me over. I feared she was in distress, so I pulled over to ask if she was okay. She had two torn scarves wrapped around her head with a tuff of greasy gray hair peeping out above her forehead. The teeth she had were crooked and grayish yellow, and her voice wavered when she spoke. Sprouting from her chin were so many whiskers I had to consider if, in fact, this person was a female, then I recalled my own hairs that I tend to and cut her some slack. Her clothes were layered on, most likely because she didn’t own a coat, and her shoes were a pair of weathered Crocks. In her hand was a metal cart on wheels and an empty garbage bag.
“Are you the one that usually gives me a ride to St. Joes?” She asked with glassy eyes. I came to find out a church not far away feeds the less fortunate every Wednesday. I replied to her that I had never given her a ride and was about to pull away with a smile, when she asked if I would mind giving her a lift.
What was I to do? This old woman clearly needed help. I had my two small children in the car and worry always strikes a mother’s heart. Thoughts of my own mother popped into view. While my mom is very capable and active, not someone who would need a ride from a stranger in the least, I considered the “what if” scenario. With a bit of fear prickling inside of me, I agreed to take her a few miles down the road. A distance she could not walk herself.
I loaded her cart in my trunk and noticed the wheels were covered in – good golly, I hope that’s mud. It didn’t smell like mud. Then she got into the passenger seat and buckled up. The first thing I noticed was her ripe smell. It was like sitting next to a goat who rolled in its own feces. Having a strong sense of smell, I breathed through my mouth, and I said a silent prayer that my daughter wouldn’t say something to embarrass the woman. I don’t mean to describe this woman in a way that belittles her or her struggles, I want to paint a picture of my passenger situation.
Her babble was very entertaining and probably not age appropriate for my children. She spoke about the ASPC coming to take her seven kittens away because she couldn’t care for them, then she accused them of selling the cats for $150 each. I learned her daughter lives too far away to come and care for her, which made me sad and angry. She rambled on about how people are still kind in the world, her cat issues, all the organizations around us that feed the poor, and her limitations with age.
We arrived at her destination in less than 5 minutes, and I helped her cart out of my trunk. She thanked me again and asked, “Do you go down that way often?” Which I promptly replied that I did not, meaning I would not be back in the near or far future. Not because I feared her, but her smell was something that sparked things in me I am still trying to understand. I am not saying this with heartless sarcasm.
Anxiety grew while I breathed through my mouth, imagining that I was tasting the sour air which surrounded the small space of my vehicle. Could I really ingest this woman’s filth? I envisioned bugs popping off of her and making nests in my seats. I have never experienced a human that carried so much depth in putridness, this is being said by a woman who has worked in a mental institution for the criminally insane (medicine and urine) and elbowed with the homeless in Baltimore City (cigarettes, body odder, city smudge).
Country homeless is a different type of human, and I was not prepared. I later learned her house is dilapidated and most likely without water or electricity. I’m not sure how she has survived the rough winters. Rumors have it that she is a hoarder and has so much stuff in her house that she now lives outdoors.
As I bid her a farewell she reached down and picked up a leaf, “Oh, look at this big oak leaf. I should call Guinness.”
My car smelled for most of the day, even with all the windows down. Though today her mark seems to be removed even with my keen nose searching for her musky remains. Homelessness and the extremely poor have always poked at my consciousness. After I dropped her off, I spoke with my mom, who admitted to having done something similar and warned me about getting too involved in an individual’s life. Instead, she suggested giving to the church that feeds her. Great idea mom!
I think I’ll try to avoid picking up hitchhikers again, even when this tug inside of me tells me I’m doing the right thing. It’s hard to say no to someone who needs help. I wonder if avoidance is the correct answer? I think a lot of us struggle with what “the right thing to do” is at times.
I hope I gave this woman a full belly and I hope she didn’t give me bed bugs.
Have you ever done something like this?