Southern Gentleman

This week I was reminded about how much I enjoy simply listening to other people’s stories. Sometimes I get so distracted by keeping up with the “hurried” pace of working hard and accomplishing tasks that I forget to let go of myself and simply listen. Well yesterday, I let go for simply twenty minutes and I heard a great story.

It was commodities day, which is a really busy day for the pantry and thus the store also. It was hot, in the 80s. I had just come back from lunch break, taking in 30 minutes of sunlight, and she was sitting in the comfy blue chair next to the register [the one that literally everyone has tried to buy at one point or another]. I was ready to get back to work, pricing items and checking people out. And she was just sitting there, waiting.

I hate pulling a Martha, when I can be a Mary, but I wanted to make quota and that meant pricing as many goods as I could get on the floor. I visited between items, as not to be rude. She was keeping cool out of the heat, number 38, and the waiting room was out of seats, so she waited with me. At first, pompous ol’ me was frustrated by her. As many of the folks are on commodities day, she simply wanted to get her food and get home. She didn’t want to wait for the 37 to be called before her. I kept thinking, “Be thankful. It’s a blessing,” and of course, when the moment was right, tried to steer her and the other customers into the positive thinking and gratitude realm of thought. Of course they were all thankful. They just didn’t like waiting. As a matter of fact, I don’t like waiting either.

After long enough, I got the inkling to ask her a question, “Do you like living in the town you live in, and are you originally from there?” She responded with she did enjoy it. It’s her home. But I was surprised to learn, being an army wife, she had lived in many different states around the US. [Most folks from the county where I work are lifers – Kentuckians for life – with maybe a stint in Ohio or Indiana.] She mentioned New Mexico, Florida and Ohio as other areas of residences, but Kentucky was definitely home and her favorite place to be.

“Did you learn how to cook anything differently? Especially living in New Mexico, which must be a much different palate than Kentuckians?” I asked. She had been talking about what she was going to eat when she returned home that day, which included the possibility of fajitas… It got me curious. I learned that it wasn’t necessarily the foods from the state she lived in, but the people that lived close by. Spaghetti from the Italian lady next door, was one of the dishes she mastered. “You meet people from all over while living with the military,” she mentioned. This included the interesting English [that’s England folks] tradition of having a slice of cheddar cheese with apple pie. She said she got used to it, and as much as I love apple pie and cheese, I’m still not sure the two should be eaten together…

My favorite question to ask is, “How did you and your husband meet?” “Well, originally,” she started out, “He was dating my sister.” I laughed, naturally. “I wasn’t in to him at the time. He was like family, but I only ever saw him as my sister’s friend.” “So what happened?” I asked. She told me how her sister and him broke it off, as it simply wasn’t meant to be for them. He went off to serve, and in the meantime she grew up. When he returned from serving, he stopped by to see her family. While he was there, she knew he was the one she wanted. “And then a year after, we got married.”

I always get curious at these points. Like how did they get together? What did her sister think? Did he ask her out, or did she tell him? #confused

So I asked, “How did it all happen? Did you ask him out?” She told me that she told her sister that she liked him, but her sister thought he was too old for her. “I was 17, and he was 5 years older than me. She didn’t tell him for awhile.”

“He asked my father’s permission before he asked me out,” she said in a tone that made it sound like she thought it ridiculous. “He also asked his permission before he proposed. He asked my father, BEFORE he even asked me!” “Aww but that’s a good thing!” I said, my heart warmed at the idea. “YES. He was a gentleman, that’s for sure,” she stated firmly. [hint: this is the good part] “He always opened the door for me, every single time. For my daughters too, or our sons did for them.” “That’s amazing! And so rare these days! How long were you married?” “35 years. He had Leukemia for 14 years. It weakened his immune system, and spread to his liver. Actually, on our last trip to the hospital, he looked at me, all teary-eyed and said, ‘I can’t open the door for you this time.’ He was heart-broken over it.”

Her eyes were tearing up, and I had chills. It was at this moment that I knew her story needed to be told. It reminded me of a movie or a heartfelt country song. So deep, so perfect, but real life. A story I was blessed to hear because I took a moment to stop, ask questions and listen.

She then asked me to share my story. At first I was like, “Well I don’t have much of one yet, I’m only 27.”  Which isn’t completely true. I’ve lived a very full life thus far. It just seemed that in that moment, it didn’t matter – all the places I’ve been to, or jobs I’ve worked, or degree I earned… What I resorted to is the only that I think matters in this life on earth [besides the obvious of Jesus and sharing His love]- the people we get to love. “My father passed away when I was 3 to Leukemia.” This is when she shared that it was Leukemia that took her husband from her. “But my mom was great, raising my brother and myself. And I was really lucky to have all my grandparents close by. God blessed me with an amazing relationship with all of my grandparents.” 

As we were parting ways, she asked if I was married yet. “No, I haven’t met the right one yet.” I knew I could say it that way, because the way she talked about her husband. Married 35 years and “I never looked at another while we were married, and I haven’t looked at another since.” “The dream,”  I told her. “He was,” she said. She smiled as she said, “Well I hope you do. It’s worth it when you meet the right one.” She said it like she meant it, like she really hoped I would meet him soon. And I really hoped it too.