Letters To My Mother
Letters To My Mother Podcast
From the Archives of The Kitchens Garden.

From the Archives of The Kitchens Garden.

The Still Man. An encounter with a man with no home on the streets of Chicago.

 Hello. This is Cecilia from The Kitchens Garden

I am working on a story for you. It is taking me longer than I thought.  The heart of the story has not revealed itself to me yet - though I know it is there, I can see it beating. For me writing short stories is all about taking words out but before I can take them out I have to put them in and (I am shaking my head here) some stories make me work for them. 

Do you find that? When you are writing? It is as though you have to bide your time until the chess board is primed and then you write and write until your hands cannot do it anymore.  But until that moment your head feels as empty as a nut shell. 

But I did want to read for you this weekend. So I went into the archives to bring you a story I wrote a long time ago. In December of 2011 actually. 

Going forward to cut down on the number of emails I send out to you I am going to include the text of the stories with the recording. That way you can choose to read or listen all from the same email. 

June has arrived here out on the prairies and with June has come the heat. I always worry about our homeless families in the heat. Those hot rising footpaths and no water fountains on the Chicago streets. All of us hot and bothered and rushing past to try to get to where we are going without looking hot and bothered.  

So here is my story from 2011. Written in the winter of 2011.  Read to you in the summer of 2023. Today I am reading from my studio in the garden on the farmy. 

The Still Man.

"I'll get a box and we'll take it with us," he said. "It will taste better after a few drinks." My two adult sons laughed with each other.

We had been at a pizza joint in the Loop in Chicago. We had taken the train up from the farm for a couple of nights in the big city. We were looking forward to jazz, history, and a little bit of adventure.

I was still relatively new to America and I had two of my sons visiting with me. One had come down from Canada and the other had come over from New Zealand, where we are all from.

So we went to a famous deep dish pizza place. But we could not eat all the pizza, we had ordered way too much and it really wasn't as tasty as we had expected. So we filled a box to the brim with the last of the pizza to take back to the hotel.

It was very cold that winter evening. Dark. Snowing. I was wearing my big coat, leather gloves, a thick cuddly scarf, and a hat. My high boots thick socks. and jeans. Everything was warm except my face.

We walked along in the lazy fashion that families often have. Together, with confident loose strings. I carried the weighty deep dish pizza with everything on it, like a waitress with a tray. My gloved hand was directly underneath the wide box. I could feel the heat of it. The streets were teeming with colorful people, christmas shopping. Lights flashed and cars sped past, honking. There was laughter on the streets as we wandered along. The jostle of packages, flicking of scarves, the huddle of collars. Soft snow was in the air and underfoot. My tall sons, who were men, walked ahead of me. I enjoyed watching them laugh together, shoving each other with their invisible language. Bright snow was gathering on their shoulders.

We turned another corner and proceeded down another road: more shops, more people, more movement. Things began to blur in their hurry, and the sounds lost their softness and became raucous. The boys were further ahead. I swapped hands, carrying my tray of pizza on my right hand now. It was getting heavy.

Ahead of me, I saw a still man. He stood. Still. This is the only word that comes to mind when I think of him, and I think of him often. Still. He stood straight, tall, anchored, and stared up and out across the street, his arms laid forgotten at his sides, loose. His hands were empty. He was waiting. I think he had been waiting on that corner for months, not years yet. He stood firmly on his feet in the cover of a closed doorway. He was not old, nor was he young. His strong head was bare in the cold, and as I got closer, I could see that he wore no socks. His shoes were scuffed and thin, once good. His hands were in gardening gloves. He wore a thin windbreaker. He was dressed in black, his skin as dark as his clothes, though as I got even closer, I saw that he had freckles, which struck me as incongruous. A homeless person on the street with no socks and freckles. Even closer now, I found his scent amongst the other street smells. He smelled like a beach, windy and salty.

As I walked past him, I found his eyes. They were clear eyes, dark, and reflective. His eyes were mirror sunglasses. He was not begging; he just looked back, stoic but not quite resigned. I raised my eyebrows slightly. He raised his eyebrows very slightly back. Without thought, I leaned in and touched his shoulder. His hands came up, and I tilted my body as I passed, and the box of hot pizza slid from my hands to his. It was a small movement, an effortless movement, a movement without thought. I saw my secret smile in his eyes as I moved past.

I never even broke my stride. The boys were further ahead now, and I needed to catch up. I increased my speed.

The tall black man heaved up out of his stillness and called out to me. "Hey Miss. Hey Miss! God Bless You, Miss! Thank you. Thank you! You are an angel Miss! Merry Christmas to you, God Bless you!" I looked over my shoulder. His face was shining and smiling and real suddenly. His face was a high-tide crashing wave of joy.

I wanted to run back to him and place my fingers over his mouth. "Hush now. No, no, it was nothing. Oh my god, it was nothing. Hush." I waved and walked a little further on.

"Thank you Miss! God bless you, Miss! Merry Christmas, Miss!" His voice was a stevedore's, a deep bell, a huge voice above the grim walkers, a rooftop voice. I moved sideways further down the street to get out of the walking traffic.

Then I stopped and turned fully back to him, and he just demanded my voice in return, that still man, no longer still.

"Merry Christmas," I called back, across the ducked heads. I could not help but smile at this tall, suddenly bright man, my face hiding the shame. It had been too easy for me. It had been a mere flick of my wrist. I had not even thought about it. I didn't even want the pizza. "Hush now," I called. I felt my arrogance like a burn. This arrogant magnanimous gesture of leftover food. I put my fingers to my own lips. "Ssh. I am so sorry," I thought.

I was half a block away now. I should have run back to him. I should have sat on the ground and taken off my thick woolly socks and given them to him. The boys were calling to me now. I should have given him my big warm hat. All I gave him was a pizza that I did not even want. My sons had a taxi waiting. I should have stood and chatted with him for a while. "Thank you, Miss."

I looked back again and nodded to him. He nodded back.

"I do not deserve your thanks. I gave you nothing that mattered to me. I should have given you a garden, I should have found you a day's work. I should have discovered what you were waiting for." I bent to climb into the taxi, my son holding the door.

The Still Man stood holding his box of food but looking at me. Then the crowds closed, and he was gone.

"What happened to the pizza?" eldest son said, looking at my hands, as we settled gingerly into the back of the taxi that hurtled out into the traffic.

"I gave it away," I said.

"Oh, cool." Both boys who were men said in unison, then laughed at each other.

I think of him often, that beautiful black man with the freckles and no socks.

After that I baked cookies any time  I went up to the city. I gave them out to every homeless person I saw. Searching all this time for The Still Man.

Thank you so much for listening. And thank you so much for your support. This is Cecilia from The Kitchens Garden. I will be back next week with another story.

Take care,

Talk soon.

Letters To My Mother
Letters To My Mother Podcast
Cecilia from The Kitchens Garden reads about growing up in a Simpler Time.