“Miss, what time is it?” I turned my head to see sitting at the next table an LSU ball cap fitted snugly on the top of a graying senior sipping his Starbucks. It was the day before Thanksgiving and the perfect place to hide while my family shopped in the mega-retailer, Target.
In all honestly, had this stranger not spoken to me, I would have sat there completely happy, selfishly immersed in my own cafe latte, fascinated by Nashvillians fixated on buying early for Christmas.
“I’m waiting for my wife and daughter to finish walking the stores. I have a bad hip so I’m waiting them out.” He chuckled, “I forgot my watch.”
I gave him the time.
“You from Nashville ?” he said.
“No. Visiting my son here. New Jersey.” I honestly was not in the mood to chat with the LSU ball cap.
“How about that Sandy? Did you get hit? he asked.
“No. Our house is on a 266 foot cliff above the water. Luckier than most.” I returned to my latte hoping he would get the message.
“In Louisiana we get hurricanes and tornados. My mother used to call us in and get us all dressed up when one was comin’. After, we kids would just sit there in the house and wait. Wait until she told us it was over. ”
“Didn’t you have a root cellar, or anything?” I asked, my interest in him beginning to peak visualizing such an absurd scene.
“Nope. My mother went through the hurricanes in 1916 and she lost folks. We knew in case the tornado came, in case we died, we would look nice.”
I was hooked. “Really? I mean, weren’t you afraid if you thought that? Or if you thought she thought that?”
“Oh, I can’t say, maybe, but I was young and lived on a farm in Louisiana. Things around me were dying all the time, so just was our way…. accepting…until I got older and went to Korea,” his voice trailing off as he swizzled his coffee.
“Korea? My late husband served in that war, though he was stationed in Germany. Easier duty. He drove for the generals, I think.”
“Yeah. Well I was in the heart of it. For me, there were really two wars going on. The Civil War and Korean one. I was only three months married when I was drafted and I was the only south boy in my barracks. I brought two things with me-a picture of my wife and a small confederate flag. Two things that were important to a Louisiana country boy. ( He chuckled a bit.) Well, that flag gave me a hell of a time the minute them northern boys knew I had it. I heard the talkin’, the whisperin’ at night how they were going to get it and beat me at the same time. The Civil War was still alive. They pushed me around. I had a few fights, but they never got my flag and it went all the way with me to Korea. I carried it in my jacket pocket all through the war. You know though, when we were fighting and things got bad….we were all brothers and the Civil War ended over there. It took bad things, stuff we never talked about, to bring us all together.” His voice trailed off and he adjusted the LSU cap just at the moment my son and husband came within view around the corner.
I said my goodbyes, gave him my card and walked out of Starbucks feeling I had just put a new marble into my bag. A chance meeting with a nice man with his own interesting story to tell.
I was a young girl when the Korean War was going on. I only lived it at a distance through radio and television reports, but it had little impact on my life since none of my family were called into the draft. It is a shame how disconnected we can become when conflict is not in our own front yard. If we couldn’t see it, we didn’t have to feel it. To me, it was just something that was.
This encounter, this chance meeting in Starbucks, for me, fortifies my belief that life is chocked full of serendipitous moments. What I call a grasshopper moment appears. It quickly hops into your life and then just as fast hops away unless you are smart or fast enough to catch them. In this instance, I was initially guilty of judging a book by it’s cover- but “good ole’ boy” LSU ball cap turned out to be one heck of an interesting guy. I am so glad I caught that grasshopper moment.
Sandra Hart, former Romper Room teacher and talk show host is an actress and author who blogs about life over fifty.