I was celebrating an appointment that concluded “return only as needed”, by stopping off at Grammy’s, a place for great baked goods and coffee refills. I was seated at one of the smallest tables, the ones typically used by solo customers.
An older man was sitting at an identical table in front of me, but at a right angle, so that I faced his left side and could only make out the first two letters prominently displayed on his baseball cap. He may have looked over in my direction early on, but I was already well into the pastry, coffee and looking at facebook on my phone.
I wondered for a moment if electronic media had interfered with the opportunity for live personal contact. He sat five feet away. I had just entered a comment in response to an acquaintance in Rochester, 1300 miles to the northeast. I looked again. He looked like he might welcome sudden contact breaking in on his left side, a question perhaps about his hat. But then again maybe not.
He reminded me of a “country person”, someone whom I see here a lot, someone you would see at a coffee shop in Clifton Springs, or Palmyra, or at any smaller town that is thirty or more miles separated from a larger population, separated by open fields, farms. Attached ring suburbs are ruled out.
He would be instantly engaging, other than a momentary pause to account for putting his private thoughts away, to account for my geographical displacement, knowing intuitively that I am not from here.
Country folks are in the place where they are from. A lot of family, living or not, nearby. They have stories about the intersection, not that far away, notorious for what happened there. It wasn’t all that long ago. There are also the local stories about the, in fact, long ago.
Such familiarity brings a contentment. Maybe. If the roots are more good than not. A slower, less demanding pace. Another easy sip of coffee, looking out the window, a friendly indifference.
When, on the other hand, the well known acquaintance shows up, the spark is immediate, instantly showing the mutual history of ups and downs, all of which is honored for the experience. Known each other for a long time for better or worse. There is nothing to replace that.
Sometimes it’s different than this, sometimes the local guy beams like a bright light, sends a quick humorous message that is simply shared, reciprocated with no effort.
But not this fellow. When he left, he took a long time to leave, he stopped and turned around to look up again at the list of specials, as if he had regrets, or might plan better for the future. He didn’t speak to anyone as he left.
There was already one response to the facebook message. I decided to tap “like”. Right back at you.