Fade to Grey: Stones – Saratogian

It was a weekly ritual that Alice thought no one even noticed – Wednesday morning mass at her local church, then a cup of tea at the restaurant across the street.

She liked it there because it was never crowded and her favorite corner booth was often empty. The bill was still the same too – $1.30 – which she even left three dollars on, more than to cover the tip. And there was something else she did, not always, but often enough for a young waitress to notice.

Today, just days away from Christmas, the pretty girl in the tray and apron got up the courage to ask: ‘Madam, I don’t want to bother you, but you’ve been coming here for almost a year now and I just have to do it , I mean…well, I’m wondering about the stones.

Sometimes, when she thought no one was looking, Alice reached into her pockets and pulled out several small smooth stones; most no bigger than a silver dollar. One was white as a snowflake, two black, another gray and the last rust color. Five stones she rubbed in her hands looking out the window at the busy world, then lined up in front of her sipping the lemon tea.

The waitress wondered if this nice woman sitting alone wasn’t half mad but was relieved when she smiled warmly and offered her a seat and a story she wouldn’t soon forget.

“My life is wonderful now, blessed you will say,” Alice told the waitress. “But it wasn’t always like that. The road here has been difficult and each of these stones represents those difficult times. This first black stone dates back to the spring of 1980, when my husband Ben lost his job. It was hard not having his income, but for the first time Ben spent real quality time with our two children. For four months he cooked, cleaned, sat with them to do their homework; things he didn’t have time for before. It changed him for the better. He, of course, found another job, but he always found time for us after that and this stone reminds me of what a blessing losing his job was.

“This other black stone is for me, and a health issue I had a few years ago. I, too, had lost sight of my priorities. But hearing from a doctor that you may not be not there in a year has a way of waking you up to what matters. I’ll never forget it.

“This gray stone dates from before you were born. On October 4, 1987, a freak snowstorm knocked out the electricity for 11 days and forced us to stick together like we had never done before. Without a television, we played Scrabble by candlelight most nights and talked for hours. Believe me, we were happy to turn the lights back on, but I will always cherish this family time.

“The white stone is for my granddaughter who was born seven weeks premature last year. It was tricky for a while but those nurses and doctors never left her and she is happy and healthy, my perfect little angel now.”

She grabbed the waitress’s hand. And this last stone comes from one of my neighbors. That year I had health problems, we had fallen behind with gardening work and, without anyone asking, the man opposite showed up with his teenage son and raked our land. Somewhere under the leaves they found this stone and he left it for me in the mailbox. I thought it looked like a heart, so I kept it to remind me of his friendship.

She looked the waitresses in the eye, shook his hand, and finished. “Difficult times can be the best times. These stones remind me of that. They keep me on the path”.

A bell rang and the waitress excused herself to pick up someone’s order. When she returned to the corner stall to thank the old woman for sharing her story, she was gone. Just an empty teacup, three dollars folded in half, and a small heart-shaped rust-colored stone holding the money securely in place.

She put it in her pocket and smiled. It was the best gift she had ever received.

As we celebrate this season of giving, I once again share this little fable as my gift and urge you to step into your own life and close your fingers around those gems or memories that sustain and heal. Life is hard and often unfair. Just remember that the storms pass, the ice melts, and in the end, love wins.

The man whose birthday we are celebrating on Saturday is proof of that. Merry Christmas.

John Gray is a news anchor on WXXA-Fox TV 23 and ABC’S WTEN News Channel 10. His column is published every Sunday. Email him at johngray@fox23news.com.

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