A Rare and Passing Conversation

                                       … which touched my heart

by Jeff Salter

This week at 4F1H, we’re winging it.  Iris began on Monday talking about the weather and happened to mention having conversations with strangers.  Jillian picked up a snip of that on Tuesday and wrote about a colleague who told her a beautiful and touching story.  On Wednesday, Micki highlighted the gift of gab and engaging strangers.  So I guess I’m picking up a snip from everybody’s posts so far this week.

But this was neither a stranger nor a colleague.  This was an older man I saw nearly every morning at a diner across the street from where I worked for many years in Shreveport LA.  Back then, about 2005, I knew only his first name … but now I can’t even recall that much.  He and several other men (of varied ages) all ate breakfast together at about the same time every weekday … and always sat at a table in the back.  Every morning, I sat in a booth nearby.  We all knew each other’s first names because, when your order was ready, the cook would call you over to get it.

Joe the Greek

Let’s say his name was Joe.  All I knew about him was that Joe was Greek (because he frequently mentioned it) and he worked in some capacity related to sales of restaurant or grocery supplies.  Also that he was widely-known, well-liked, affable, and almost always upbeat.  We all greeted each other – by first names – every morning … and sometimes exchanged other brief snips of conversation, typically quite superficial.

One day, it happened that the other guys cleared out and only Joe and I remained in that section of the diner — me at my booth and him at their regular table, some dozen feet away.  I can’t recall if I stopped at his table or he stopped at my booth, but somehow we started talking.  Actually conversing, as opposed to the comparatively superficial greetings or remarks which had characterized nearly all of our exchanges — before that morning … or since.

What Joe Told Me

I can’t remember what got him on this subject – indeed, he didn’t know either (as he acknowledged after it was over) – but he started talking about his childhood … which I believe was in the Shreveport area.  It must have been shortly after World War II; he and his six brothers were orphaned in Greece and someone (presumably a relative) brought them all to America.  I gathered things were already pretty meager in that family, so imagine suddenly having seven more hungry, growing boys to feed!  In the context of this story, I believe Joe was about 11 … in other words, still a boy.

Joe began talking about a certain teacher of his who had taken an interest in him.  Evidently, she had noticed that Joe’s clothes were threadbare and one day she took him “downtown” – I don’t recall where – and bought Joe two complete sets of clothes, a pair of shoes, and (I believe) a hat or cap.

He was saying how much he appreciated Miss [ _____ ] and that she’d cared enough about him to share her own meager budget to buy him presentable clothing … when Joe began crying softly.  “I don’t know why I just thought of that,” said Joe, “Miss [ ____ ] has been gone for [many] years.”

I no longer remember any of my responses but I suppose I commented about how kind that teacher was and how she must have seen something special in Joe to have made such an investment.

After a while, Joe composed himself and said, “I don’t know why I told you that, Jeff.”  [Remember, in those several years of greeting each other at the breakfast diner, this was probably the first time it was just the two of us … and therefore likely our first occasion to actually converse.]

Joe went on to say that he’d had an opportunity years afterward, to ask Miss [ ____ ] if she remembered that experience.  She’d remembered clearly.  And Joe had a chance, again, to tell her how much he appreciated what she’d done.

Well, that morning, Joe and I parted company.  He went on his route (or whatever he did) and I walked across the street to my office in the library.

What I Told the Technician

That same day, it happened I had one of several MRIs scheduled, ordered by my new rheumatologist.  As I recall, this particular one was either on my hands or feet, checking on the extent of my arthritis.  That detail is only important so you understand that I had time to converse with the MRI technician … and I didn’t have to keep my mouth shut.  Ha.

Well I told him that I’d heard a very meaningful story that morning and asked if I could share it with him.  He said “sure” — and so I related everything that Joe had recounted about the day his teacher bought him – a poor orphan from Greece – two sets of clothes.  Probably so Joe could feel a bit more confident at school.  [Back in those post-war days, I can imagine Joe still had an accent and may have not yet mastered English.]

When I finished relating Joe’s story to the MRI technician, he seemed nearly as moved by it as I had been [of course, he didn’t see Joe’s tears].  I said, “I’m not quite sure why I told you that, except that it was fresh on my mind … and it seemed very special.”

