We went to the counter to pay for our purchases. We waited patiently while the lady behind the counter helped the couple in front of us. The woman of the couple kept walking away while the lady behind the counter kept talking to the man of the couple. The lady behind the counter seemed to be enjoying herself interacting with the customer.
It was quite a few minutes before we could approach.
It was then that we got to meet Grace.
She took our items and carefully wrapped them.
She spoke in such a friendly manner and with such a distinct dialect I knew she was not from ‘here’. I asked her where she was born.
I knew it.
She went to school in a one room school house. She and her siblings and parents worked hard. Momma used to go to the store about three times a year. Shoot, I know people now who go three times a week. They grew, or raised, all of their food. She told us how momma used to make all of their clothes, or most of them. And how they used to dig a cave in the side of a hill, line it with grass and hay, and then burlap sacks. They could then store turnips, fall cabbage, apples and potatoes in that hill.
By now I was leaning on the counter, elbows down, face in my hands. Mesmerized by her stories.
She doesn’t like apples. Not after all the time they spent preparing apples for drying. I asked her what she would do if someone gave her a piece of apple pie, she wouldn’t like the pie. She just can’t like an apple. Well, she can try a honey crisp apple, raw, every great once in awhile.
At one point it dawned on me that we were in a store and I glanced behind me. I was relieved no one was standing behind us in line because I was enjoying her so much.
She told us how her teacher, Mr. Black, made her stand at the chalkboard for 3 days to work out a math problem. This wasn’t a punishment for three days, this was an encouragement for her to work that problem until she resolved it. I asked her if she did. She said she did. Grace started to cry. Her tears were for the recollection of a good teacher and a good effort on her part. When she graduated high school, over 50 years ago, she received a $5000 scholarship to go to college. For math. It would have paid for her 4 year program. She didn’t accept it. But she said that’s what he did for her. She said she always went back to visit him. She was grateful for all he had taught her.
We talked and listened some more. She told us about Pigeon Forge and what it used to look like. And how, when she lived there, there was one building.
I was quite content, standing there at that counter, listening to Grace from Tennessee.
I heard shuffling behind us. Turned, and was disappointed, to see customers behind us.
We finished the business part of our day. Grace took my hand in hers. We thanked one another.
We went out to my car at the far end of the parking lot.
I got in.
Drove back up to the store.
I walked in to the store where Grace from Tennessee was standing behind the counter. She smiled when she saw me. I told her again that I was glad to have met her. I gave her a small gift. I told her she made my life better today.
She took my hand again, and said I did the same.