It was a lovely spring day at the end of March when the bluebonnets begin to emerge in the fields of Texas. Mike and I decided to take a drive to Brenham to see this year’s crop of wildflowers. Since we would be within minutes of Texas A&M University where our grandsons attend college we added a visit with them to the day’s schedule. It just knew that we were going to have a glorious time, and as predicted we were not disappointed. Carpets of red yellow and blue covered hillsides and strips of land along the roads that we traveled. We had not quite come at the most prolific time for the wildflowers, but what we saw sufficiently satisfied us. A stop for lunch at a quaint cafe, a visit to several shops, and a walk through the gardens of the Antique Rose Emporium filled out our adventure. Then it was time to head over to College Station to meet up with our grandsons Andrew and Jack, as well as Andrew’s girlfriend, Araceli.
As we drove along country roads we saw so many sights that made me wonder what the stories of the people who lived there might be. There were majestic farm houses and abandoned shacks, fertile fields and patches of land littered with junked cars. We saw neat mobile homes and those that appeared ready for an installment of “Hoarders.” My curiosity was in overdrive as I viewed poverty and neglect existing side by side with plenty. I wondered what makes the biggest difference in the tenor of a person’s life. I suspect that if we only knew exactly what causes such differences we might be able to one day eliminate them, but for now we struggle to know what to do to make life more secure and equitable.
We had some time to kill once we reached College Station which was alive with the kind of energy that Friday nights seem to engender in young people who have theoretically been studying all week. We decided to pass the time at a Starbuck’s near the apartment where one of our grandson’s lives. As we approached the establishment I noticed a shopping cart filled with sheets and blankets standing on the pavement as though it had been suddenly abandoned. Nobody made a move to investigate or move it. Passersby simply walked around it.
Inside the Starbuck’s a woman swathed in white sheets from head to toe sat alone at a table near the entrance. She was almost motionless as though she were deep in thought. The other customers of the coffeehouse seemed unaware of her presence. They read their books, typed on their laptops and conversed with one another as though there was nothing strange or out of place with the woman. I decided to follow their lead and attempted not to look in her direction too often or to stare in amazement, a bad habit that my curiosity causes me to to do more frequently than I should.
Mike and I ordered our drinks and sat down just across from the interesting soul who was holding court with herself. Her clothing was made entirely out of white sheets, including an elaborate headdress that seemed perfect for an exotic ceremony of some sort. She actually looked quite lovely and I was impressed with her creativity thinking that if I were to try to fashion such an outfit it would surely fall from my body. Her robes were secure and gave her an exotic air. Still I wondered how she was able to sit so placidly without a beverage or any sort of food and appear to be so content with herself, so relaxed. Surely she realized that to others she was an unusual sight, and her cart appeared to be an indication of a homeless situation.
The workers in the Starbuck’s did nothing to disturb her repose. I suspect that after the fiasco that ensured a while back at another Starbuck’s where a manager asked someone who was waiting for a friend to leave the employees were leery to make waves. Thus the interesting figure by the window simply sat trancelike and seemingly without much notice, save from me.
Eventually Jack met us at the Starbuck’s and we left for the restaurant to meet the rest of our party. As soon as we were in the car he noted that we had seen a kind of celebrity in the college community. For lack of a true name he called her “sheet lady.” He told us that she is often seen walking or resting all over the area. He wasn’t sure what her true situation was, but like me he marveled at her ingenuity and survival skills. Nonetheless we engaged in a discussion of the homeless and the problems that they face. He told us of a man who had recently harassed students as they walked to and from class who seemed to be in a kind of psychotic state. He pointed out that the lady on the other hand always appeared to be quite harmless, and so nobody felt uncomfortable around her other than to worry about her safety.
At dinner Andrew remarked that he had seen the lady walking with her cart miles away from the university. He told of a rumor that she was part of some religious group and there her behaviors were part of the rituals associated with the sect. Of course we all conjectured that she was most likely suffering from some form of mental illness. Sadly it appeared that she preferred her vagabond lifestyle to accepting charitable offers for housing with behavioral strings attached.
I still think of the lady in the window even as I sit in my home. I truly wonder what brought her to such a lifestyle and if there is some loved one searching for her. I’m glad that she has a safe place to sit and rest. I hope that when it rains or is cold someone offers her refuge for the night. She appeared to be quite content, but perhaps that was simply a facade. I’d like to know what musings pass through her mind, but then that is a private thing for me to know only if she wishes it to be so. Still I wonder, “Who is she really?”