Almost every morning after dropping my son off at school, I round a corner to spy a child — I’m going to guess a fifth-grader — waiting on the corner with an older woman. The child is black, the woman white. She looks upon the girl, who is taller than she, with the loving air of a grandmother, that is, indulgence tempered by exhaustion.
The child is always in motion. She dances. She skips. She talks with animation, hands darting through the air, eyes wide, face filled with light. The unabashed way in which she begins her day, her evident pleasure, never ceases to make me smile. It is as though the spirit of optimism has taken human shape, and it frolics on the corner of a Richmond city block, waiting for the ride that will carry it into the unfolding of another day of wonders.
I see in this scene, this moment, a story that reveals a glimpse of Richmond’s heart. I saw the same in the Japanese immigrant whose daily walks make him a West End fixture, in the Mexican immigrant who fell in love with the Constitution,and in the Sudanese refugee who works in the chicken plant, the backbreaking work by which he is shaping his family’s future as Americans. I saw it, most recently, in the eight men who together are traveling a path toward sobriety.
"I wrote something like 55 Sunday Stories," says Tina Griego in her last Sunday Story before she moves to Colorado with her family. "Each brought me in contact with people who regularly restored my faith in humanity, who displayed tenacity, resilience, creativity, generosity and great humor." (Photos taken by Tina Griego and Jay Paul)
Richmond brims with stories, and, for the last year, I have been privileged to tell some of them in the Sunday Story. This will be my last. The Sunday Story will continue, and you are in for a treat because it will be rotated among four talented writers — our executive editor, Tina Eshleman, our online editor, soon-to-be arts-and-entertainment editor, Samantha Willis, and joining them, award-winning veteran Richmond journalists Melissa Sinclair and Bonnie Newman Davis.
As for me, my family and I are returning to Colorado. A job awaits my husband. My siblings and an empire of aunties, uncles and cousins await me. I am too far from them. In the four years we have lived here, I have come to, if not love Richmond, then to revel in it. I said in the first Sunday Story last July that I had never lived in a place where the past is so persistently present. I have never witnessed so plainly the devastating modern consequences of historic policies that quarantined the poor and black. Neither have I lived in a place so abundant in natural and architectural splendor. I will miss the cobblestoned alleys and the dogwood trees. I will miss the wide, rocky tumble of the James through the city, and the view from Libby Hill. I will miss walking through the Museum District when the late afternoon sun gilds the rooftops.
In this old city, in its restlessness and ache and contrariness, there exists something of an adolescent ever torn between rebellion and conformity, aspiration and cynicism. For all its financial lack, for the rooted shortsightedness that hampers regional consensus and action, this is a city pulsing with potential. So much of that lies in its inhabitants.
I wrote something like 55 Sunday Stories. Each brought me in contact with people who regularly restored my faith in humanity, who displayed tenacity, resilience, creativity, generosity and great humor. Thank you for telling my story, they would tell me, when it is I who should thank them. It is no small thing to trust your story to a stranger who, in turn, will tell it to others. And, yet, week after week people did, and in doing so deepened the understanding of what Richmond is and who Richmond is in this time.
So, I thank Takeshi Imajo, the walking man, Sgt. Carol Adams, the survivor of domestic violence who has become a champion of fellow survivors, Mercedes Hanks, the John Marshall High School valedictorian who has just finished her second year at James Madison University and has pronounced it, “the BEST year in my ENTIRE life!!!!!” I thank Don Robelen, who shared his grief with me in the Lewis Ginter garden dedicated to the memory of his wife, Dot, and Jean McDaniel, builder of fairy villages and mother to geese Buffy and Binky. So many more inspired me, and I am grateful to all. Thank you, too, readers for the time you spent reading Sunday Story and the notes you sent.
On Thursday morning, after I dropped off my son, I turned the corner to again spot the woman and child. The girl was bouncing on her tiptoes. I was tempted to stop this time and introduce myself, to tell the child how she blesses my day. But, in the end, I just waved as I passed.
The child will remain for me a memory, an expression of optimism and abandon and potential, a coming-up girl in a coming-up city.