The lady approached me in the grocery store parking lot with a friendly smile.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hello,” I replied, only slightly curious as to why a complete stranger would stop to chat. After all, I had about a million and one things to do and idle chitchat didn’t head that list.
I began shoving my groceries in my car.
“I knew you when you were a girl,” she said. Her words caught me off guard and I carefully placed a bag of potatoes in the back seat and turned to face her.
“You did?” I said, viewing her with renewed interest.
“Yes, we lived right next door?”
Groceries forgotten, I did my best to place her in my head, but, I’m sad to say I simply could not.
I was, after all, painfully young when I left that tiny one-street town that boasted only a handful of houses, a white clapboard church, a couple of stores and a post office.
I had, in fact, only reached the tender age of 15.
I left because I had become an orphan, which sounds rather awful, and, if the truth were known, it truly was, even though there were, in fact, six of us in my family who had acquired that recently attained status.
I was, however, the youngest and probably not quite ready to set up housekeeping for myself.
The move was quick, but not painless. In fact, it caused great emotional turmoil and sadness both on my part and on the part of my dear siblings.
Youth, however, brings with it remarkable resilience. I discovered that, even outside of the safe and secure confines of everything I had ever known, and away from the dear hearts and gentle people of my hometown, I could survive.
And I did.
But, sometimes I think about those days and the way we were and the memories are kind and gentle, like a soft breeze or a sleepy brown river, playing at the edges of my mind.
And even though I am a grandma now and many of those dear hearts and gentle people, including my father and two of my very own dear brothers are sleeping in the little cemetery nearby, I remember.
I remember moments. I remember the way the sun set in the west meaning my brother and I had to end our fierce and competitive ball game, which, more often than not, took place in the front yard with an old poplar tree serving as first base.
I remember the pale yellow glow of the streetlights and the day I carefully placed my initials in the newly poured cement sidewalks.
I remember my dad and long days of fishing and singing with him in a very old car with a golden haired dog named Smokey riding along with us.
I remember the piano, standing stately and tall in an otherwise cluttered living room, not softened by curtains or doilies or rugs and the cold feel of the worn linoleum on the soles of my bare feet. I remember the pump by the old town hall where we got our water and the way it sloshed over the sides of the water pail if you filled it too full.
I remember the wooden steps and the flowers that somehow managed to survive despite lack of care or attention and the rhubarb patch that grew like crazy, probably because we threw our potato peelings on it.
I remember the taste of new potatoes. I remember the old church with its wooden pews and the huge sign at the front that said “turn back to your bible for the answer.’
Looking back, I discover I remember so much and for that, I am, and always will be, grateful.
And I’m also grateful to one day run into a complete stranger who took the time to smile and to chat and to tell me she knew me once, a long time ago, when I was but a girl.