In praise of the talkers

No one would ever describe me as outgoing. I’m a fade-into-the-background kind of person, more an interested observer than an eager participant. I no more strike up conversations with strangers than dye my hair purple.

But you know what? I really like people who are. Who do. That is, I’m always grateful when someone else is the outgoing one. I like to be friendly; I’m just not an initiator. I listen. Others talk.

Take yesterday for instance. Just a mundane trip to the auto shop to have the winter tires put on. I sort of dread going there, because they can be slow and the wait is long. Sometimes I bring my laptop, but there’s no Internet connection, so yesterday I brought a couple magazines to read instead.

Entering the waiting room at 9:00 a.m., I found that somebody was already there. That never happens and I had a moment’s annoyance of “Geez, is it going to take even longer?”

The woman eyed my magazines and greeted me with “Oh, I see you’re in for a wait, too.”

And then she proceeded to talk almost nonstop for the next 80 minutes. In that time, I learned more about her and her life than I know about acquaintances I’ve known for years…

  • Her 82-year-old father had just fallen in the basement the previous night and broken his hip. He wanted to stay on the basement floor overnight, and “just get up tomorrow,” but agreed to go to the hospital when her husband insisted. The ambulance took him to our local hospital, but then he was moved to Pittsburgh because he has heart issues and surgery would be risky. Interestingly, her mother and father have been married for 50-some years and have the same birthday. Her sister (2 years older) usually handles care issues for her parents, including taking her dad to doctor’s appointments and such. When she saw her parents’ number on the caller ID at 9:30 the night before, she knew something was wrong.
  • Her husband’s elderly and in-poor-health mother-in-law lives with them. They moved her up from Florida after her husband’s brother (also in Florida) wanted no parts of caring for her (but he’ll for sure be coming for his share of any inheritance). She’s not trained as a caregiver or anything, but she’s doing what she can. Her mother-in-law is quite a shopper and loves to spend money on junk she doesn’t need (they had to put a shed on their property to hold stuff and it’s already full). And she likes to go out to lunch whenever she can, “while she still can.” Sometimes she’s mean/ornery and says things that make my new friend cry, but then she feels bad and wants to buy her something to make up for it.
  • They live in a split-level house — they use the downstairs as their TV/family room, and her MIL has her space in the living room. It really helps to have separate space!
  • She and her husband have a boat and a small camp at Deep Creek, but they didn’t put the boat in this past year because friends have a bigger boat and they just went out on theirs instead.
  • It’s the second marriage for both of them and her husband’s son is the one who introduced them (she doesn’t like to say “stepson” — they’re all family, and they have a 6-year-old granddaughter — his daughter). She loves her husband to pieces. He buys her nice jewelry (revealed during the Kay commercial), but she almost never wears it because she’s afraid of losing it. He bought her the gold watch she had on.
  • Her son has schizophrenia, diagnosed while he was in college but she thinks it started senior year in high school. They at first thought he was on drugs. He had a very rough time for many years, and she campaigned hard for a long time to have his doctors give him shots. They’ve made a world of difference, and he is like a new person now, at age 30. I should tell anyone I know with similar problems how effective the shots are.
  • She ordered a DQ Blizzard pumpkin cake for Thanksgiving — something different. But she guesses they’ll be celebrating in the hospital with her dad.
  • Her husband’s hours at work are being cut back in January — they’re worried the place may even close. They had just met with an insurance salesman who was trying to sell them more insurance and get them to switch her husband’s retirement money around. They haven’t made any decisions yet, but the $3,000 he said they were entitled to (because her husband is a veteran) sounded pretty good.
  • They recently had to get a new furnace because something blew on the old one and they could easily have been poisoned with CO.

I didn’t get many words in edgewise, though I could empathize with her eldercare issues and such. I just listened, nodded a lot, and made encouraging comments now and then. After about an hour, we were joined by an older gentleman, and she quickly drew him into the conversation as well, commenting on his beautiful head of wavy white hair (it really was nice — he has to get it cut every 3 weeks). He shared similar stories of his sister, age 84, who was also a shopper and buyer of useless stuff — a hoarder of sorts.

At that point, my car was finished, and I got up to leave. I wished them both well, we exchanged “Happy Thanksgivings,” and I went on my way. I should have hugged her, but I’m not that kind of person.

I have no idea what her name was, where she lives, or anything that would enable me to find her if I was so inclined. It’s likely our paths will never cross again. Yet she made quite an impact on me — this nice, friendly, super-talkative woman, age 52. I murmured a little prayer for her and thought about chance encounters and whether they really are “chance.” Had she been a different sort of person — loud, opinionated, unpleasant — the whole experience could have been really annoying. But she wasn’t — and it wasn’t.

Instead, it was an interesting glimpse (well, more than a glimpse) into a stranger’s life. And it reminded me of something particularly appropriate on this, the eve of Thanksgiving…

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
~ Plato


  1. jewels said,

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    This reminds me of something similar that happened to me. I am like you, happy to talk to people but not really much of an initiator of conversations. I was at a Kinko’s here in VA and a woman came in and started talking to anyone and everyone and was as nice as can be. Turns out she was from Pittsburgh and I had to smile to myself when that bit of info came out. I think she told everyone her sister’s life story (her sister lived in VA and was selling their house…she came to help with the move…she was making a copy of a family photograph…). I was amazed at the information she shared within a span of 10 minutes or so. I wonder if it ever comes back to haunt them??

  2. WritingbyEar said,

    Friday, November 27, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Yes, I wonder, too, Jewels — especially when you never know who you’re sharing that info with! Did you share that you are also from Pittsburgh, or like me, couldn’t you even get a word in?

  3. jewels said,

    Friday, November 27, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Just like you, I couldn’t get a word in. But I don’t think she cared. She talked to anyone and everyone in the store.

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