Conversations and Connections

This week marks twenty years since my mama went home to Jesus.

Some years are harder than others and this year seems to be one of the harder years. The memories and moments started surfacing in November during the Thanksgiving weekend while decorating the tree and bringing out the ornaments.  It’s crazy what triggers tears and stirs up emotions. Some are sad and others bring unexpected joy. I experienced one of those joy moments just last week while shopping.

JCPenney has always held happy memories for me with my mama. As a kid, I would rip open the large mail-delivered Penney’s catalog with ecstatic enthusiasm. I would spend hours scouring the pages and dog earring my wish list for Christmas.

We had a large JCPenney store in my small town growing up. It was always a special treat to shop there with the front window displays and large parking lot. My siblings and I would scoot in and out of the circle racks of clothing, hiding from each other and mom. My mother would snap at us with a quick “Stop touching all the clothes. You’re goin’ get them dirty!”

Penney’s was the place to go for new school shoes. We would scan the tall wall displays and get our foot measured with those fancy metal foot tools that, as a kid, seemed so techy. With our new size known, the salesclerk would head back behind the curtain to the shoe stash and come out with boxes of options.

Those were times of impeccable customer service with friendly smiles from associates and fellow shoppers.

I no longer live in that small town, nor does that JCPenney store. So, when I discovered an actual brick and mortar JCPenney not 20 minutes from my current home, I stopped in for a saunter down memory lane. I was not disappointed.

There was no large window display, but as soon as the glass doors opened, I was taken back, and my mother felt near. There were display racks to hide in, clothes to casually browse through, and even smiling, friendly store associates. It was a flood of memory-triggering-moments. However, the best was yet to come.

As I perused the different departments, I picked out a new pair of shoes and a bundle of socks. After some lengthy lingering and strolling through the store, I headed toward the cashier. There were two cashiers and two older ladies being served at the counter. As I tuned into their conversation my joy increased.

Lady 1 – “Where did you say you live?”

Lady 2 – “Down in Durham.”

Lady 1 – “Where in Durham?”

Lady 2 – “Off Roxboro St.”

Lady 1 – “Where off Roxboro St?”

Lady 2 – “On Summit Lane.”

Lady 1 –  (with wide eyes and a smile) “I live right around the corner from there on Harrison!”

Lady 2 – “Well, what are you doing up here?”

(At this point I figured out that these two were talking about someplace down south with a warmer climate. We were now all in chilly upstate NY.)

Lady 1 – “I’m moving back down there in March.”

Lady 2 – “Ha… March?!? Why aren’t you down there now?”

Lady 1 – “Well, I normally would be, but I have a long-time friend who’s been sick. She’s recovering from a hospital stay so I’m helping her out while she gets better. See, we’ve been friends since elementary school. I grew up in this area but now I live down there.”

(The cashier looked past the ladies at the counter, peered at me with apologetic eyes and smiled.  I gave her a half wave of “no problem” and returned her smile.)

Cashier for Lady 1“Your total is $76.23. Your savings today is $22.89.”

Lady 1 – “Oh, this is just great!  How wonderful to just shop for a bit today. I don’t have a JCPenney where I live. In fact, I’m supposed to be next door at the grocery store, but I saw this here and just had to stop in.  I better get going. My friend will wonder where I am.”

She picked up her purchases and left with a smile and wave. Lady 2 finished her transaction, and I stepped up to the counter.

Cashier 1– “Sorry about that wait!”

Me:No problem. I’m in no hurry.”

After a few moments, Cashier 2 leaned over toward me, “I love your handbag! It’s so cute!”

“Thank you,” I replied with a huge grin and a sweet sense of hometown goodness.

I was tempted to go into the whole story of acquiring that handbag. Where I bought it, how I was shopping with my girls over Christmas when I got it, what I loved about the bag and on and on. But really my heart was content with the interaction I had just overheard. I also felt if I launched into how precious that previous overheard conversation was, I might have lost it right there in Penney’s. How many times had I been with my mama when she would drop into conversation with whoever was right there — whether she knew them or not.

We often miss that in our world today — conversations and connections.

Our days are rushed. Our eyes scroll through screens held in our hands and conversations happen through earbuds with people not with us.

We miss those right in front of us.

My shopping excursion at JCPenney reminded me of sweet days filled with hometown conversations and connections. Yet, really, any place can be that if we slow down, smile, and simply say Hello

And as my mama would say, “There’s always time to be kind.”

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