When I met Julia, I wasn't shopping. I was walking to an area of antique shops and I paused to snap a cell phone shot of this iconic Malt-N-Burger Drive In.
I was standing on the sidewalk taking my (very poor) photo across Highway 90 when I heard a chuckle behind me. Juila was putting out a display of merchandise to attract shoppers. She was curious about why I was taking a photo of the burger place and we began talking...for 25 minutes!
Julia liked it that I was curious about the community of Rosenberg and what it was like years ago. She said she grew up on a farm in nearby Needville and remembered coming to Rosenberg for family outings. She told me about a café called Roses that had the best burgers. "6 for a dollar and the best malts!" She was happy to know I had actually eaten at Malt-N-Burger once. But now that I'm in the know, I'll order chicken fried steak, next time! Then she talked about shopping around the corner at the best store for western wear. And how disappointed she was when they removed the old gas pumps from the station across the street.
She remembered going to the old Cole Theatre around the corner for 25 cents. The theatre had separate entrances and concessions for black and white guests. "I remember when I was little, the blacks had to sit up in the balcony." That memory seemed to take her back to her life growing up on the farm when the workers in the fields were African American. "I was the water girl!" She shared almost proudly. I'm not sure how often or how much water she carried to the workmen, but she seemed to recall the job favorably. She laughed about how sometimes she would get teased. "They would pull my braids! They thought I was Mexican." She told me proudly she was Indian. There was so much I wanted to ask, but there wasn't a moment to get a word in.
She talked about her daddy and how she was his favorite. And then she shared a sad story of how her father was killed as a result of rushing to help when a small plane crashed on the farm back in the '60's. "It was all over the news." The pilot and his pregnant woman couldn't be saved and her father died weeks later as a result of inhaling the fumes.
Our conversation was interrupted when the mailman arrived. "Sorry!" Julia apologized to the mailman as he headed inside. "You aren't going to get much cooling relief today. I just turned on the air-conditioner." I smiled to myself, wondering how many stories the mailman had heard. After he left, Julia turned her focus back to fixing up the display of used purses and shoes. She chuckled about how she liked to make it nice, so the sale items just spoke out to potential customers walking by. "You know you want to take me home!" She laughed as she did the voice for a flower vase. I asked if I could take her photo and she smiled, "Help yourself!"
Thanks, Julia. We stood their dripping in the humid morning sun, chatting beside the not so attractive highway, but it felt like we were two characters in small town Mayberry, just gossiping the day away. You were a delight as you recalled your favorite diners and shops and people. You didn't whine about how it used to be, you smiled with your memories and set up your display of goods with such pride. You reminded me that it's possible to enjoy the moment, even when the weather's not ideal and the scenery is far from perfect.
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