I got a haircut today. My barber was a short man with white hair, and a thick Cajun accent. His friends call him “Spike.” I could hardly understand a word Spike said through his accent.
He laughs too much. I love old men who laugh too much. And he is a good storyteller.
When it was over, I thanked him for the haircut.
He shook my hand and said, “Se pa aryen, Meh Sha.”
He translated: “Don’t mention it, boy.”
Then he taught me how to say “thank you” in the French-Cajun tongue.
“Bien merci,” he explained.
So I tried it. “Bee-YEN mare-SEE, sir,” said I.
This made him laugh until he turned purple.
“Keep trying, boy!” he said.
Next, I went to Cracker Barrel for early lunch. While I ate, my phone vibrated. My wife texted me a hardware store list that was longer than an unfurled roll of Charmin toilet paper.
So, I shoved bacon and eggs down my gullet and went to pay. In the cashier line there was a girl with a scarf wrapped around her bald head. We talked.
Her name is Julia, she is eighteen, from Bowling Green. She is in town enjoying the beach for a few days. This is the first time she ever saw the Gulf of Mexico. Ever.
“I can’t actually go in the water,” she explained. “Doctor says there’s too much bacteria, my body can’t deal with that.”
But she’s here just the same, and that counts for something.
Before she left the restaurant, her father bought her a straw sunhat. She modeled it for her family. She is one of the most beautiful girls I ever saw.
Enjoy the beach, Julia.
The hardware store—I saw at least fifty people I know. It was a regular homecoming parade.
I can’t go to the hardware store without seeing folks I grew up with, worked with, played community softball with, or went to church with. I shook hands, glanced at baby photos, and listened to Bill Weaver talk for thirty minutes about his gallstones.
And I also saw a boy with Down syndrome in the plumbing aisle. He was with his father. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. They were laughing like they were in their own private world.
When I got to the checkout lane, I saw them again, standing beside me.
And I tried to listen to their conversation, but wasn’t able to hear because I was knee-deep in conversation with an old man named Don.
I used to go to church with Don a hundred years ago. Don needs new batteries for his hearing aids.
But then, he’s always been a little hard of hearing. Don sang first tenor in the choir. Long ago, whenever the choir would sing “Precious Lord Take my Hand,” Don would be singing “I’m so Glad I’m a Part of the Family of God.”
But back to the boy I saw. When his father paid for his things, the boy hugged the cashier. And I saw the boy hug a few more strangers, too.
And they were gone. And this touched me. Hugs without reason.
And when I finally got to my truck, the sky opened up. It started to rain, something fierce. So, I decided to wait out the storm. I happened to have my laptop with me. So I wrote what you just read.
No, it’s not eloquent, and there’s no major point to it. But the older I get, the more I believe in common things. And in common people. I believe they have more meaning than I once thought.
So I wish I had words to tell you how beautiful it all is. The rain. The people. The eggs and bacon. The old friends in hardware stores. Everything.
I wish I could tell you how grateful I am for eighteen-year-old girls who fight just to visit the beach; and boys who hug cashiers; and old men who still sing in church choirs; and those who cut hair and laugh too much. I hope, one day, to be like a certain Cajun barber.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: bien merci, Lord.