Our conversation ranged over several topics. Life on a dairy farm in Waller County, Texas. Her 11 siblings. (Yes, 11.) She had visited Europe for two months a few years ago. Being an Italia-phile, I asked, "Where?!" The first city she mentioned was Verona. "Verona!," I exclaimed, "Romeo! Giulietta!" And, she had visited Venice during Carnevale. This tipped me off. Carnevale occurs during the school year. Which group of students gets to go to Europe for two months during the school year? Best bet: homeschoolers. My guess was correct. She shared family stories, happy memories. Our conversation was the best part of the morning.
That evening, I attended the Dr. Sketchy event in Austin, held at Elysium, which is a scuzzy bar at 7th and Red River. They don't even have pretzels. I ordered soda water. They have a dance floor, where chairs were set up for us, and a stage. We artists met there to sketch members of the Apophenia Belly Dance troupe. We began with gesture poses (1 minute each), progressed to 5 minute poses, to 10, and finally to 20. The dancers performed between poses. The sword dance. The candle dance. Great fun.
I had parked around the corner on 6th Street. For you out-of-towners, Sixth Street is the live music/bar scene part of town. Think pub crawl. So, after an evening of furious sketching, I walked to my car, around 10 pm, by myself, with my rolling cart of art supplies. As I opened my trunk, a man ran up and immediately said, "Don't be scared of me! Don't be scared of me!" I assured him I wasn't scared of him. "I'll help you put that in your trunk," he said. I thanked him, and he did. Then, he asked if I could help him out with a little money. "I'm tapped out," I replied. And, I honestly was. "I've been here two days," he said, "And I've been cold." I asked him if he had tried the Salvation Army. I've asked others that question before, and the answer is always the same. I get my number, but they're full before they get to me. I believe it, especially as cold as it's been. I mentioned Mission Possible, on 12th and Chicon, as a possibility. He asked if I had anything at all I could give him. "I've got a coat in the car you can have," I said, "a woman's coat." He brightened up, I got it, he tried it on, and, how about that, it was short in the arms and looked more like a jacket on him than a coat, but he managed to button it. "They're going to say I'm a pimp," he exclaimed, laughing. Since the coat was bright yellow, I agreed that was quite possible. It was a vintage cashmere coat I bought at a thrift store a few years back, probably for less than 10 dollars. And, he needed it more than I did.
He asked me if I had anything else. I rooted around in the car. (I drive a very, very messy car. Sort of a big purse on wheels.) I pulled out a box of crackers, some power bars, a small bag of Fritos, and a big jug of apple juice. And, a grocery-store bought "green bag" to carry it all in. He was grinning from ear to ear. He was delighted. We talked, somehow the subject of my age came up. I'm 56. About the same age as his mother, it turns out. He shared with me that she is in Oklahoma, with his step-dad. She raises herbs. I asked him, "When is the last time you talked with your mother?" A look came to his face, an indescribable look. I can only call it a spasm of wordless grief. "Perhaps," I said, as gently as I could, "You could call your mother." The look on his face lasted only a moment. Then, he was smiling, telling me I couldn't possibly be 56. And, he bent over, held my hand tightly, kissed my hand, and thanked me. As he stood back up straight, I noticed the t-shirt shirt he was wearing. On the shirt, the words "Romeo" "Juliet" and "Verona". I had talked with a young woman that morning about her trip to Verona, about Romeo and Juliet. And here a homeless man stood before me, those words on his shirt. We said our goodbyes. I hope he stayed warm that night. At least, he had something to eat.
A strange, strange coincidence. How did this man end up with a tourist t-shirt from Verona, Italy? And, I meet him on that day, a day when I had already talked about Verona with a fresh-faced young woman, her whole life in front of her. What was God telling me about these two encounters? I am puzzling over the question. Perhaps, He simply was telling me that He was present at both conversations, and in both conversations.
Addendum: I'm writing this a few days later. I have concluded that there are three possible explanations for the amazing coincidence of the shirt. One: That night, as I slept, my mind processing the days events, perhaps I dreamt of the shirt, and it was so real that it became imbedded in my memory of the event. Two: At the age of 56, a person will experience a few amazing coincidences over the years. I've still never drawn a royal flush. But, random chance can lead to strange juxtapositions. Three: God was at work. This is the explanation I favor. But, come to your own conclusions. And, even if you don't believe that God intervenes in our world, or you don't believe in God at all -- still, consider that the third explanation might very well be the correct one.
For more info about the Swede Farm in Waller County, Texas, visit their website:http://swedefarm.com/
For more info on Dr. Sketchy, visit the the MeetUp page:http://www.meetup.com/drSketchyAustin/
For more info on homelessness in Texas, visit: http://www.foundationhomeless.org/