Stranger, Passing Through

I’m weeding in my garden when an unfamiliar voice calls out. In the evening dusk, I’m thinking of my younger daughter eating dinner with her soccer team and, simultaneously, of walking to high school in the New Hampshire town where I was a teen. For no reason at all, I’m remembering walking on Union Street, which followed the railroad tracks above the Piscataquog River.

A neighbor I know only by sight is passing through. He stops and smokes a cigarette while we talk. His mother lived in my house, years ago. We talk about raising kids — his two sons, my two daughters.

The daylight recedes quickly. He asks for work, shoveling my roof in winter. We look at my house and its simple roof lines. We’ll do it, I say, and then he admits how much he hates shoveling roofs.

Mist has crept in, blurring the palette of zinnias and coreopsis in my garden. He’s gone, quickly, before I can ask more about his mother and this house.

On this final morning in August, ten feet tall, the sunflowers in my garden bloom. I planted late, but the mighty faces have peeled back the leaves over their gold faces, opening up to the sun. Their roots, thick as fierce fingers, dig into the sandy soil.

Who we are cannot be separated from where we’re from.

— Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success


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