the chicago wrapper connection

The way beauty burns. Lobster red, fired hands connected to slender wrists and a pencil-thin clerk at the trendy boutique downtown. She offers to wrap the present I’ve purchased, but I think I’m in a hurry. I hesitate and she double takes the last name on my debit card: Oh! Are you related to my sixth-grade teacher?

Which is something that happens frequently, me with my ex-husband’s German surname still on my credit cards.  No, I am not related to any with this name. Only to my children who bear his last name.  And therefore so do I.

I spare her my own story and offer his instead: “Well, this family escaped out of the Ukraine in 1941. If other family members made it over here, they haven’t found them yet.”

She pauses behind the cash register, looks skyward and closes her eyes. “She was the teacher no one wanted,” she offers in reply. She’s  a study, I decide. With her five decades of white locks, hippie-cowboy jeans and little-girl eyelet blouse, she is not of any generation. Not of any cutter, cookie or otherwise.

“Oh, I remember she loved puppies,” the clerk recalls, hoping her former and my former might be lost cousins. She takes me in with her wide eyes and fake lashes, searching for a connection.

“Let me think a bit while I wrap this gift. I do beautiful work if I’m not rushed.” And behind a curtain she slips.

Watches dangling from a wire display mock me with their time. Two o’clock. Two past two. Three past two. Five before two.  Six. I forget now—what does time mean, and why was I in a hurry?

There’s time to roll up the cuffs of my jeans and try on heels. And examine the insides of three purses. She pokes her head out of the curtained closet to tell me:  This teacher, I remember now— she loved geraniums.

The shea butter lotion on the shelf comes in four different sizes, ten different scents. I’m sampling Sun on my left wrist when she pops out again: This teacher loved the scent of cinnamon.

This teacher was actually the best teacher she had ever had.

“Forgive me,” she says as she exits the curtained wrap room, “for what I said about no one wanting this teacher. She was the one who made learning feel safe. Hers is the only name I remember from Chicago.”

Tender, this sales clerk. Entrancing, with the brutal hands of a boxer, a butcher, a rough-sea fisherman. She offeres me the tiny, delicately wrapped gift and spreads her hands beseechingly. And it is just like that—how beauty brands and sears: it’s the opposite of burn. On the receiving end of beseechment. . . I’ve become beseeched.


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

9 responses to “the chicago wrapper connection

  1. Kathleen Kirk

    Oh, this is beautiful. Thank you.

    • redmitten

      i wasn’t sure if i could convey what happened to me, encountering this lovely human. your comment helps me know you felt her too. thanks, kathleen.

  2. wuffda

    Really lovely. She so wanted a connection with that memory…she must have loved this teacher. She gave you giftwrap but you gave her the gift.

    • redmitten

      rox- you got what i was hoping would come through this. i love what you said about the giftwrap/gift. i had been in a hurry to leave- my daughter was with me and she had a shower to get to with her father. i meant to not say a word to the clerk so we could leave on time. but my gosh…how could a person walk away from this? as we were leaving the clerk asked if i wanted her to write down the information on how i could track this teacher down- maybe she is related to my ex, ya know? so she wrote “Miss Faber” on a slip 🙂 and the name of the school and the town near chicago where the school is. hey now- so close to chicago that you are….maybe you know this place…? 🙂

  3. kmerrifi

    Lovely + loving. You always manage toove me, Sherry.

    • redmitten

      karla- i keep working on expectations. and what helps me to not place expectations on the ones i love is an encounter like this. you wouldn’t expect such love here, and so here it is.

  4. Suburban Soliloquist

    She of slender wrists sounds like the kind of shopkeeper that might have coffee or wine set on an antique buffet for her patrons. But then, no one would ever want to leave. Isn’t is wonderful when the world conspires to slow you down? What magic happens! I, too, would have been intrigued (am intrigued!), would have stepped away from the clock, tried on every shoe and poked through every bag. Who cares the time!

    Lucky those working hands wielded a red hot iron–moments not to be forgotten. 🙂

    • redmitten

      jayne- so true. we need to be reminded to shift the focus from the purchase so we can dwell more on the process, the atmosphere. as a more practical matter, this is one reason i choose the little stores downtown rather than the boxes at the mall.

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