Fade to Gray: The Stones

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - John Gray John Gray is a news an­chor on WXXA-Fox TV 23 and ABC’S WTEN News Chan­nel 10. His col­umn is pub­lished ev­ery Wed­nes­day. Email him at [email protected]

It was a weekly rit­ual Alice thought no one even no­ticed – Wed­nes­day morn­ing Mass at her local church and then a cup of tea at the diner across the street. She liked it there be­cause it was never crowded and her fa­vorite cor­ner booth was of­ten empty. The bill was al­ways the same, too – $1.30 – to which she’d leave an even three bucks, more than cov­er­ing the tip. And there was some­thing else she did, not al­ways, but of­ten enough that a young wait­ress no­ticed.

To­day, just a few days be­fore Christ­mas, the pretty girl with the tray and apron worked up the courage to ask, “Ma’am, I don’t mean to in­trude, but you’ve been com­ing here for al­most a year now and I just have to, I mean ... well, I’m won­der­ing about the stones.”

Some­times when she thought no one was look­ing, Alice would reach into her pock­ets and take out sev­eral small, smooth stones; most no big­ger than a sil­ver dol­lar. One was white as a snowflake, two black, an­other grey and the last one the color of rust. Five stones that she’d rub in her hands as she looked out the win­dow at the busy world and then line up in front of her as she sipped the lemon tea. The wait­ress won­dered if this sweet woman who sat alone might be half mad, but was re­lieved when she smiled warmly and of­fered her a seat and a story she’d not soon for­get.

“My life is won­der­ful now, blessed you might say,” Alice told the wait­ress. “But it wasn’t al­ways this way. The road here has been hard and each of these stones rep­re­sents those rough patches. This first black stone is from 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 home­work; things he didn’t have time for be­fore. It changed him in a good way. He, of course, got an­other job, but he al­ways made 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 scare I had a few years ago. I, too, had lost sight of my pri­or­i­ties. But hear­ing from a doc­tor that you might not be here in a year has a way of shak­ing you awake to what mat­ters. I’ll never for­get that.”

“This grey stone is from be­fore you were born. On Oct. 4, 1987, a freak snow­storm knocked out power for 11 days and forced us to pull to­gether in ways we never did be­fore. With­out TV we played Scrabble by can­dle­light most nights and talked for hours. Be­lieve me, we were happy to get the lights back on, but I’ll trea­sure that time as a fam­ily al­ways.”

“The white stone is for my grand­daugh­ter born last year, seven weeks pre­ma­ture. It was touch and go for a while, but those nurses and doc­tors never left her side and she’s happy and healthy; my per­fect lit­tle an­gel now. “

She reached for the wait­ress’s hand.” And this last stone is from a neigh­bor of mine. That year I was deal­ing with health prob­lems, we’d fallen be­hind on the yard work and, with­out any­one ask­ing, the man across the street showed up with his teenage son and raked our yard. Some­where un­der the leaves they found this stone and he left it in the mail­box for me. I thought it looked like a heart, so I kept it to re­mind me of his friend­ship.” She looked into the wait­resses eyes, squeezed her hand and fin­ished. “Hard 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 go to grab some­one’s or­der. When she re­turned to the cor­ner booth to thank the old woman for shar­ing her story she was gone. Just an empty tea cup, three dol­lar bills folded in half and small rust-col­ored stone hold­ing the money in place. She put it in her pocket and smiled. It was the nicest gift she’d ever re­ceived.

As we cel­e­brate this sea­son of giv­ing, each year I share this tiny fa­ble as my gift and urge you to reach into your own life and close your fingers tightly around those pre­cious stones and mem­o­ries that sus­tain and heal.

It’s been a tough year for many — lost fam­ily, jobs, homes. Just re­mem­ber storms pass, ice thaws and, in the end, love wins. The man whose birthday we cel­e­brate on Wed­nes­day is a tes­ta­ment to that. Merry Christ­mas.

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