Jessica

For Jessica Febus Caraballo – Happy Mother’s Day – your artwork as a child…time passes quickly, doesn’t it!
Barbara Pfeiffer's photo.
Barbara Pfeiffer

Jessica

Different worlds – one end of the block from the other.

At fifty years old I lived at 1701. Jessica, at eleven
years old, lived at 1731.
She came into my world at the end of our block
to do some artwork which I taped to my kitchen cabinet.

Twenty years later that picture she drew of a little girl,
with black hair, hands on hips, in front of a row house,
with a multi-leafed tree, is still there, although tattered.

Jessica, now thirty-one years old, is a middle school
science teacher in Baltimore, and she looks exactly the same
as when she was eleven.

I recognized her in a Zumba class in Cinnaminson.

I don’t know who lives in 1731 today but I reconnected
with the child who lived there twenty years ago. In between
Zumba dance pieces I said

“I know you, but from where?”

We traced our lives back twenty years and arrived
at the house numbers in Camden
on the same street at opposite ends of the block.

“I have a picture you created, pasted on a cabinet
in my kitchen.”

“I remember telling a boy not to bother the lady at
the end of the block and him telling me – ‘Hey,
she likes to do art projects with kids.'”

How amazing that we got together in a class given
by Viviana, a Zumba teacher in Camden
as well as in Cinnaminson.

“You look exactly the same,” I told Jessica.

“And I have a daughter who looks just like me!”

I’m a foster grandparent at an infant care center run
by Leap Academy (where Viviana teaches older students).
I wondered if twenty years from now it would be possible
to meet one of my toddlers grown up. I’d be really old
but still I’d recognize his face and say:

“I know you. When you were eighteen months old,
you built fantastic Lego castles.”

I’ve never had children or a traditional family
or even a neighborhood of my own. Growing up in
Manhattan, an only child of divorced parents,
traveling long distances between persons, places
and things my whole life, I’m comfortable with
a very large world being my family.

But I have found it is also a small world.

In 1967 I was a young college graduate teaching
English to college students at Sophia University
in Tokyo. Forty years later in 2007, I visited
Tokyo and reconnected with one of my students.

In my short life, I’ve experienced not being a
member of a particular tribe. I’ve experienced
the loneliness of not knowing who lives at the
other end of the block. I feel I’m part of an
abstract, spiritual, urban, global community.

Also I’ve experienced a small, wonderful world that
Louis Armstrong sang about. I believe in it.

I revel in the picture on my kitchen cabinet –
a photo copy of the original (now falling apart) –
because I want it to last another twenty years,
when I’ll be ninety and
Jessica’s granddaughter might be eleven.

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