A moment with Margaret

In  the midst of the Christmas shopping frenzy I met an old woman in a wheelchair and she called out to me in barely legible words that she was selling a book for $2 a copy.

“It’s a book of my poetry,’’ she says as I momentarily stop.

Her left hand is wrapped in a sock and lies limp in her lap with two cigarette packets, one crumpled and empty, the other recently opened.

“I’ve had a stroke and lost the use of my left side,’’ she says, guessing my question.

But, I simply say “Merry Christmas’’ and walk onward to the chemist to pick up a prescription. But I stop in my tracks in the store and ask myself.  “What am I doing? I can surely spend $2 to make an old lady happy at Christmas’’.

So I turn round, walk out the store and stride back towards the wheelchair slowly moving down the main one-way street at Victor Harbour.

Catching up, I ask her “What’s your name?’’ .

“Margaret,’’ she replies and thrusts a booklet towards me.

“I’m selling my book for $2 and it’s all my own poetry.’’

And, sensing a sale, she rattles off in her croaky whisper “What’s all this about the Crows?

I just don’t understand.

There they are with pretty clothes

And biceps Oh! So grand.’’

Three verses long she recites before launching into yet another poem.

My head is full of questions: How old is she? “80 years old” Where do you live?

“In the Nursing Home over there.’’

Surely she is like a difficult teenager, slipping out when grounded.

“Do they know you are here out on the street selling your book?’’

“They can’t stop me,’’ she retorts.

Sensing my curiosity, she launches into another piece.

“Australia has been my land for years of that there is no doubt.

Their conversation is politics, football and cricket, too.

She’s proud of her koala, platypus and kangaroo…’’

But there’s one thing that fazes her –a team called “All Black’’.

“Wow! That’s great’’,  I say, and she smiles.

“I have been writing poetry since I was a little girl,’’ she says softly.

“They took my work and someone from head office got it all typed up.’’

And I cannot help myself as this retired journalist takes over.

“Do you have any children?’’ I enquire.

“No, I have never married,’’ she replies.

“I just love to write poetry, but I have been a secretary and a typist.’’

I think of my long gift list for my husband, my adult children, their spouses, the grand-children,  and they are the blessings of my full life. My heart goes out to Margaret – all alone on the street in Victor Harbour.  Her poetry, her expression of self is all she has left and she is so proud of  her gift.

“Well, I would love to have a copy.’’

So, we do business and I take the simple black and white booklet entitled “Always Bright’’ Recent poems by Margaret Mitchell.

It’s evening now and I am reading her poetry gems on quitting smoking, on cheating, about Horace, a wild wattle bird, and of a broken heart. Then, I catch my breath at the last ditty: It is named Tyson, my son’s name and its about her long gone dog.

So many chapters of her life are captured in her clever words, such as One is “Ten Small Steps’’ which she wrote rhythmically on October 14, 2004. “They said I’d never walk again, All I could do was pray.

“But Annaliese, Roger and Linda were there To help me on my way. I walked those steps, those precious steps, I walked ten steps today.’’

However, her poem Selling Books, reflects Margaret’s amazing zest for life as an 80-year-old out there plying her creative work.

“Selling books is quite a job,

In fact it bleeds me dry.

My intention is to rob

But never, never lie.

I have a book worth twice as much

As my asking price.

Its full of laughter, smiles and such

And makes you feel so nice.

O come and buy, come and buy, It’s really worth your while.

I’m out to make you happy,

I’m out to make you smile.’’

And I wonder at Margaret’s lyrical wit and her clever turn of phrase, which does make me laugh and smile and feel happy that I bothered to stop and buy “Always Bright’’.

Margaret, I suspect, will never feel old and my Christmas is richer for having spent a moment with her.

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