The bicyclists, on their one-speed beach cruisers, passed us with a ting of a bell or a polite, “on your left.” Surfers crossed and waited their turns while their dripping fellows lugged boards up the narrow staircase. Little dogs walked big people on long leashes. It was just your usual weekend day in Santa Cruz when my husband and I caught up with the little woman in the photo.
Something about her stride attracted my attention. Her bright white cross trainers kicked out behind her. Though old — I could tell by the osteoporosis in her back — she walked firmly independent of the middle-aged man at her side. The teal track suit and her broad straw hat merged, suddenly, with a long forgotten memory.
My mother, walking ahead of me on a rural road, stops to examine something green in the dirt shoulder. The hat rotates like a daisy that grows toward the light. I know she is examining the plant’s size, its shape, the lobes of its leaves. Unlike me, she is in no hurry. Now I follow her arm and notice she clasps the hand of her grandchild. The hat tilts down. She addresses my daughter, whose curly hair shines in the sun, whose face shines up at her Nana. The hat wiggles as my mother talks, stills as she listens to questions. There are many questions. My mother has time.
On our car trips over the mountains to visit my grandmother, I used to sigh with annoyance when my mother asked my father to pull over so she could identify something. When she climbed back in the car her cheeks would be pink. At the time I imagined them flushed from the cool air of the Cascades. Now I wonder. There was joy in that moment of discovery, love in the the moment of naming.
What I wouldn’t give to see my mother’s face framed by that halo of a hat. To pick up the phone and hear my mother say, “Betz.”