I miss talking to strangers.
I never expected, that would be something I’d miss, but I do. Can you imagine striking up a conversation in this pandemic, with someone outside your household? Horrors! Talk about stranger danger. Sadly, those accidental chin wags, are another COVID-19 casualty.
When first we fell in love, I dreamed of living in a bubble with Mr. Bill, just we two. It was a fantasy I never expected to come true. Yet here we are, living the dream, twenty-four seven. One could say, alone at last with Mr. Bill, everyday is Valentine’s Day. However, in the fifth decade of our romance, it can be said that our conversations of late, are more prosaic than romantic. I’m certain that Mr. Bill, misses the stories that I would carry home, after a day left to my own devises, out in the world. Gone are the days, when Mr. Bill would patiently listen to my breathless retelling, of incredible encounters with persons unknown; even though he was undoubtedly more interested in hearing, what was for dinner. Unfortunately, these days there are no literary morsels to tease him with, not even a crumb.
It has been said of Helen of Troy, that her face launched a thousand ships, but my countenance doesn’t invoke such fervor. Rather, I seem to invite the most curious revelations from perfect strangers, without any prompting on my part. Some strangers share secrets. What is the etiquette, when an elderly gentleman falls into step alongside you, and recounts the circumstances of his conception? “It was wartime, my parents met at a bar, he was shipping out the next morning, they went into the alley and he got her up the pole”. Perhaps because of my astonished expression, he kindly proceeded to explain the euphemism. How exactly, does one reply to that conversation starter? This chatterbox finds listening, is all that’s required sometimes. My confidential conversationalist was the most charming man, and we became good friends. Many more stories were forthcoming, all recounted at day’s end to delight Mr. Bill. Some strangers share sorrows. Upon being told of bereavements, I’ve found that a sympathetic ear is what’s needed. After offering my condolences for their departed loved ones or beloved pets, I have listened and learned of many beautiful lives. Some strangers need help. There were the four people who rang the doorbell on summer’s day, looking for a place to live. I invited them in, fed them and they stayed six weeks. Mr. Bill was a bit surprised when he arrived home for dinner around nine that evening, and I offhandedly mentioned that we had company, who would be staying a while, but he took it in stride. Sometimes, strangers say rude things. I don’t engage them in conversation, but you can bet your bottom dollar, that Mr. Bill hears all the gory details and what I wish I had said in reply! Some strangers are best forgotten. They say things that don’t make sense until years later. That happened when I was seven and was walking home alone from school, when an old man stopped me. He asked if I would like to go home with him, to see his monkey. That put me into an uncomfortable dilemma. I knew that I was not supposed to talk to strangers, but I also knew that I must be polite to grown-ups. Guilelessly I answered, “no thank you I have been to Roger Williams Zoo”, and continued on my way. I can’t say why, but I never told my mother when I got home; maybe this is why I tell Mr. Bill everything- just in case I misread a situation again.
Some strangers are good sorts. Living in self isolation last May, after returning to Florida from New Zealand, I accepted that we’d be keeping ‘ourselves to ourselves’. Our daughter, Audry, had stocked the pantry and made us a welcome home dinner. Naturally, it was the one time, that I had left the cupboards bare in our absence. Our son-in-law, Dave, scored us some toilet paper, for which we will be eternally grateful. Having all the necessities, we settled in for our two weeks of quarantine, although surprisingly, there was no obligation to do so. Imagine my delight on our first morning back, when I spied a stranger scrabbling around in our bushes. Unable to contain my excitement I dashed out the door (stopping well within a safe social distance), and waving my arms frantically, called out, “hello, hello, it’s so good to see you”! Mr. Bill was mortified and retreated out of sight, while I advanced, my eyes on the prize. I was in my pajamas and cared not a wit. I had seen this woman poking about in the philodendron before, but had let her be, not wishing to disturb her. Not this time! Here, within shouting distance was someone to talk to; an opportunity not to be missed. I’m afraid my enthusiastic greeting frightened the woman, for the poor dear was alarmed. Heedless of her distress I persisted, babbling away like an overflowing brook. I learned that Fran, the woman shaking the shrubbery, is a keen gardener who has adopted our street. She weeds between the landscaper’s visits, leaving neat piles to be collected. Incredible! Fran is a neighborhood treasure. I often see her on her self-appointed rounds or when she’s out walking her beat. Invariably, she breaks her stride and darts into a hedge, to pluck a dead leaf. I tell her, that she just cannot help herself, and she laughs good-naturedly, saying she is a crazy gardener, but I think Fran’s terrific.
Living life in the slow lane these days, Mr. Bill no longer multitasks when he hears my tall tales. I’m not sure if he’s lost the ability to sort and read the day’s mail while listening, but he now hangs on my every word. Isn’t life strange?