Self- isolation is resulting in no trips to the $ store or to thrift shops to donate items from another phase of ‘downsizing.’ And so, I review memories of some people, places and things in a wonderful life. I introduce to you, Miss Ida Mae.
Someone wrote my name and telephone number on the back of the receipt at the supermarket in South Central Los Angeles and gave it to Miss Ida Mae. She rode three buses to my law office in Hollywood.
When she began to speak her words and manner were familiar. Both of us were born “down South.” I started in South Georgia. She was an old lady now, but she told me her journey began on a farm in a little place in Alabama. “It was about six miles outta town, off the dirt road, then down the lane to the path that took you to the cabin where my grandpapa was a share-cropper.” And she hesitated, before adding, “Some days it seems I ain’t travelled too far from my beginnings. Now, I’m here to tell you my business to see if you can help me.”
After a brief chat she felt comfortable enough to tell me what she called her “particulars.” “My man is gone but the bills he left didn’t go to his grave with him and the folks he owed send me dunning letters each month and the bill collectors call and say his debts are now my responsibility. All the income I get is a little disability check every month.” She stopped talking, but in her silence, she communicated a message I understood. She puckered her lips and shook her legs; body language that translated her dilemma. And then she asked, “Will a bankruptcy give me some relief?”
I examined her assets and determined that, even if she sold everything she owned, it would be inadequate to satisfy her creditors. Not even the bankruptcy laws demand that level of liquidation. I told Miss Ida Mae my fee for preparing her bankruptcy petition. She leaned in my direction and locked her eyes to mine and politely said, “I can’t pay you all I owe at once, but you have my word. God is my witness.” Her words signaled that we heard the same lesson a long time ago. Mine was from my grandmama, who told me, “If you lose every material thing you own, it might come to pass that the only thing you have left is your word. Keep your promises. Keep your word.”
Within three months Miss Ida Mae’s bankruptcy process was completed, giving her relief from creditors. But she still owed the balance of my fee.
On a very rainy Friday afternoon as I prepared to leave the office, Miss Ida Mae called to tell me she was waiting to catch the second bus to bring another payment, but that she might be a little late. I encouraged her to return home and to mail whatever she wanted to pay. She insisted on completing her journey, so, I told her to put my name on the envelope and drop it into the slot on the door.
As I opened the door on Monday morning a crumpled envelope lay at my feet. The writing was dim, having been written with a pencil and partially obliterated by rainwater. Beneath my name was a message that needed no further clarity: “This ain’t all I owe ya, but bye-n-bye, I’ll keep my word.” I sat for a long time, clutching the 20 one-dollar bills that she had, on a very rainy day, travelled on three buses to deliver.
Miss Ida Mae was financially bankrupt, but she retained a more valuable asset – – – her word.
Good memories are treasures that we horde for ourselves.
Sometimes they are the only currency that can buy peace of mind.
They give us safe passage to where we were once content.
Good memories are not exhausted by time.
James Edward Alexander
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