The tech replied, “Does it mean so much to you because you’re a teacher too?”

“No,” I answered, “I’m not a teacher.  But I’ve had many wonderful teachers over the years.  And I don’t doubt some of them might have done the very same thing for me had I needed it.”

Great Stories Should Live Forever

MRIs are slow procedures:  time-consuming to set up and calibrate, and lengthy to conduct.  I suppose MRI Techs hear a lot of dreary chatter over the course of their daily procedures.  But of all the stories that Tech has heard, I want to believe he went home that night and told his wife about the librarian with arthritis who told him about Joe the Greek orphan, whose teacher bought him two sets of clothes.

And if he did tell Joe’s story to someone, I hope that person told somebody else.

Looking back on it, I figure there must have been a special reason that Joe told me his story.  Maybe because I needed to hear it.  And maybe because I needed to relate it to somebody else.  Perhaps that MRI Tech needed to hear it … or possibly the person he told it to.

I had forgotten Joe’s touching story until I read Jillian’s column on Tuesday.  And stories like Joe’s are ones which should not be forgotten.

I hope some of YOU will tell Joe’s story to somebody else.  Or at least send them a link to this blog.

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About jeff7salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Twelve completed novels and five completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015, "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015, "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015, "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014, "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014, "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014, "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014, "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013, "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013, "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013, "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012, "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012. Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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27 Responses to A Rare and Passing Conversation

  1. jeff7salter says:

    I really do encourage y’all to share this story. Not just because it’s my blog … but because of what it meant to “Joe” the Greek orphan who was treated so kindly by his teacher.

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  2. Of course, my husband will hear it and so will others…and I’ll post the link to this on my FB. It is a great and deep story and may inspire many more acts of kindness.
    Not to make light f it,Jeff, but I think what surprised “Joe” so much that he told you that was that men don’t often ‘open up’, especially men of that generation and more especially, those who lived through hard times.They felt that they had to be brave and never show weakness.Appreciating a kindness is certainly NOT a weakness, but I can see how a man of that age,(or even many now), might feel that way.
    Thank you, Jeff; nice story….really.

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  3. Iris B says:

    I’m enjoying this week’s post immensely …. pressure is on Tonette now for tomorrow 😉

    I love this story. I love it for the fact that this stranger told you a story and it’s being re-told. I wonder whether Joe had a family. And I love it that after all those years Joe still appreciated the kindness from way back!

    I happily shared, Jeff. Let’s hope, lots of people will read it!

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Iris.
      I’m pretty sure ‘Joe’ was married then (2005) and likely had adult children. Plus, I’m guessing some of his six brothers remained in that area.

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    • I hope Joe’s brothers also found hope and kindness…I guess they did, if only from him.
      [And, oh,gee, thanks,Iris!]

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      • jeff7salter says:

        A friend of mine — still in Shreveport — knew this man, so I’m hoping I can find out if “Joe” is still living and anything about his brothers.

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  4. What a touching blog post today! I like that. Stories should live on forever, and like the people in our lives who live in our hearts, this one is now passed along. Great story – thanks for sharing!

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks for visiting, Elaine.
      I’m very glad this story came back to me … while I still recalled enough to pass along.
      Just wish I could remember Joe’s real name.

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  5. jbrayweber says:

    Touching story, Jeff. The one thing we should all remember is that our words and our actions at any given moment can change a person’s lives, often for the better. Human nature is pretty awesome that way. Thanks for sharing. And for paying it forward.

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Jenn.
      Yes, our words, actions, and reactions — all are very important. Especially with kids, but also (clearly) with people of all ages.
      As I’ve been thinking back on this experience, one of the miraculous parts is that I had the MRI that afternoon. If not for that, I doubt I would have told anybody.

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  6. I love this, Jeff! People need people. It’s just the way we’re made. Life gets so busy sometimes, I forget this. I need to stop and enjoy the moment, focus more on the world around me, work harder to be connected and more involved. Being an introvert, I tend to withdraw into my own little world. Words are powerful, both written and spoken and they should be shared. They bring us hope, inspire us, and give us the courage to keep going when the going gets tough. Thanks for reminding me how important the human connection is. 🙂

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Absolutely, Melissa. And as my brother (who just read this post) reminded me this morning: our own father, raised (quite literally) “dirt poor” in middle Mississippi during the Depression, was treated especially kindly by one of his techers. Neither of us can recall exactly what she did for him, but my dad not only remembered it, also thanked that teacher later in her life.

