As soon as she spoke and began dragging my items across the belt, I asked her, “West Virginia or Kentucky?”
She paused and squinted. “What’s that, young lady?”
“Are you from West Virginia or Kentucky?”
When she smiled, her plump cheeks jiggled a bit, which made me love her all the more.
West Virginia it was. I knew it. Southern accents are adorable, but I think your ears had to live around one before you could start distinguishing between the Louisianas and the Tennessees and the Carolinas. Kentucky and West Virginia have their own tempo, phrasing, and more of a skip than a drawl. I can just about pick it out anywhere.
We struck up a conversation, first about accents, then about Pikeville and Louisa. She’d never heard of Turkey Creek, which was not really a surprise. Then it moved on to biscuits and gravy (practically a requirement) and whether sausage or pepper gravy was the best for breakfast, and eventually moved onto whether or not I wanted to save 5% with some such-and-such card. I spared her my spiel about preferring to be more off the grid and how we all spend more with plastic anyway. She was just doing her job. A polite no thank you, ma’am worked just fine.
I walked away with red and white bags full of detergent and Ziploc baggies, and a head full of memories of that Kentucky holler.
My cousin Abby and I went creekin’ one time, without bothering to mention it to my mom and granny, who were in charge of us for the day. We just rolled up our pant legs and left our shoes and socks behind, and off we went. It felt like just a little while but it must’ve been longer because before we knew it, her grandpa, who just happened to be one of the local deputies, showed up worried to death and took us back in his sheriff’s car. Granny wasn’t too pleased, but my momma was steamin’ mad that we had left without telling her and that we were down in the creek like a couple of boys. And all I heard was DON’T YOU KNOW THERE’S COPPERHEADS ALL OVER THEM CRICKS as she was whomping me with my very own shoe.
This memory brought to us by: The Target Lady.
Yep, The Target Lady. She’s My People. She’s pleasant and kind and has that adorable WV accent. I look for her every time I go, and I’ll wait a little longer for her line just so I can hear her. She’s a little hunched over and uncomfortable-looking. I always imagine to myself that she’s a spunky old lady who just likes being out of the house and that’s why she’s working at Target when she’s clearly over 70. I try not to think that it’s likely she is working on her feet all day because it’s what she has to do to survive.
Every time I go through her line I wonder if she will remember me. It’s definitely possible because I see her often enough. But most of the time she just gives me the small talk due a customer and asks if I want to save 5%.
It’s kind of a bummer, since I remember everything about her wrinkly face and the way her voice sounds, to think that I’m just some customer to her. But then one day it dawned on me. I remember her because her soft, spotted, somewhat wrinkly skin reminds me of my momma’s. Her voice takes me right back to the holler. Her slow movements make me think of my granny in her big kitchen, peeling potatoes.
The Target lady gives me something every time I go through her line, and I’m not talking about a coupon. I associate her with happy memories and that’s why I’ve adopted her as one of My People.
But I’m not Her People yet. I’ve realized that with every interaction, I take from her. I take reminders of my family and the place where I spent half my childhood. I get access to those memories through her, but what am I giving to her? Is my conversation kind enough to remind her of someone special in her life? Do I take time to pause and really listen when I ask how she’s doing today? Do I ask any follow up questions to show I am genuinely interested? Do I bring those topics up the next time I go through her line?
What about the other People I’ve adopted? Like the Starbucks lady who offers me extra stuff all the time for no reason, other than just to be kind. Or that waiter at Red Robin who always remembers me and Todd. The local boutique owner who sells my jewelry in her store. They are my adopted People as well. But am I really theirs?
This whole thing has me thinking: How can I better love these People of mine who are just in my space, if not yet in my actual world? They may never be my BFFs, but I might love them just enough in some small, tangible way, that I could become that one customer who brightens up their day. Asks something about them personally to make them understand that they are not alone but that they are important.
I think if we take the time to look around, we’d see a whole lot more of Our People in our paths. Do we really have a responsibility to engage with these folks? I mean, aren’t they just cashiers and baristas and waiters and shopkeepers? Being friendly, sure, but what else is required?
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.] The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-40
I’m pretty sure my neighbor includes The Target Lady I see every week as well as the girl I get my coffee from every single weekday. And I am definitely sure that Myself would enjoy being smiled at, and engaged in a way that made me feel like Somebody’s People.
This weekend when you’re out, try to think of some of Your People you may not even directly know. If they’re in your path, they are there for a purpose. What both of you will gain from it remains to be seen. But it can start with this greatest commandment and grow into a pleasant exchange that mutually brightens your day. And who knows, maybe these folks you have under the umbrella of Your People might become your sitting-in-your-living room people.
Or maybe not. Maybe the whole purpose for them being Your People is so you can make them understand, even for a split second during their day, that they are noticed, valued, and important. Because they are.