I was in Northampton this weekend, just taking some time off to introduce the little Western Massachusetts enclave to a native of the Boston area. It wasn’t too early in the morning, so we decided to grab some brunch at one of the slowly opening restaurants. However,despite our agreed upon plans, the weather presented itself as being as stubborn as a sobbing baby to a teet.The air was flat, not dry, but overwhelmingly humid–we both resented wearing jeans that morning.
While waiting at a red light, we happened upon an elderly woman pushing a carriage of empty recyclables and corrugated boxes across the street to our right. It wasn’t odd for either of us to see a homeless person; me being from NYC, and she from Cambridge, but what caught us in arrears; especially while regarding this 60+ year old woman shuffling, under cart, down the densely populated sidewalk was what she did once she crossed the street.
“AAAAAHHHMMAAAHGAAAWWD”, the old woman shrieked “IIILAAWWSTMAAAHWAALLETT….AAGGAAIIN!!”
“Oh my God, I lost my wallet….again.”
What is immediately insincere about this sight isn’t the haggardly dressed old woman or the questionable whereabouts of her missing wallet( or faculties), but the sea of passer-bys who disregard both her wail and presence. Man, woman or child seemed gyved to an unspoken rule: no eye contact, keep yourself rigid, don’t respond, don’t show sympathy.
It was as if she didn’t exist: old woman and wallet.
My friend and I discuss whether the woman is mad, perhaps a known ne’er-do-well with a townie reputation for both collecting recyclables and “losing her wallet”, which explained why pedestrians sully on by her without a turn of their heads or consideration.
But that day, as the light turned green and I motored onto destinations far from wallets, old woman, and mannequin faces, I’m left with the feeling that Northampton, renown in part for it’s fealty toward diversity, culture and care, has failed that old woman. The Hampshire Country hub becoming that which it finds revolting in the larger cities across the state: uncaring eyes and hearts toward the downtrodden.
It’s not a comforting thought to consider, even now, but despite her present condition, that old woman was or possibly is still someone’s daughter, sibling, or grandchild at a time.