Mrs. Berry

When I was 3 we moved from Lindsborg, Kansas, to the NW edge of Chicago. Working farms were within a mile of our house. Mrs. Berry lived across the dirt road and lived on what remained of her small farm. She had chickens, ducks and geese. As the roads were paved, more houses sprung up and the farm of my friend’s family, Brock, was sold to a developer that built Parkway Bank and high-rise apartments. Finally Mrs. Berry sold the last bit of land and next to her farm house and ramshackle sheds a brick house rose from the ground with a manicured lawn. The new kids believed that Mrs. Berry was a witch. She wore old-fashioned housedresses and her long gray hair tilted on her head in a disheveled bun. She seldom came out of her house that needed a paint job. Her curtains were closed and blinds drawn. Her yard, a thick tangle of bushes and trees, was dark and foreboding.

At first the name-calling seemed harmless. It became more menacing when Irene, a fiery red head, accused Mrs. Berry of killing her cat. She rabble roused and got a number of kids to terrorize Mrs. Berry by sneaking up to her front and back door, knocking and running. Stones were thrown at her windows. Kids stole her mail.

This felt wrong to me. I decided to go on a fact-finding mission. I knocked on Mrs. Berry’s old screen door with my heart pounding and my mouth dry from fear. Finally Mrs. Berry pulled the curtain aside to look at me and then opened her door. She wanted to know why I was there. I asked if she had killed Irene’s cat. She said, “No, I would never do such a thing.” I explained the situation to her and she replied, “You kids should know better. You shouldn’t be bothering an old woman.”

My fear subsided and my curiosity took control. “So if you don’t use that barrel full of dark water to drown cats, what do you use it for?” Mrs. Berry chuckled and said, “It is the best water to use for washing your hair. It makes it soft.” I asked her how old she was, but she didn’t think that was any of my business. Then I asked when her birthday was. She said in a couple of weeks.

When all the neighbor kids gathered to plan their next attack on Mrs. Berry, I declared that Mrs. Berry did not kill Irene’s cat. This made Irene furious, but somehow I prevailed and the harassment stopped.

For her birthday I dug up one of mother’s sedums. We called this plant the “Mother of Millions.” I put it in a pot and knocked on Mrs. Berry’s back door. She asked me what I wanted. I told her that I had brought her a birthday present. She opened the door and invited me in. I gave her the “Mother of Millions.” She had tears in her eyes and to avoid embarrassment poured us both a glass of lemonade. The joy of giving to Mrs. Berry registers with more potency than any gift ever given to me. May we all share our gifts in ways that create greater connection and joy.


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