Momentary Friends

September 25, 2021


“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.”

“Me too!” 

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.

  • Well said! Those momentary friendships sprinkle joy throughout ordinary days. Funny how kind comments from strangers mean so much.

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      They really do, don’t they? Thanks Jackie.

  • I’m so glad things around me are getting back to normal and we don’t seem so afraid to stop and talk to each other anymore. stop and talk y’all!

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      I totally agree. Life’s too short not to get out and live it (even with a few feet in between!)

  • I love this post Leslie Anne, and during Covid when we were all masked, it seemed like everyone shut down and would barely make eye contact, much less converse…in Birmingham mask wearing is on the rise and it’s starting to feel strange and lonely again…awful!

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Oh no! It seems to be relaxing elsewhere, so I hope everyone in Birmingham is okay! We need to see smiles soon.

  • Momentary friendships! You’ve helped me pinpoint something missing from my life during all the stay at home months. I grew up seeing my father strike up conversations with people we assumed he knew, only to find out he’d never before met them. As I read your words here I realized how much I’ve missed that. Even snips of conversation I had in decades past with strangers came back because they were so pleasant. And most of them were begun by some white haired Southern woman of a certain age who gave me a sweet compliment that left me smiling all day. Her kind really had a gift for that and now that I’ve caught up with them in age I do miss opportunities to pass it on. I’m going to look forward to more of your butterfly moments, Leslie Anne. Thank you!

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Such a good point to relate these conversations to the pandemic. You’re right, we do miss the “chit-chat” around here. Even if we do venture out, it’s difficult to exchange niceties with our mouths covered. The area where I live has relaxed greatly about the masks. We’re still careful, but at least now we can smile and shout hello to one another. Hang in there Dewena, your day is coming. Momentary friendships will return!

  • My daughters describe me as “never having met a stranger” but I like your descriptions of our little conversations much better! The need to connect is probably universal but we Southerners actually pursue those connections!

    And I am so trying the Moon Pie in the microwave tip!

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Thanks Leigh. The moon pie only needs a few seconds to “puff” but it turns it into an entirely new dessert category! — or so I heard in the grocery store!

  • Arlene Cocke says:

    Not a bad thing at all!
    Our brief chat at the Mall was such a surprise, we recognized each other even with the masks.
    Enjoy seeing you wherever.

    Hope to see you again, soon.??

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      It was a great and wonderful surprise for the day. I hope we meet again soon!

  • Becky Carl says:

    Love this! I try to never meet a stranger. And if you ask me where some place is, I’m liable to tell you to follow me and I will take you there! Give me Southern friends all day long! Now those up yonder I will have to pick over, lol!

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Giving directions is another topic all together! Thanks Becky!

  • Another great one. I have to sometimes stop myself from telling someone how to do something rather than just a nice comment. Liked this phrase “In butterfly moments as brief as a flutter and quick as a flap”

    • Leslie Anne Tarabella says:

      Thanks Savan. We are experts at certain things, aren’t we? It’s just helpful, after all.

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