“It’s going to rain today” we say to no one in particular, yet everyone within earshot at the hardware store adds their two cents. “Not till this afternoon” says a teenager staring at his phone. A man with overalls says, “I cranked the windows up in the truck just in case.” And a woman with a hand full of paint samples adds, “My flowerbeds need it.” Then . . . off we go. We all move on.
Newcomers are confused and later tell us they thought we “wanted something from them,” when we struck up a conversation about nothing in particular, but they eventually learned we’re only making polite conversation aimed at anyone and everyone within earshot.
Southerners are a package deal. Love one of us, and you’ll soon have an entire crowd of friends.
We talk to everyone, because we’ve been raised in tight-knit communities. Our way of life has always included the neighbors, the kids at school and co-workers. We know that conversation can be a team sport.
“I have that same blouse.” Said a woman who was passing me in a furniture store.
“J.Crew?” I asked.
“Yes.” She nodded.
“I just love it and get so many compliments when I wear it.”
Then, she added, “You look really cute in it.”
“I’m sure you do too.”
We both gave little laughs, and walked on in opposite directions, smiling at our new momentary friendship. We’d shared an entire conversation and found something in common, yet that was it. Done. Gone. Exited forever from each other’s lives. And yet, we both felt somehow nourished in a way only friends can make us feel.
We acknowledge each other as valuable humans, not just faceless strangers. We’ve grown up in smaller communities where we recognize most people, and even in larger cities, like Atlanta, we usually circulate within smaller neighborhoods like Druid Hills or Smyrna. Therefore, it feels natural to speak to one another, because odds are, we’re connected in some way.
The lady sitting next to us at the doctor’s office was probably in our dad’s graduating class, and I’m pretty sure the man holding the door open for me at the library is the cousin of one of my church friends. We assume we’re connected to everyone buying pumpkins at the roadside stand, so it’s okay to say, “These look so much better than last year’s crop.” And sure enough, everyone responds.
In butterfly moments as brief as a flutter and quick as a flap, we share concern. “Oh, you poor thing. I’ve had to wear a boot on my broken foot before,” We offer tips, “if you want the Royal Reds, hold on, they’re unloading the fresh ones in a minute.”
Our slow drawl in regular conversations is abbreviated for passing strangers.
“Have you ever put one in the microwave?” someone said over Felicity Jean’s shoulder. She was holding a box of moon pies, and curiously turned to see a face she didn’t recognize. “Just a few seconds is all it takes to puff them up — Mmm!.” Then, as quickly as he appeared, the moon pie connoisseur was gone.
Whether we’re friends forever or friendly for a moment, we’re all just trying to connect. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?
This story first appeared in Alabama Media Group newspapers.