“Do you know anything about soy sauce?”?
“Uh. . .
That’s how the conversation began. I was picking my way through a Beardstown grocery store when the lady of Latin American descent started quizzing me.
“Don’t they make La Choy anymore? That’s the only brand I know. Maybe it was a 90’s thing, I don’t know.” She held up a bottle, “Is this stuff any good?”
“Gosh,” I said, “I don’t really know one from another.”
“I don’t either. I’ve got to make chop suey tonight. My husband wants chop suey. I have no idea why a Mexican man has his heart set on chop suey, but I said I’d try. I got the noodles from over there. I can make noodles, but I know you’ve got to have soy sauce and I don’t recognize any of these brands.”
It was delightful. A perfect stranger walked up to me in the middle of a busy store and started telling me about her problems in making supper. I wish I could do that. The lady wasn’t a kook, just friendly, just open, and just wonderfully real.
I once took a group of travelers to Europe and among our group was an elderly lady from White Hall. She was a trip. Lanky, athletic, and afraid of nothing. She’d been all over the world in her adventures but when she turned 80 she thought she’d be better off traveling with a group so she joined us. Of course she had no intention of actually staying with the group, but it saved her from making her own hotel reservations. We boarded the plane in St. Louis and her seat was in the row directly ahead of mine. The gal climbed over a fellow working on his laptop, plopped herself in the seat and said, “My name is Marie, I’m from White Hall, Illinois, and if you don’t want to talk that’s okay, but we’ve got an eight hour flight ahead of us and if you wanted to discuss anything I thought I’d tell you who I am.”
Astounding. Flabbergasting. Delightful. The man closed his laptop and off and on again for the next eight hours they discussed the relative merits of tractors, the upcoming election, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the pains of growing older. Meanwhile I sat beside a young couple to whom I said no more than, “Excuse me, I need to get up.” Marie had the better time of it. I wish I could do that.
I had a high school math teacher named Gwen. She was also my P.E. teacher, Latin teacher, drama coach, and I think she may have waxed the school floors on weekends, since in a small school you do everything. Gwen had the then embarrassing, now refreshing, habit of saying anything to anybody. Gwen would talk to the preacher during the sermon. Gwen would interrupt the principal during faculty meetings. She wasn’t impolite, just audaciously curious and without a drop of reticence when it came to talking to people. We once went to Peoria for the state speech contest and stopped at a fast food place on the way. Gwen walked through our line of hungry speakers waiting to place our order and told the guy behind the counter, “Look, I know you’re busy but we’re late. Anything you can do to hurry up, well, I’d appreciate it. ” He did. We ate. We made it on time.
Teaching at Lincoln Land I still spend a great deal of time around teenagers who communicate with grunts and nods, thus making it even more refreshing to run into people who simply say what’s on their minds. Yes, I know it’s becoming a scary world in which we trust people less and less, but there are still those among us who aren’t afraid to break the ice, even with a sledge hammer, and let the warm water of human kindness seep through.
The Mexican lady was traveling the same trajectory as me was so our conversation continued on through the frozen foods section where we decided that Tyson chicken nuggets would be just right for chop suey, into the soda pop aisle where she told me how her husband claimed that he could tell Diet Pepsi from Diet Coke but she’d fooled him on several occasions, through the display of potato chips and since we’d become friends by the time we got to the cough syrup section I followed her into the checkout lane where she asked the clerk if she’d ever made chop suey. I loved it.
There are many things for which we might give thanks this week, but let’s also think out of the box a bit and be truly grateful for the bold among us. They’re the ones who add a splash of soy sauce to our Thanksgiving turkey.