By Bruce Stambaugh
I greatly enjoy the people I meet along life’s journey.
Many of the people I’ll encounter again I’m sure, if only by proximity to where I live or my relationship to them. Others I may never see again, but I’ll certainly remember their kindness and hospitality.
On our recent trip south, my wife and I met several people who graciously shared those two dynamic characteristics. I’d like you to meet just two of them.
Like much of North America, the winter in the southern United States this year has been hard. With the potential of slippery roads ahead, we decided to stop for the night at a motel in Richburg, South Carolina.
After checking in, we walked to a nearby no frills mom and pop restaurant. Only a few tables were occupied when my wife and I arrived. A kind lady draped with a stained apron and holding a wet washcloth invited us to sit wherever we wanted. We chose a table well away from the door where cold air rushed in at every opening.
The official forecast for that area projected black ice on roadways in the South Carolina Piedmont region, where Richburg is located. Hearing that, the restaurant manager had sent the young help home before dark since they were all inexperienced drivers.
A skeleton crew kept the restaurant open. The thinking was they wouldn’t get many evening customers. Most of the day had already been slow.
However, shortly after Neva and I sat down, several other people filed in and the restaurant was soon abuzz with hungry diners. The kind woman, who later introduced herself as Laura, welcomed everyone the same way she had us, with an apologetic invitation to find a seat.
“I’m so sorry,” Laura said in her soft, easy southern drawl. “We’re short staffed since we sent our young help home because of the weather. Please be patient with us.”
Laura was a stately woman in her 50s. She kept repeating the same thing to every new patron who arrived. She cleared, cleaned and waited on every table by herself. She sent the dinner orders to the kitchen and returned to check on every table. With each visit, she kept kindly apologizing.
Yet she and the kitchen staff seemed to work miracles. The food was not only served in a timely manner, it was as delightful as Laura’s hospitality. The baked chicken, black-eyed peas and grits were scrumptious. This woman defined both graciousness and efficiency. I hope all her tips were generous.
Then there was Bill, an octogenarian volunteer guide who greeted us at the door of an out-of-the way national historical site we discovered by accident in Florida. We easily struck up a conversation with Bill as he greeted us as we entered the Rebault Club Inn. Originally from the far southwestern hills of Virginia, we enjoyed hearing his personal story as much as we did touring the beautiful estate.
Bill’s eyes sparkled and his smile grew with each question I asked him. He had come to northern Florida to get away from the harsh winters of the Appalachian Mountains. He was glad he had.
Imagine my surprise when he told us that he had graduated with honors from Ohio University at age 68. When the dean announced his name, he received a standing ovation. Bill repeated the story like the audience was still applauding.
No matter our destination, it’s people like Laura and Bill who really make our travels memorable.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2014
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