After picking vintage T-shirts for the last several years, I’ve gotten very good at the art of picking. When it comes to thrift stores, depending on my mood and the size of the store, I can get in and out very quickly. This involves keeping my head down, staying focused and not engaging with anyone. This works for me because of my introverted nature. It’s not easy for me to talk to strangers. I can do it, and I’m not bad at it, but it saps my energy and wears me out.
However, I love to listen to and observe what’s going on around me. There’s no better place to people-watch than at a thrift store. I’ve seen paramedics treat a passed-out drunk homeless person on a store sofa, old curmudgeons bitch about “high prices” and heated yelling matches between customers. It all makes for a great reality show playing out right in front of me. I just observe, smirk to myself and continue doing my thing.
One particular day a few weeks ago, I was doing this exact thing at a Salvation Army store. As I hurriedly flipped through the tees I took in the sights and sounds around me. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Certainly no drunks or obstinate people. Just the regular ambient noise of a thrift store. There was one voice, however, that continued to capture my attention. It was a joyful one. One that wasn’t too fake or overly annoying. It was enough for me to turn around and seek out who it belonged to.
She was a older lady, hard to tell how old because African Americans age so well. She was targeting each person in the store, going up to them and asking for a hug. Not for money. Not for a handout. But for a hug. With each hug she gave the same sort of pep talk: “Jesus loves you honey. We all need a little more love in this world. We are all one people. Show love today.” Something along those lines.
I’m certainly not new to “interesting” people coming up to me saying things that make me scratch my head but this woman seemed to have it together. She was nice, polite and had a smile that lit up the building.
She hadn’t made her way to me yet but I was just in the process of finishing up and moved my way to the checkout line. When I made it there, we crossed paths.
“Well, where’s my hug sugar?” She said.
“I’ve got it right here” I replied, “I’ve been listening to you and I like your style!”
It wasn’t until I said that that I noticed what she was wearing. No doubt, her coat was made from curtains. Remarkably, they resembled the curtain pattern my parents have in their house. Her knitted cap was undoubtedly one she’d made herself. It was at that moment that I was truly moved.
“Alright then, God bless you. Jesus loves you!” She said with a smile and then moved on to the next person.
“But wait,” I thought to myself, “I want to talk to you some more! Why the hell are you so happy? You have a coat made of curtains for Gods sake!”
I’m not that good at improv. I can’t really speak off the cuff. My introvered, obsessive nature makes me afraid to speak sometimes for fear of saying too much or not saying the right thing. For this reason she continued on her way. I simply sat in line waiting to check out with a forlorn look on my face wanting “a little bit of whatever that lady is taking”. The woman behind me piped up and asked the checkout employee, “Who is that lady?”
“I dunno” she said completely nonplussed.
I wanted to slap her. She was completely unphased by this woman doing so much with so little. In a world consumed with so many bad things, isn’t it nice to get a little love from an unlikely source?
“I love her. I think she’s cute. The world needs more people like her” I said.
I picked up my small bag of vintage T-shirts and headed for the door. But before I made it there I decided I wanted to tell this lady how awesome she was. So I turned around and I approached her. This is not normal for me. I don’t talk to people I don’t know and I’m not good at it. I wasn’t as graceful as she was. In fact, I was a bit awkward. I waited for her while she doted on her lastest benefactor. I felt like a fan waiting for an autograph.
When she finished, I approached her and told her what an amazing thing it was that she was doing and to keep it up. I pulled my phone out and asked if I could take a photo with her. I wanted to remember her.
“Oh honey, no photos. Maybe at a later time. We’ll have to do that later. I don’t look my Sunday best. You know, a lady’s got to get her hair done before a photo.”
I assured her it definitely wasn’t a big deal but she politely declined again and I obliged. We chatted very briefly as she seemed a little confused as to why I was so interested in her. I thanked her for her kind words and left a little more fulfilled but with many more questions I wanted to ask.
Her brief appearance in my life’s story made an impact on me. Each day, I wake up not knowing what this day will bring. Events pass by and the monoteny of each day roll further back in my memory bank with no promise of being able to recollect it in a few years. This moment though, was one I didn’t want to forget. Without a picture of her or a promise of ever running into her again, I decided to write this post. Her decision to love me that day really impacted me. I am so happy to have met her.
I hope one day to see her again.