Monday, September 13, 2010

Familiar Strangers

great big chapeau

I've been reading a collection of Alice Steinbach's essays tonight. She's one of my favorite writer's and wrote this book, which you absolutely must read. The essay that caught my fancy tonight was about familiar strangers. I love that idea. I get a small thrill when someone puts a name to something I've also recognized. Do you know what I mean?

Alice wrote that familiar strangers are part of what makes home feel like home. Her familiar stranger was the gray-haired woman at the bus stop. Every workday morning for three years she waited for the bus at 8:00 am, always wearing a weather-appropriate outerwear. Alice said that she never really thought about this woman until she was no longer there. Where did she go? Did she finally retire? What happened to her?

My favorite familiar stranger is a greeter at the WalMart. She is an older woman, the kind who wear their bones well. The kind of woman whose smile is a constant reflection of her happy heart. The kind of woman who greets each child with two smiley faced stickers and absolutely real delight. The kind of woman, I'd like to grow up to be.

Her enthusiasm and friendliness would be enough, but then there's the hats. This woman is always dressed up. Dressed up for work. At WalMart. As a greeter. Dressed up with hat. It seems that she and I share belief number 13. My familiar stranger wears a Victorian Caroler costume for the Christmas season, an outrageous bonnet for Easter, head to toe black and orange for fall... You get the picture. Her hats make me happy. Her smile makes me happy. Her way of turning a job into a blessing makes me happy. She makes me happy.

One Thanksgiving I wrote a note telling her so and snuck it onto her little podium thing. I wonder if it made her happy? I bet it did.

Speaking of hats, I had to share my sweet pea in her big chapeau. Won't you tell me about your favorite familiar stranger?

28 comments:

Gigi said...

I love this post, Relyn. I think I've had many familiar strangers in my life over the years, and they do, indeed, make a place feel like home. I don't quite have that yet since we've only been here a month, but there are a few candidates for this title! One is a guy who works at this great little grocery in our neighborhood. He is very serious, and I find myself always making it my mission to get him to smile. The other day I succeeded. That gave such a lift to my morning!

Hindsfeet said...

Oh Relyn, ya know, you are *delightful*....Do you know that? Do people tell you that?

I mean, I'm sitting here reading your lovely description of your "familiar stranger" at Wal-Mart, and that Anais Nin quote floated into my mind..."We do not see things as they are; We see things as *we* are."...

You are a delight, Relyn, you are lovely and gracious, and make us all feel like that woman made those children feel with the double smiley face stickers....

What a breath you are, Relyn...

Just lovely.

Dawn said...

Long ago--ooh that sounds bad--but pre-children days--I worked at a grocery store and there were lots of people that were familiar strangers--elderly ones I would ask how they were. Elderly ones that I knew better than to ask how they were. Ones that it was best to avoid. Ones that I see now and think--Haven't I met you somewhere before?

Love Sloane's chapeau. And I love her name!

elizabeth said...

I suspect the note made her very happy indeed.

That's how I feel about a lot of the people/dogs I run into on walks. We walk by and smile. And they're strangers. But it feels so familiar and comforting.

Lisa said...

lovely post, relyn.
if you stop by my blog there is something there for you :)

http://elisabetottosson.blogspot.com/2010/09/blog-award.html

Jo said...

Lovely post and so true. Sometimes I might only meet someone once and make a connection - you just know that if you spent more time together you'd get on really well.

In the queue in Morrisons a couple of weeks ago an older lady and I struck up a conversation, she was really lovely and had such a positive attitude that I admire and hope to still have when I'm older. I was really rather sad to say goodbye.

Familiar strangers - makes you realise that there are lots of great people out there.

Thank you for reminding me, xx

Bee said...

I've read Without Reservations, and really, that sort of adventure is a fantasy of mine. Also, I know EXACTLY what you mean about the satisfaction of someone putting a name to something that you've noticed -- but never really put into words for yourself.

You illustrate the "familiar stranger" concept perfectly -- and how lovely that you let the woman know what her stylish warmth had meant to you. xx

Anita said...

What a nice post. I think about the neighbors I wave at each morning as I go to work..and the manager at Subway who is always greets each customer with a smile, like he knows us personally..I could go on and on. Thank for this lovely reflection.

Hindsfeet said...

p.s. Thanks for the book recommendation, Relyn! Just put a hold on it at my library! Yay! : )

Derrick said...

I suppose any one of us could be like your Walmart greeter but not all of us could be quite so sincere!

krys kirkpatrick said...

You are so right. We go to Maui every year in March. There is a woman who is in the same beach chair, in the same spot, at the same resort ... every year. We look for her and try to guess which bathing suit she will be wearing. She always has her little grey bun in place and very chic. I think she has sat in that spot for 85 years. Our time in Hawaii is so wonderful and it feels like coming home, our bathing beauty is part of our wonderful vacation.