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  7. Very touching story, Jeff. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to share it, and I hope others do, too. It’s very appropriate in light of the 26 Acts of Kindness campaign and other calls for compassion.

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Patty.
      I’ve seen several people post things about the Acts of Kindness, but I had not paid too close attention. Got caught up in a deadline, I guess.

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  8. Jeff, what a lovely story and so touching indeed. My question to you is, do you know if “Joe” is still alive and frequenting the diner? I was just curious because you speak as if you either no longer go to that diner, or that Joe is no longer with us.

    Thanks for sharing this story. I was very moved by it. And yes, I should tell you that us MRI Techs hear a LOT of mindless dribble. haha I was once an Radiologic Technologist and as a second job, I worked as a MRI Tech PRN. You’d be surprised what patients often divulged to us before going in. (most times because they were put on Valium to help them relax – as some patients are claustrophobic.)

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Renee.
      That diner closed about a year before I left Louisiana (in mid-2006) So the last time I saw “Joe” was at the diner on one of the mornings before it closed. The closure was ALL OF A SUDDEN because of some hyper-expensive problem with the grease trap — don’t know exactly what that is — so it was literally open one day and closed the next. I think if any of us — in that breakfast assortment — had realized it was going to close, we could have had some farewells.
      That was the only place I ever saw “Joe” escept one time on the sidewalk across that same street.

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  9. Lois Grant says:

    Jeff, that was a very touching story and reminded me of several things. First it reminded me of my favorite picture book – Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco – which was a true story passed down in her family about their Civil Way relative who fought on the side of the Union and how he was rescued and saved from death by an escaped slave. Pink the slave could read, but Say the Union soldier couldn’t. To prove that he had something to be proud of he tells Pink and his mom how he had shook hands with Abraham Lincoln. He told them “touch the hand that had touched Lincoln’s”. In the long and the short of it, they were captured and sent to Andersonville Prison where Pink was immediately killed, but Say managed to survive the horrible conditions. He knew that Pink would have no family ever and he wanted his story to be remembered so he told his children, who told their children and thus the story was passed down. When ever the story was related, they finished the story by saying “touch the hand that touched the hand that touched Abraham Lincoln’s”. Love that story!

    It also reminded me of when Ronny and I and Autumn when she was about 3 years old went on vacation to New Mexico and before we came home we traveled into Colorado and went to Mesa Verda and Durango. We were eating at a restaurant in Durango and had polite back and forth conversation with our waitress. Before we left the restaurant, she stopped and talked to me for a good while telling me about her divorce and how she was struggling to get custody of her child. Ronny and I wondered later why she was telling me all of this and Ronny said that I had a kind face. I think that it was also because we had a young child with us. I have never forgotten that person and have often hoped that she was able to get her child back.

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    • jeff7salter says:

      I’d like to read that book, Sug. Thanks for passing the info to us.
      Love the story about your conversation with the waitress. I think, sometimes, such encounters are needed by the person doing the telling … and sometimes for the person doing the hearing. Or, like in my “Joe” example … probably both.

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  10. Wonderful story of a man who was truly grateful for something that was done for him as a needy child and I bet since he recalled it so many years later that it made a huge impact on him and the way he treated people in his own life. I think the reason he shared that was because he wanted the kindness to live on and look how it has even all these years later.

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Jillian.
      Though a bit startled, at first, at Joe’s tears, I fairly quickly realized that I felt quite humbled that he’d shared this very personal story with me.

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  11. I believe God uses people to touch our lives in a special way, even if it’s for a day, a week, or for years. Sharing your story had a purpose. It’s wonderful to think about. Thank you for sharing. =)

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, Tanya. I agree with you. It was so out of character with any other exchange we’d ever had, there must have been a divine reason for “Joe” to share his very personal story with me that day.

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  12. Jeff, this is a WONDERFUL story. I don’t know why he shared it, or why your did, but it warmend my heart!

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thank you, Stephanie. Very glad it touched you, as it did me.
      Thanks for visiting today … come back anytime. I’m here every Thursday — Hound Day.

      Like

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