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Talking to Strangers


Fri, Apr 20th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, April 23, 2001

Those of us who live along quiet and sparsely populated township roads pride ourselves on knowing what is going on around us. After all, how tough should it be to keep track of the few neighbors with whom we are privileged to share this wilderness? There are only eight humans in full time residence on our square mile so we are certainly capable of knowing every one of them, especially since four of them are in our own family.

However, I don’t feel it is my business to know everything about what goes on in the neighborhood. Having lived in our present location for only sixteen years, I am still a relative newcomer. I am usually proud to be among the last to know what is going on around here. This lack of useful information about my neighbors is an ironclad guarantee against gossip. It also provides occasional opportunities to look foolish.

One such opportunity occurred recently. My wife, Deb, and our youngest son, Ted, accompanied me on a shopping venture after work one evening. We ran from store to store in the city, dodging between the thunderstorms and the heavy rains. It poured down in buckets as we left town and headed back home across the dark countryside.

We were delayed in our travels by a stop at a convenience store for milk. I couldn’t help but notice the well-dressed woman ahead of me in the checkout line. She was buying a cup of coffee in a silver mug plus a hot dog covered with ketchup and sauerkraut. I recall that I envied her as I thought of eating like that at 10:30 at night. If I ate like that before going to bed the resulting heartburn would kill me. She left the store and joined a gentleman in a small black car parked a few spaces beyond our car.

We continued our journey through the rain. As we came over a hill just a few miles north of our final turnoff, I noticed that the car ahead of us had stopped in the middle of the blacktop road. The car began to back up and turn around. It was obvious that the small creek that normally crossed under the road was now swollen to a good-sized river and was boldly crossing over the road. I turned our vehicle around and headed for our alternative route. Before we gained speed another car came over the hill. I blinked the lights as we met. The small black car from the convenience store stopped across from us.

I rolled down my window. The man driving did the same. I explained the high water to the gentleman and asked him where they were headed. He told me he was headed the same place we were and then we said "Good luck" and away we went. His little black car followed us for the entire twenty-mile detour.

When I came to the stop sign where I had to go straight and he would have had to turn to get on the main road, he made no signal to turn. "He must be turned around," I thought, so I opened my window and waved him up next to me. The woman passenger opened her window and I called out to them, "You want to turn right here. We live just up ahead."

The woman responded, "So do we. We’re your next door neighbors."

Well. Sure. Now that she mentioned it, it was obvious. I could have come up with a dozen excuses right then for why I didn’t recognize them, but I would have only embarrassed myself more. I must not know my neighbors as well as I thought I did.

We received a most gracious phone call from our neighbor lady the next morning. She thanked us for helping them get turned around in the dark. I thought it was very nice of her to let me off the hook that easily.

I guess we all need to be more careful who we talk to in strange places. They might turn out to be a neighbor.

By Wayne Pike

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