Tag Archives: sweeping

There Was an Old Lady


I never saw her face, never knew her name. She was bent all the way in half, either from osteoporosis or gravity, I’ll never know which. She was out there day after day sweeping up the leaves that had dropped onto the street from the trees on her side of the fence. She and her stump of a broom together celebrating uncountable birthdays, she always wore a housecoat, with thermal pants in winter and sagging tights in summer. I admired her dedication and would have tipped my hat but I never wear hats and she never looked up anyway.

Then one day she was gone. Some days went past. The leaves piled up. In time, the workers came in trucks and vans. They brought jackhammers and backhoes and power shovels. They opened the gate and knocked down the decrepit outbuildings, no doubt sending whole legions of critters seeking new homes. Then they gutted the house and removed its bones. The trees went next; even their roots were dug up and hauled away. Finally, the fences came down. In what felt like a blink, there was nothing left to prove that the old lady had ever existed.


Perhaps she was the last of her line; perhaps she had survivors who didn’t want to survive in such an old house. All I know is that when the workers drove away, they took with them all traces of the old woman, her life, her history, her blood and breath quickly fading into the eternal whirlpool of what once was but is no more.

Walking past that empty lot doesn’t make me feel sad so much as embarrassed, like I need to avert my eyes. It’s as if the old lady had been stripped naked and left behind by the tribe. I hope that’s not the case.



Growing up in Pittsburgh, one had to look sharp at the local Giant Eagle supermarket or risk having ones ankles crushed by the shopping carts of possessed older ladies intent on snagging the very box of Corn Flakes that one was foolish enough to show an interest in.

It’s no better here. I’ve written about the Japanese New Year’s shopping frenzy before. Intent on getting the perfect package of steamed fish paste or sweetened beans, it doesn’t matter that they’re tiny and Asian; their shopping carts and purses still pack a wallop.

One of the first idioms I learned in Japanese was Obattalion. An Oba-san is an older lady; Battalion is the Japanese title of Night of the Living Dead. You get the picture.

But that isn’t always the case. There’s a woman with straight, white, bowl-cut hair who hangs around on the street outside her building doing nothing as far as I can tell. When I pass her, I always nod and say Konnichiwa. She always covers her mouth with her hand and breaks into giggles. It’s great fun to walk home with someone who has not seen this happen—my little party trick.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s another old lady who is outside nearly every morning sweeping up the leaves that fall onto the street from the trees in her garden. She’s always wearing a cotton house dress and  uses a stump of a broom that looks to be nearly as old as she is.

After passing her many times, I realized that I had never seen her face; her body is completely bent in half. I imagined her face wrinkled and dry, her eyes watery, perhaps a wart.

One is conditioned to expect such things.

Then one day she was sweeping and looked up to pull down a vine hanging from the wall. Her face was surprisingly smooth and youthful, her eyes clear, nary a wart in sight.

She smiled. I smiled back. It was a nice day.