“Speaking well of all Mankind is the worst kind of Detraction; for it takes away the Reputation of a few good Men in the World, by making all alike.
– The Plain Dealer by William Wycherley, 1696
It was simply one of those days. I was distracted. Completely and utterly unable to stay focused. I cleaned, I cooked, I straightened, I walked, but no writing. Chaos was within the walls of my home, so finally, unable to stand the noise, I grabbed the dog, a notepad and with an hour to spare before carpool, I drove off.
I found myself desperately thirsty, in need of caffeine, and very near to my favorite coffee shop. Fuzzball (aka the dog) leashed and in hand, I ordered my hi-test iced coffee and reached for a straw. Before that first sip of iced refreshment passed my lips I heard, “What a sweet little baby.”
Turning, I realized I was being addressed, and since I am not one of those who feels my pet is an extra or substitute child, I looked down at the woman and replied, “it’s just my dog.”
“I’ve always loved animals,” she continued, “Ever since I was a little girl. I was about 8 years old and we had a pup. My stepmother made her sleep outside, and so I slept out there with her. Would you like to share this with me?”
I looked at this stranger, freely opening up to me, offering half a sugar crystal covered cruller, and I smiled. I guess that was the opening she needed, “Please, sit with me.” Having nearly a half an hour to spare, I set the dog on my lap, moved my coffee to the small, round brightly colored table, and I sat.
For those of you dear readers who do not know me, I am both social and anti social. I will converse with anyone standing with me in the grocery checkout line, or at the carpool, but I am not one for random coffee and conversation with strangers. Against everything I normally believe in, I sat down. I looked at this woman, unafraid to speak so plainly to me, and I smiled.
Lorraine, she introduced herself, was a trim, attractive woman, I placed her between 65-75 years old. (She later proudly announced herself to be 83 years young). She wore a neat black velour track suit, a jade green silk tee that matched her carefully and well made up eyes. Her makeup was understated, her hair coiffed in a short, curly style, with no discernible color… some shade of dirty blonde to brown. Little crinkles at the corners of her eyes as she smiled, the entire time she sat with me. Sedate and tasteful jewelry adorned her neck, ears and left ring finger.
Lorraine again offered me the sweet, sugared baked treat. Declining politely, I listened as she told me that she used to work at Curves. “Twenty years I worked there, I was a nutrition expert. You can have no more than 70 grams of carbs, and never more than 1000 calories per day. Do you exercise?”
“I walk with the dog, nearly six miles a day, but I (yes, my big secret revealed friendly, nonjudgmental readers) am not into the machines or classes.” In truth, I much prefer to sit around with a good book and some coffee.
Lorraine’s face fell for a moment, but she recovered quickly, “Walking is great cardio, but you need more.” She went on to demonstrate several quick exercises to trim the waistline right there in the front corner of the coffee shop. I still cannot believe her agility.She twisted and counted, and bent like a pretzel, and counted to twenty without skipping a breath. Sitting back down she said to me, “I can always feel a kindred spirit, and you have an old soul.”
“Do you know I volunteer with the elderly twice a week?” “Do you work?”
Confidently and with certainty I replied, “I’m a writer.”
She went on, “It’s so good to keep busy, read books, walk, take pride in yourself because only you can appreciate your true worth. I had to be outgoing in a time when it wasn’t always appropriate for a woman. You are truly blessed to be able to be heard.”
And Lorraine kept on speaking.
This lovely lady spent the next five minutes regaling me with the tales of her unhappy marriage. She stayed with an “unfaithful rat” for 61 years, because although she had a career to keep herself sharp and occupied, she could not financially afford to leave. She has 4 daughters, and they mean the world to her. So she stayed with her husband “until the Grim Reaper finally came for his black heart.”
We left the coffee shop together, Lorraine scratching my contented dog behind the ears, and then parted ways outside.
She left me with the following goodbye:
“You are a wonderful soul. Keep busy. Learn to find your inner peace and balance, because it will keep you sane. Always smile, be friendly. You never know who you might meet and how your few kind words or valued time can brighten their day. It was absolutely delightful to meet you. I was lucky today.”
Honestly friends, I stood there bewildered for a moment before collecting myself and the dog and making my way to carpool. I had intended only to stop in for the drink and to take it to go. I was going to write in the park with the dog until it was time to collect the kids. But fate stepped in. I may never see Lorraine again, but I will not forget her. She reminded me that people are generally good. She was trying to impart a little wisdom – that a smile has the power to change someone’s whole day.
I am still not quite sure what my intention is with this post, but I felt that the story needed a voice. Perhaps that is why Lorraine spoke to me. Maybe I have the honor of being her voice, so she can be heard, be remembered in a positive light.
We all have stories within ourselves, and as a writer, there are many stories crawling and clawing to be set free, to be shared. It makes one a bit self-centered during the working hours. So maybe Lorraine was sent to remind me, and you my reader, that everyone has a story, but not necessarily a voice. I cannot be the voice of the public, but every once in a while it is nice to share someone else’s words, especially if they touch my life. And her words echoed within my heart. I left her at the corner with a smile.
She truly believes that one cannot start a conversation without inspiring another. She has learned to find her own happiness and her own peace. She called out to my spirit somehow, and did not stop talking when I told her I was a writer. She never questioned, only spoke plainly and concisely, as if daring me or inspiring me to write about her. So here it is Lorraine – our brief encounter immortalized via the world wide web. Like Wycherley’s character Captain Manly, Lorraine dislikes hypocrisy and wishes to be among those who are “real.” I spent a surprisingly enjoyable 15 minutes listening to someone who did not have the easiest life, share with me her secrets for personal happiness. She did not defend her cheating husband, but stated it, accepted and moved on, so she could be fulfilled in her own life.
I hope that each and every one of you have the opportunity to meet someone just as “real” as she was. I hope that at age 83 I am as put together and in control of my mind and words as Lorraine.
All this for a cup of coffee. It was me who was the lucky one.