As I went down the canned goods aisle at an old-style A&P grocery story in Amarillo, Texas, looking for chili, suddenly an elderly woman’s voice from behind me says, “If I weren’t any bigger than you, hon, I’d be ashamed to be seen in public!” As I turned around to find the source of the voice, I saw the woman who made this pronouncement, and realized she was talking to me. Although the words could be taken as rather malicious, the smile on the woman’s face quickly made me realize she was teasing me. She was smaller than me, hunched over, with an outfit on that my mother would have worn were she still alive: light spring green polyester pants and a striped short-sleeved cotton shirt to match. Her hair was in pink foam curlers and I wondered how long she had worn those curlers. Did she ever take them out?
“Ma’am, I’m not that skinny, but I thank you for the compliment anyway! You’re not very big yourself!” We both laughed as I went over to this complete stranger to talk with her a moment. It was easy to see, by the laughing, but longing look in her eyes, that she was dying to talk to someone, anyone, who would listen for a few minutes. When I reached her, she easily and naturally put her arm around my waist like we had known each other for years. “You know,” she said, “I used to be young and full of energy like you. Oh how I would fly around, taking care of my three children, cleaning the house, cooking three square meals a day, and then going out to help my husband with the cattle from time to time too! Then one day I woke up and realized my sweet husband beat me to heaven, my kids scattered like a yard full of baby chicks all over the country, and I didn’t have anyone to take care of any more. It gets tedious sometimes, just taking care of myself.” I laughed and gently hugged her back saying, “Well, I still have my husband, but my mother is gone and my sons are grown so I understand you to a certain extent! I don’t know how to cook for just two people so I find myself making enough food for an army of teenage boys. Do you live around here, close to the store?” I asked because the antiquated grocery store that bore the smell of too many years refrigerating items and then the surrounding rough-hewn, dilapidated homes in the area said told me that my husband and I had inadvertently stopped at a store in the middle of a very rough area of town. As a group of three thugs that looked like gang bangers swaggered past us, I found myself pulling back to give them room to pass and feeling intimidated by their mere presence. “What’s up Mrs. G? You ok,” one of the rough, tattooed young men asked the woman I was with as he passed by. “Anthony, I’m perfectly fine today! Thanks for asking! How’s your mama doin’, bless her heart?” I realized that she knew these young men. They were her friends. “Doin’ alright Mrs. G. She doin’ alright. I’ll tell her you asked about her. See ya later!”
She leans into me as the young men leave, “I know those boys, all of them. They live on my street and nicer young men you could never find! They take care of my lawn, take out my trash for me, and last month when I had pneumonia and was in the hospital, they even took care of my little Freddy. Freddy is my little mutt dog that means more to me than life! Yeah, they’re good boys. Now, what about you? Tell me about yourself. I don’t believe I’ve met you before!” We talked for about 10 minutes, laughing, and generally making each other happy just by taking a few minutes to connect, to get to know one another, if even just for a few moments. Finally, seeing my husband waiting for me at the end of the aisle, I realized I needed to get what we came in for, and go back to the small, old Route 66 motor court (motel) we were staying in for the night. “Well, ma’am, I guess I better be goin’! We just came in to get some food for lunch. Is there anything I can do for you before I leave?” “Oh child! Not a thing, not a thing! You already helped me by stopping and talking to an me, laughing with me, and giving me a hug. You’ve been a light of sunshine in my day that I really needed.” I gave her a real hug then, feeling her pink rollers under my chin as I hugged her gently. She was so tiny, she looked like she would shatter if I hugged her very hard. “Well, you take care now, ok? You made my day too! I love you!” She got teary eyed and replied, “I love you too, you little bit of nothing!” I hugged her again, a lump in my throat as I grabbed the can of chili I came after, and hurried down the aisle to join my husband.
“Who was that? Was she one of your elderly cousins? I didn’t know you knew anyone in Amarillo,” Alan said when I reached him. “Oh, I’ve never met her before in my life! She just needed a hug and some attention, so I gave her some love and she gave me more back. She’s really a very sweet lady.” Alan shook his head in bewilderment. “I never understand how you meet so many strangers and can talk to them for ten minutes like you’ve known them forever!”
“Oh, God just brings them on my path anywhere I go! She was very sweet and reminded me a bit of Mother so we just talked for a little while. Did you get the bowls and plastic ware we need for the chili?” So we went on with our day and the little lady I had met, who put sunshine in my day, went on with hers. “You know, sometimes God puts angels in our path to cheer us up! I think I met that woman just for that purpose, to cheer me up!” My whole day was better for having met the cute and feisty lady with pink hair curlers and I thanked God for her as we left the store.
This is a true story that popped into my head this morning as I awoke early in the morning. I’ve never forgotten this woman nor her laughter and sunny, generous nature. I thought I was brightening her day, when all along, she was brightening mine.
“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” Hebrews 13:2