We all know Scarlet O’Hara’s famous old line, but in modern times we’ve been focused more on stranger danger and internet safety. You can’t trust anyone these days, right?
And while to a degree I agree with that, there are some encounters with complete strangers that I simply can’t forget. Some of these incidents are literally decades old at this point, but they still cross my mind from time to time.
-A couple of months ago I had to run into the grocery store for a couple of things. I hadn’t actually been in the store for a long time due to the pandemic, so it was a weird experience for me as I flew through and grabbed the items I needed for dinner. I happened to notice an older gentleman in the frozen section. He was dressed in a black Stetson, a black shirt, black cowboy boots, and a black and white bandana for a mask. He caught my eye because I thought he just had the perfect post-Covid-apocalypse outfit on, and as a writer I thought he would make a great character. Anyway, he saw me looking at him, and he tipped his hat at me! This old-fashioned gesture took me by surprise and completely made my day!
-Mother’s Day, 2009: I was sitting in an out-of-town IHOP with my daughter. A crazy storm had come through our area and left everyone without power. With a 3-year-old and another baby on the way (one who would be born just a few days later with a cancerous tumor), it only made sense to head across state lines for the comfort of a hotel. I sat there at that restaurant, tired, worried, and feeling very alone in the world. But then an older couple passed my table on the way way out, and they stopped to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. It was so touching. The thing is, they weren’t the only ones! At least three different times that morning, someone stopped with Mother’s Day greetings. I was nearly in tears by the time I left.
-Back in college, there was a Vietnam veteran in my speech class. he seemed very uncomfortable, and he had a very hard time doing the required speeches. I had a few short conversations with him, and I really felt for him. He gave me a handmade pendant he’d made as part of his demonstration speech, and I still have it to this day. (I wrote a little more about him here.)
-My daughters and I were walking into Home Goods last weekend. My youngest dropped her ring in the parking lot. She’d just bought it on her birthday, and it means a lot to her. It’d rolled off from where she walking, and we couldn’t find it. I was really starting to worry, and then I noticed another customer who’d overheard us had doubled back and was helping us look. She found the ring, and she was my hero of the day!
These are all such small things, but they mean so much to me! Never underestimate the power of a smile, a word, or a simple gesture. You might make someone’s day, or you might even make such an impression that a random stranger remembers you for the rest of their life.
Has a stranger been kind to you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keepingand The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.
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