Monday night while riding the Gold Line home from work, I decided to crack open a starter box of the old collectible card game, Galactic Empires, which I had happened upon through a fortuitous encounter at work. As I was shuffling through the near-decades old cards, engulfed in the crappy yet nostalgic artwork, a very elderly woman to my left with many wrinkles, a walker, and a hunched back asked a question, “Are those space ships or frog cards?”
Now, being in Los Angeles you never know what to expect (see my previous post), but I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt. “They’re space ships,” I answered. “Oh, because they look like frogs,” the old woman said. There were lobster and amphibious looking creatures on the cards, so she was probably seeing those. She continued, “You know, what happened to the frogs these days? They’re all going away. They’re just disappearing.”
I said something non-committal in my reply, still not sure what angle this woman was coming from, and she carried on to talk about frogs and how she paints them, and that she’s quite good at it too. I maintained eye contact, not wanting to be rude as it became clear this woman wasn’t crazy but just looking for someone to talk to. Looking at cards or reading some comics on the way home was far less important than donating 18 minutes of my time to an elderly person who needed an ear.
“They brought the fire brigade down my street this morning in Little Tokyo, so I had to flee to Pasadena for the day.” She imitated siren sounds then threw her hand away.
“Why are you going home now?” I asked.
“It’s getting dark out. You don’t want to walk around downtown at night all by yourself.”
Somehow the conversation shifted to family, and she mentioned that her daughter passed away four years ago at the age of 50. Even though she couldn’t swim, she was in the Navy for a while, and then moved on to other careers. She was a very smart girl, despite being born with defects, which prompted the father to split town while she was still an infant, leaving her mother to raise her all by herself. Having a daughter of my own, I can only imagine how difficult that must have been.
“She taught me everything I know,” she said.
“How did she pass away? Sorry if that’s too personal.”
“Oh no, not at all! She said it was her time to go right before she went. She had cancer. If something is bothering you, have it looked at. That’s what happened to her. She got it looked at too late, and now she’s gone. If she had done it earlier, she’d still be here today.”
Words to live by. By this time the train was approaching Union Station and it was time for me to depart.
“Well, it was nice meeting you. Keep trying to find out about those frogs,” I said.
“Oh, I will. You know, when I was a little girl I could find tadpoles everywhere. Now? Not so much. They’re just disappearing and nobody seems to care.”
“My name is Andy.”
“Mary. You take care now and have fun with whatever it is those are.”
“Oh, these?” I said, referencing the cards, “They’re just silly things. Nothing important.”
“Oh, no! They’re important to you! You enjoy them.”
“I will. And you keep painting, Mary!”
“I will! I’ll be famous one day. I’m not yet, but people tell me they love my paintings and I make a lot of them. Nobody knows my name yet, but they will.”
I then handed her the deck of Galactic Empires cards, which she graciously accepted. I gave her one last smile which she returned, and headed for the Red Line back to Hollywood. While I may have never seen her work, and will most likely never see her again, I will never forget 82 year old Mary and her sunny disposition.
…now that I think about it, what did happen to all the frogs?