Of Guardian Angels, Gardens, and Gratitude

Pecan pie (made by my daughter Anna) minus one slice, from Thanksgiving 2011.

‘Tis the time of year to think about gratitude. Gratitude always reminds me of the time I spent volunteering at Our Daily Bread in Over-the-Rhine, downtown Cincinnati, in 2006. Our Daily Bread provides a warm meal, social services and socialization for neighborhood residents.

You know from some of my recent posts about Cincinnati that Over-the-Rhine is making a resurgence and that Mark and I frequently visit the local restaurants or entertainment venues there now. But in 2006, it could still a bit rough in some parts of the neighborhood at times. What follows is a short op-ed I wrote, submitted, and was published in  “Your Voice” in the Cincinnati Enquirer, December 24, 2006.


Guardian Angels in Over the Rhine

Guardian angels come from unexpected places.

This fall I volunteered at Our Daily Bread in Over the Rhine where I met Ted, a well-liked and regular guest.

“I am 75 years old and proud of it,” Ted claims.  He has a limp that he acquired from a war wound in Vietnam and walks slowly with a wooden cane.  A long black rosary hangs around his neck and a royal blue ball cap rests on his head with his wiry gray hair sticking out of the bottom.  Ted’s eyes are brown and his smile is genuine. He has street smarts and is quick to laugh during conversations.

Ted’s financial difficulties come from the fact that he’s an alcoholic and has made bad choices in the past.

As I was leaving Our Daily Bread that day I witnessed a fight.  One man was pressed up against a car yelling, “Help!  Call the police.”   People were standing around on the sidewalks just watching.

When the men separated and I saw the gleam of a knife in one of their hands, I hurried back inside Our Daily Bread to get help.  A few minutes later the situation diffused itself as one of the men left.

The following week I spoke with Ted again.  I asked him why nobody wanted to do anything to help this guy who was taking a beating.  The people, Ted said, “Don’t care.  Don’t want to be involved.”

“If I was in trouble, do you think someone would help me?”  I asked him.

“I would,” he said.

As I was getting ready to leave, Ted asked, “Are you going to be all right?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said.

He stood up and started walking behind me.  He wanted to know where I had parked.  I reassured him that my car was just across the street and a few car-lengths away.  He continued with me as I went outside.  He stood there on the corner on that chilly autumn day and watched me get into my car and drive away.

I smiled as I thought, “What is Ted going to do, at his age and with his disability, if I need help?”  And then I felt my eyes begin to fill with tears at his noble gesture.

Ted returned my wave as I drove past, then he turned around and slowly walked back into the soup kitchen on a corner in Over the Rhine.


I mention Ted’s story today when I want to remind everyone of gratitude, because on any given day you could ask Ted, “How are you?” and without fail, he would answer, “I’m blessed.”

As my American friends are getting ready to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving, and for my international friends for who it is always a good idea to remember and be grateful, I thought I would leave a couple of “Pocket Positives” from another one of my little books:

“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” ~ Sir Winston Churchill, British Statesman, Prime Minister and Writer

“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door; I’ll go through another door — or I’ll make a door: Something  terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” ~ Joan Rivers, American Comedian

“May I a small house, and large garden have. And a few Friends, and many Books, both true, both wise, and both delightful too.” ~ Abraham Cowley, English Poet

“How to be happy when you are miserable. Plant Japanese poppies with cornflowers and mignonette, and set out the petunias among the sweet-peas so they shall scent each other. See the sweet-peas coming up.”~ Rumer Godden, English Writer

I give thanks for parents who raised me, a husband who loves and supports me, children who enrich my life, a little dog who keeps me company and all of nature that surprises and thrills me, friends who lighten my spirits, and all of you for sharing this time of your life with me. Happy Thanksgiving.

Holidays and Phone Conversations

I sneak away from the noise and conversation of the crowded dining room table covered with now-empty, but used dessert plates, cut pies, and coffee cups. I walk to the far end of the kitchen and stand looking out at the night. I call my mom on my cell phone.  Her voice is upbeat when she answers the phone, so I know she had a good day. Relief washes over me that my two sisters were able to make the Thanksgiving dinner into a celebratory meal. When I committed to having my husband’s mother and sister over to our house for Thanksgiving, I wasn’t sure how things were going to work out for Mom and Dad. An image of them sitting alone at their kitchen table haunted me. But it all worked out.

After talking for a few minutes with Mom about the day, I tell her I can’t talk long because company waited in the dining room. “Can I talk to Dad?” I ask. Mom puts down the phone in the kitchen and walks into the living room to hand Dad the cordless phone in there. I can hear muted conversation in the background, but I don’t know whether my dad actually has the phone and I should be talking to him or not.

I hear my mom say, “Don’t push any of the buttons.” I know my dad must have the phone, so I start talking.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Dad.” I hear nothing in reply, but then I don’t expect to. I’m not even entirely sure if he’s got the phone up to his ear.

“Are you there, Dad?” I ask.

“Um hum,” he says.

“Did you have a good Thanksgiving dinner?” I ask. I don’t wait very long for a response.

My mom has gotten back on the phone in the kitchen, but she can’t see Dad from where she is, so she doesn’t know any more than I do about the status of the phone in Dad’s hands.

I talk on. A one-way conversation.

“We just finished dessert. Anna made us four beautiful pies. Matt and Joe came home too, with their girlfriends. Mark’s mom, Karen, Alayne and Toby are here too.”

I don’t have a lot more to say, and I hear sounds of chairs being pushed out and people moving around in our dining room that signals family members getting ready to leave.

“Well, I just wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving,” I say. “I’m going to hang up now.”

I wait a moment.

“Good-bye,” I say.


I’m not sure whether to hang up, or wait, or what to do. My sister Carol gets on the phone. She must have been standing by my dad. “He wants to tell you good-bye,” she says.

“Good-bye, Dad,” I say again.

I wait, looking outside at the darkness.

“Why don’t you just wave to me, Dad,” I say after what seems like several minutes but in reality could only have been a number of seconds.

I hear Carol’s light laughter at a little distance over the phone, “He’s waving to you,” she says.

“I love you, Daddy,” I say. “Good-bye. I’m going to hang up now.”

And I do.