Stranger, Then Friend
Freeman is on the top of my list of strangers, even though he wasn't a stranger for long.
This list is really about people I have met and never seen again. But I have to make an exception, here.
My encounter with Freeman in 1977 is an example of how you can strike up a conversation with someone you don't know and it can turn into a friendship...even when that someone is 4 times as old as you!
Freeman at Home
I met Freeman when I was with fellow college students, in a small-town cafe in the Missouri Ozarks. We struck up a conversation and he bragged about his cattle. Next thing you know, I was milking one of his cows. (An accomplishment that had been on my bucket list!)
After that initial visit to Freeman's farm I visited him many times. He always whipped up noon "dinner" on his 585-pound wood burning stove. Spinach, okra and poke greens from his garden...biscuits with homemade jellies and freshly churned butter...and cow's milk!
Acting His Age?
Freeman was 79 and I was 19, when we met. I wasn't used to having much in common with someone of another generation. But I observed and I was in awe of what a man his age could accomplish. What was even more surprising to me, was how Freeman spoke, when he got past his funny stories and began to reflect on the past. I felt like I was talking to a peer. He talked about the strength of his wife who had died years before. He spoke about the ability of women to change the world. He pondered about religion and how people abused it. It was honestly the first time I respected an older person as a human being, not just as an elder.
Freeman and I wrote letters till he died, in his 90's. Sometimes he wrapped up okra or berries or even butter and mailed it to me in St. Louis.
When I married, he sent a wedding gift. It was a quilt, made by women of his town, made from the cotton material of flour sacks.
Years later, I returned one last time to Eminence with my two year old daughter, Heidi. Freeman was moving a little slower and he had replaced his straw hat with a trucker's hat. He drove us out in his truck to see his cattle, but he didn't bother to get out this time. He just hollered from his window, "HOOOOWEEE!"
I think about Freeman so often, especially when I see cows. I can almost hear that high pitched old voice, hollering out to his cattle!
You weren't a stranger for long. You changed my view of "older people." I will add a new "Stranger Memory" to my list each week, but none will be quite like you. Like the others, though...I will sadly never see you again.
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers