Unexpected Encounters

I was shopping at Walmart the other day when I turned my cart into the baking supplies aisle and encountered a strange scene. A young female Walmart employee  was on her hands and knees, weeping, as she peered under the shelving.  Two other employees were also peering under the shelving. One explained that the weeping woman was stocking the shelves when her wedding ring flew off her finger and settled somewhere on the floor in the dark recesses under the baking supplies.  It caused quite a bottleneck in the aisle, but shoppers were very understanding and respectful and we all wished them luck in their search.

The next day I was back again in Walmart, this time in the dairy aisle, when I encountered the formerly weeping employee busily restocking the sour cream. I saw that she had no ring on, and stopped to ask her if she had found her ring. She explained happily that she had, under the pallets of sugar, and that she no longer wore her ring to work. I told her I was very happy for her. Then, unexpectedly, she asked if she could give me a hug.  I, of course said yes, and we embraced in front of all the pudding and sour cream and chip dip.

I treasure these sort of encounters. I work with people all day, but it is somewhat artificial, with a power differential that is always there.  Unexpected interactions with people when we are both just people are so nice.

When is it easy for you to be with people? When is hard? Tell about some fun, unexpected encounters with people. 

23 thoughts on “Unexpected Encounters”

  1. This isn’t what you were writing about, Renee, but your nice intro reminds me of the agony I feel when I run into people who remember me better than I remember them. In general, it is difficult to identify people when we meet them outside the usual context.

    There was a guy named Cary who knew me from my editing days. And, dammit, he remembered. When I saw him I got that stab of fear knowing I was supposed to recognize him. I kept running into him at my grocery store, and the conversations that followed were harrowing. I got so I’d run and hide behind the summer squashes anytime I glimpsed Cary.

    There was a friendly woman who shopped there too, a woman who knew me and would always chat. Acutely embarrassed, I would make generic small talk praying she would go away. One day when I was again bluffing about remembering her I decided to take a small risk by asking “and how are your kids?” She smiled pleasantly and said, “Oh, I have no children.” Well, she looked exactly like a woman who would have children.

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  2. My encounters today are annoying, most likely because I am tired and irritable. I spent the night in Bismarck and got 4 hours of sleep, preparatory to getting up at 2:30 am to catch a 5:00 am flight to Mpls, then on to Salt Lake City for a conference. My fellow humans are not very appealing today.

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  3. I’ve told this here once before. I was in the Target parking lot and a minivan backed up and broke one of the taillights on my truck. The driver, a Somali woman, got out and apologized profusely. She started to cry and told me that her mother back in Africa had just died. I told her not to worry about the taillight (it just wasn’t the time to get into that) and that I was sorry to hear about her mother. Then, impulsively, I gave her a hug. I suspect it’s inappropriate for a strange man to hug Muslim women, but it was innocently given and accepted.

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  4. That’s a nice story Renee.

    I really do enjoy working with 98% of the college kids. This semester, while we got a rough start to the shop work (not their fault, just random things) I feel like I’m coming into it with a very positive attitude and I’m having a good time talking with them.
    It’s fun to hear where they’re from and what they’re studying. Then I try to use whatever skills they have directly to something in the shop. Studying math? Mark some angles or cut this piece. Helped remodel their house? Lay out a couple steps for this unit. Sewing? Oh, I always got things to sew.
    And sometimes (often?) it doesn’t work out exactly as planned but I know when they come to see the show, they will know what went into that particular piece.

    One young lady yesterday, she was wearing a perfume that I remember from my youth. As she was signing out and leaving I finally asked what she was wearing. I couldn’t decide if it was appropriate to say ‘you smell nice”? So I didn’t phrase it that way; just said I knew the smell but didn’t know what it was. She didn’t either; something from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
    Still, it was a nice smell.

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  5. OT: all Baboons know the thrill of discovering a likable writer who has published several books. The flip side of that is the disappointment we feel when a favorite author dies, for that generally means he or she won’t be publishing any more. I grieved when Tony Hillerman, the affectionate chronicler of Navajo Indians, died. Well, he’s back. Or, rather, his daughter Anne Hillerman is now writing Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn novels. The one I’m reading now (The Spider Woman’s Daughter) is very good!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I am now in Salt lake City. There were lots of guys in the airport in black suits looking like they were auditioning for a production of The Book of Mormon. I didn’t feel like hugging them.

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  7. I generally don’t like to be around people — except people I know and like. Although on occasion, even being around strangers can be enjoyable. I remember when we were waiting in line for the free tickets to Tom Keith’s Memorial comedy show at The Fitz, I thought that was fun as I was surrounded by that special kind of folk who loved the LGMS and Tom Keith. Being with my husband in those situations is a great help to me, as he has no trouble striking up conversations with total strangers and has fun doing it.

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  8. It is much easier for me to be with people in various settings now that we’ve been here a couple of years, and people know me at least a little most of the places I go. Hardest for me is being a complete “unknown”, and trying to reveal who I am, IF anyone cares to know.

    My favorite unexpected encounter was while standing in the food line at a Christmas pot-luck almost two years ago, talking with a pleasant woman about my age. She revealed that her name is Angela, and when I said mine was Barbara, she looked a bit closer and said “Barbara what?” Then I looked at her a bit closer and said “Omigod, you’re ANGELA!” I’d been trying for months to find this friend from our 1980s Winona stint.

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  9. About 20 years ago I was in Palm Springs with a client and we were at the Arizona Desert Museum. In the middle of nowhere. As we were talking, one of the docents came up to me and she said “Are you Joe Bill Carter’s daughter?” Turns out that she was the mother of my best friend when I was five. In St Louis. Unbelievable.

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    1. When I was growing up in Robbinsdale, families were dynasties in a way they aren’t anymore. It was kind of a closed society. Several generations would have lived in the same neighborhood and the family names were known to all. It was strange sometimes, long after I had gone to college and resettled elsewhere, that when I would return to visit my parents I would sometimes see some young person I had never met and immediately knew the family to which they belonged.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I posted a comment which seems to have vanished into nothingness, but when I try to post it now, I get a “duplicate comment” message. I’ll paste it in again, sorry if this ends up getting posted twice.

    My tax volunteer gig puts me in touch with many interesting and quite likable people. Quite a few speak English as a second language, or don’t speak English at all. The language barrier makes communication awkward sometimes.

    When I started my first day volunteering, I met the site manager, Tom (that may or may not be his real name, but let’s call him Tom). Expecting that there would be Spanish speakers, I told him I didn’t speak any Spanish, and asked if there would be someone there I could ask for translation help. His response was a couple of paragraphs of fluent Spanish, spoken with a very creditable accent, sounding surprising coming from a white guy with a Scandinavian surname. (I later found out he teaches Spanish at one of the community colleges here in town.) I said, “I’m afraid I didn’t understand a word of that, but I guess it answers my question.”

    I remember preparing a tax return for a Latino man with limited English, and when I tried to ask a couple of questions pertaining to the return, he would nod and say yes, but I wasn’t convinced he really understood the questions I was asking, so I fetched Tom and asked again. It was a good thing, because some of the things he had said “yes” to got a “no” answer when the question was translated. I followed the advice they give you about speaking with someone through a translator, which is to look at and address the person you’re talking to, not the translator.

    When the man was leaving, he stopped in the doorway of the office where I was working, smiled a little shyly, and said “I’m sorry I don’t speak English.” I said something like “oh no, that’s no problem.” But what I wished I had said – if I’d been quicker to think of a response – was “Lo siento no habla Espanol.”

    I should really try to learn some Spanish. But I’m terrible with languages.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m teaching myself Italian using an app called Duolingo. I’m up to about a hundred and fifty words that I feel really comfortable with. Unfortunately I don’t know if there’s going to be much call for saying “I eat the apple” in Italian

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    2. In 1995 when I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, I was given a date for surgery six weeks hence. I suppose anyone diagnosed with cancer is anxious and wants immediate action; I was no exception. But, since it was out of my hands, I decided to be as proactive as I could.

      One of the things that I did was visit a locally renowned doctor of Chinese medicine. He was old, I’m guessing in his 80s or 90s, and he was in a Chinese grocery store on Nicollet Ave in Mpls., just north of 26th St. I was introduced to the old man by his son, who spoke English, and he relayed to the old man, who spoke no English, why I was there to see him. He was told of my diagnosis and that I wanted his opinion on anything that I could do to be in as good shape a possible for the pending operation. Of course I had to take all this on faith since I understood none of the Chinese exchanges between father and son.

      I spent about 45 minutes with the old man. He took my pulses. Yes, several of them. He determined that I had a strong one kind of energy, and very weak other kind of energy. He then prescribed a combination of multiple herb to be brewed as tea and imbibed several times a day. At that point I knew this was going to cost money, so I asked the son how I could be sure his dad had understood what my problem was. He handed the old man a Chinese/English dictionary and left the two of us to sort it out. The old man quickly found the Chinese word for uterus, and then cancer and handed the dictionary back to me so I could see that he understood what my concern was.

      The concoction he prescribed, and which his son diligently weighed out for me from an impressive array of glass jars in the store, was awful. It tasted horrible, but I was determined to save my life, so I drank that stuff twice a day for six weeks. To this day I have no idea whether it saved my life or was just a waste of money. For the duration it kept my mind off the fact that my life might be in peril and kept me focused on the fact that I could do something about it. I still have that special teapot that was needed for the concoction if anyone needs it

      Liked by 1 person

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