15 minutes with Tim!
How do you possibly pass through San Francisco without stopping on a gorgeous Friday in October? You can't, if you're an out-of-towner from Texas. If you talk yourself into spending just 1 hour in this glorious city, how do you limit yourself? You pay a 1-hour meter on Market Street and imagine the annoyance of fines and towing. And then how do you spend that precious hour? You spend 1 quarter of that time with a stranger named Tim.
One hour in the meter!
It was 11 a.m. when my husband found an open space. We paid the meter and raced across Market towards the bustling area in front of the Ferry Building. We assumed the perfect weather had drawn crowds, but then noticed tents...then posters and a few chanting voices.
It was Occupy San Francisco! We had expected to see some street vendors and maybe some musicians in the area, but never thought we would be spending an hour in San Francisco experiencing the movement we had only seen on TV up to this point.
"Have you heard about the Occupy movement?"
Those were the words Tim approached us with. Don and I are usually pretty open to this kind of conversing, but I could hear my watch ticking. I had a camera and I didn't want to waste too much time chatting. But here was this articulate, young man approaching us with a welcoming smile. Even though he possibly needed money, he made it clear that he was not looking for any, he was just out there supporting the movement by talking with people. In our 15 minutes of chatting we learned of Tim's personal frustration with the healthcare system when he was the victim of a hit and run incident...and learned just how helpless the poor can be. But not once was there a flavor of negativity in Tim's voice. Unlike angry protesters shown on TV, he showed a great deal of hope, assuring us that both sides would come together to work towards reform. He spoke about the police he'd spoken with over the past few days. He knew how difficult their job was dealing with these crowds. A few days earlier he said he had been reminded that everyone involved in this movement is human... when he watched a policeman tear up during a moving speech.
Tim headed off to talk to others...
And Don and I walked over to the water and soaked up a few heavenly moments... before grabbing sandwiches from a food cart to eat in the car.
You made me aware of how many different kinds of people are in involved in making change happen. There are angry people and frustrated people. Thoughtful people and hopeful people, like you. I'll think back to this movement in future years and remember how Don and I chatted with you on a beautiful October morning. I already wonder what you're up to now. I imagine you'll do good things in the future with your positive attitude.
It was the baby who caught my eye!
My First trip to Paris!
I had been wishing on birthday candles since I was 5 and I finally got to go to Paris in the Spring of 1999. However, I was tagging along on my husband's business trip, so I did a lot of wandering alone.
I was a little intimidated...
... about snapping a photo, when I spotted this serious nanny pushing a ritzy pram across the bridge. That's considered rude anywhere, especially in France.
But when I passed this sweet baby in her striped hat and sweater, I couldn't help myself. I paused and managed to express my delight with what few words I knew in French.
To my surprise, the Nanny was as eager to share this darling child, as any typical proud parent. With my non-digital camera I snapped only one shot, which captured the baby's giddy laugh. If only I snapped one more, I could have captured the Nanny's grin when she looked up at me, acknowledging how perfectly the baby laughed when the camera clicked.
So, thank you Nanny!
It was the baby I had first focused on, but you are the one who impressed me. You made my first encounter with a French person, relaxed and comfortable. You didn't roll your eyes or frown like the cartoon images some Americans still have of the French. You gave me a good snapshot memory of a kind stranger from a foreign land.
This stranger became a friend.
Freeman is on the top of my list of strangers. (Actually this list is 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 some fellow college students in a small town cafe in the Missouri Ozarks. We struck up a conversation and he bragged about his cattle and 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!
Never acted 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 that when Freeman 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 earlier. And 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.
We both grew older
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 remember Freeman, 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