Sam and Betty

At the University, there is a ledge
really no more than a misplaced
form when the concrete was poured.
Birds have perched and deposited.
Leaf litter has fallen, off the roof,
and now there is a tree growing
in this unlikely place, a natural bonsai,
beautiful in its tenacious hold
blown and shaped by wind, sun, exposure,
Fed only by what is left behind
or quietly taken from abundance
and now its shade throws
a sundial—it’s quarter past
the third bolt hole. And if you
look carefully, you see the concrete
is not so weathered in its shade.

Sam Lachterman and Betty Wynn were siblings who hung around the University of Washington at St. Louis for decades. They lived out of their car, lived on the cheese and crackers at receptions, and maybe slept in a student lounge. They spent money only on bus passes to get to and from campus. A bit eccentric, but they cut out all the keeping up with the Jones and society’s expectations to do just what they wanted: listen to and contribute to the intellectual life at the University. Not the choice I’d make, but as someone said in our writing group where their story was recently the writing prompt, “They lived outside the bars and loosened the bars we live behind.” I’m trimming my life so I can do what I want. And I remember their example as I toss activities that are interesting and beside the point.

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