Dec 28

“Change” by Sarah Johnson

My shop was just closing when she shuffled in,
Pale, gray and hunched, frail, bent and thin.
Her sweatshirt was clean, but well-worn here and there
Her face pinched in pain, but with friendship to spare
I asked, “Can I help you?”
She answered, “Yes, please.”
Then reached for my hand and gave it a squeeze.

Her friend parked the car, and then followed her in.
“My granddaughter brought me out for a spin.
And I’m shopping for Santa,” the old lady grinned.
Her voice dripped in warmth, her hand still held mine,
“I’d like one or two flowers, if you have the time.”

“Of course. What color, what size, shall we look?”
We shuffled along, the few minutes it took.
Her friend never left from just by the door.
She cleared her throat loudly, her foot tapped the floor.
Her cell phone was glued to the side of her head.

She rolled her eyes rudely, as the old woman said,
“One red, one white—could you wrap them with gold?
This little one’s sweet; can it withstand the cold?”
She chose and we strolled through poinsettias galore;
She did not stop till we’d toured the whole floor.

“Now, that one, just there,” her gnarled fingers poked air,
“Would you get it for me? May I rest in your chair?
I retrieved what she asked for, posthaste, with delight
“Can I get you some water? Are you feeling alright?”
“Yes, Dearie, I’m fine. I just love shopping for others.

But my children are gone now. No sisters. No brothers.
So my granddaughter takes me to do what I need.
This big one is for her.” More rolled eyes—My thoughts, “Yes. Indeed.”
“Can you wrap it real special, with the best ribbon you have?
I want her to like it. To think that it’s ‘rad?’ ”

“Yes, that’s the word,” I replied with a smirk.
The thought made us both giggle, as I set to work.
The eight or nine plants, she had chosen with care
Were soon packaged and ribboned, and festooned with flare.

I tallied the total; she dug through her purse.
The young girl kept talking, then let out a curse.
The phone was slammed shut and shoved in a pocket.
She shot to the counter just like a rocket.
Without any prelude, and wasting no time.
“You done here yet? Which package is mine?”

I wouldn’t have known the old lady troubled,
But she still held my hand and the clenching was doubled.
“This one is for you. Let me pay, then we’ll go,”
Still gripping my hand ‘til the blood couldn’t flow.
I squeezed back with patience. She breathed deep, then let go.

I turned to the cash box and tallied the tow.
She dug ‘round her bag for a change purse tied with string.
They were tethered together by a rubber band thing.
A mortified look crossed the child’s mocking face.
“Is that what I think?” with disgust and disgrace.

The coin purse, mere threads and mostly half rotten,
Tied to the handbag, was fished up from the bottom.
“Why, yes,” she said brightly, a glint in her eye,
“It was my mother’s. And yours, when I die.”

With gnarled fingers as pincers, plucked sovereign by cent,
Then a small wad of dollars, until all was spent.
The girl trudged to the car, crassly threw in her booty.
“Excuse her, she’s young,” said with grandmotherly duty.

A small awkward silence, then with raised eyebrow she offered,
“Did I mention this coin purse belonged to my mother?
I’m ninety-six now, but when I was a girl
That change purse was newer and so was my world.
It wasn’t the place where ‘mere’ money was gathered–
Far more than that, in all ways that mattered.

When my mother would wield it, to open for plunder,
I felt like a queen, and it’s no wonder:
It held ice cream cones, and shiny new shoes,
Licorice lace for sad days, when I had the blues.
And cocoa on snow days, marbles and mints.
That purse spilled out treasures that just never quit.

“Can I go to the movies? My car’s out of gas!”
As a newlywed bride, ‘our’ first Christmas together, her last.
And love, mostly love, that I’ve missed all these years,”
She muttered quite softly, eyes blooming with tears.
“And someday I go where my mother has fled
And my grandchild will be all that’s left in my stead.

Hope she finds more than tatters and rubber band ties.
Hope she sees past the surface to where real love lies.
My change purse, I’ll leave her, and all that I have.
My memories are hers, both good and bad.

“Thanks for your help.” Squeezed my hand, shuffled out.
But in her wake, left more hope than doubt.
I too have a change purse that was once my Mother’s
I just dug it out, from a box filled with others.
And sure enough, it was brim-filled with change.

Hope my children don’t think it’s too old or too strange.
I’ll open it freely to share what’s inside.
Love and acceptance, not self and not pride,
But genuine giving, that money can’t buy.
I saw just this week, my old friend had died
She managed to live to one-hundred and five.
I sent a poinsettia—the granddaughter cried
And gripped an old coin purse with sorrow and pride.


  1. Joan

    A beautiful post. Thank You for sharing.


  2. Tere

    Beautiful poem. Just beautiful.

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