Jeffrey said...

Al Bundy. Relyn and I had a familiar stranger at the grocery store we patronized when we lived in Oregon. Do you remember Al, Relyn? This guy look just like Al Bundy from Married with Children (We hate that show, by the way.) Our Al was always so friendly. He inevitably brightened our day when we went shopping. When we go back to Oregon to visit family and happen in to that grocery, I still catch myself looking for Al. He isn’t there anymore, but I occasionally think about him. I wonder what his real name is.

Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

I had a thought about something like this today. I've noticed that my mail is being delivered by a man lately. I barely noticed last week, just thinking my "mail lady" was on vacation. Today, when the man came again...I began to wonder and worry about my familiar face that I've come to expect.

Oliag said...

Relyn, your love for people shines in this post! The familiar stranger I can think of today is a developly disabled man who works in our local grocery store...sometimes he is angry, sometimes he is talking to himself....always he is walking to and from work...I would certainly miss him if he suddenly wasn't there!

Ms. K @ Write On Thyme said...

Have to say, Relyn, I love hearing about the things that make you happy!
:~>

Writer Lady said...

I love the conversations I have with strangers. When you're me, it's really hard to teach your kid not to talk to strangers.

Still the conversations I've had with strangers linger in my mind. They're valuable to me.

I love the big hat on the little girl.

Suvarna said...

I love it when I meet someone that is so suited (pardon the pun) to their work that they exude joy.

There was a woman who worked in the toy store near here for many years who was such a delight and when one day she no longer worked there I wondered what had happened to her.

Turns out she's an artist, a painter of rocks, beautiful intricate paintings that make you ooh and ahh when you see them. Who knew?

Rita said...

Relyn, this is the first time I have gotten on here since we knew that we were going to have the flooring laid and what a delight to find this on your blog! I've met lots of cranky people and I've met lots of those familiar strangers in my lifetime. Oh, how I love those familiar strangers who give me a smile and a kind word. I try to think better of those cranky people and wonder if they ever have familiar strangers that could change their lives. I am tired and cranky right now, but this brought me much pleasure reading it! You are not a stranger, since you are my niece, but you are an absolute delight in my life! I loved this post! You always make me smile!

susanna said...

Oh, I like the idea of a familiar stranger, too. And I wish I could see your Wal-Mart greeter. She sounds like an uplifting, positive person. Do you think she'd mind if you took her photo? I want to see her Easter bonnet!

My familiar strangers have to be two Polish maintenance workers in our apartment complex. I know that I can always count on them when something goes awry in my apartment. Every day, we smile and wave to one another in the parking lot and sometimes we chat about their families back in Poland or the baby one of their wives had a few months ago. Just having them around makes this place friendlier.

Dorit said...

My, I love visiting you and reading your wonderful stories and eye-opening posts. This one is so good!

ELK said...

what a super smile your baby has!! I so enjoy reading of your familiar strangers...I am thinking on this one today

Connie said...

Great Post. Love the photo! Familiar Strangers...love it.
Strangers are friends we haven't met yet :)

gkgirl said...

oh...i loved this post.
and the photo is adorable.
i am definitely going to check into the author you mentioned at the beginning and i LOVE the idea of the familiar stranger.

Hindsfeet said...

Me again!! : )

Had to tell you, Relyn! I got the book you recommended here and I LOVE LOVE *LOVE* it!!!!! Thanks so much for the rabbit hole into Alice's (Steinbach's) wonderful world!!!!! A magic magic read ~*

Liz :)

Amy said...

What a cutie-patootie!

I've noticed, especially of late people who turn their job into blessing ... I often wonder if they know just how much they touch the lives of those around them. What a great idea to leave a note!

spudballoo said...

Oh what an interesting concept, i've not heard of that but of course those familiar strangers are part of the fabric of our lives.

My current favourite is the boy (perhaps 11 or 12) who stands on the road near our nursery waiting for the school bus. Last year he waved at us, but this year is has grown up and it's not 'cool' to wave. But I see him nod his head. I'm enjoying watching him grow in to a young man. x

Chris said...

I love the phrase "familiar strangers!" What a great way to describe someone you see often in your travels but don't know on a personal level. Reading this post Relyn made me think of my own "familiar strangers."

Patti said...

What a wonderful concept; the familiar stranger. Love it! I have a few, I guess...there are some people that I "drive to work with" We must always leave about the same time- pace oursleves the same and arrive at the same intersection about the same time. I am the first to turn off and I always wonder where they head off to? Same with on the bike trail- same people all the time- wonder where they came from and are going to... I wonder if they wonder about me?

Oldies, but Goodies