(Written May 27, 2016)
People are nice.
Most all of them, I’ve found.
It’s kind of like the bag of Lil’ Cuties that I buy at the grocery store–you know, those little clementine mandarins that are so tasty, juicy and easy to peel? The ones that are zero points on Weight Watchers and chock full of Niacin, Potassium and Dietary Fiber? Yes those ones. I can easily consume three of them in one fell swoop, but now I’m off and going all rogue again.
Post-Menopausal Attention Deficit Disorder. (P-MADD). The struggle is real.
So, as I was saying…
In that little bag of mandarin heaven, there are always a few of them on the bottom that have begun to grow mold. We all toss them and never give them another thought as we enjoy the sweet delight of juiciness dripping down our chins. Maybe that last part it just me, but it always makes me happy inside and I feel six years old again.
It’s like people. A few moldy ones are bound to show up from time to time, but there are so many good ones that it’s almost impossible to dwell on the others.
On a recent 3-day adventure with a dear friend, I had the true joy of experiencing the niceness of total strangers once again. It caught me by surprise, and I’m more than a little ashamed of myself for forgetting.
The idea of “niceness” .
The truth that people are nice.
When it hit me, a sort of giddiness coursed through me–kind of like drawing that first breath of nitrous oxide at the dentist office. Okay. Well that’s a really crappy analogy. Let me try again.
Springtime was new in the air that weekend, and I found the goodness of ordinary folks wash over me like a rain shower. (Much better). It refreshed me.
This is my tribute to a few of them who reminded me that it’s true. People are nice.
On the surface, the weekend was about “junking”.
You see, my friend is a dealer of “good junk” as we like to call it–a job that requires much more skill than one might think. It takes years and years of hard work to develop the intuition and discernment necessary to separate “good junk” from “junk junk”. Together, Nancy and I have a combined 50 years experience in the field. I like few things more than going on the hunt for treasures. So that was the plan. Treasure hunting.
We jumped in a truck pulling a trailer early one morning, way before sunrise. We headed east. Way east. To-the-Louisiana-border east. Then we jumped on the famous Highway 80 that spans half of the country east to west–from Dallas almost to the Atlantic Ocean.
We were well-prepared for our journey.
We brought ice chests full of tomatoes and okra and carrots. And hummus. Apples and Lil’ Cuties, of course. Plenty of water, because one must stay hydrated and focused when treasure hunting. Still we tried to achieve the balance between “enough water” and “too much water”, as we wanted to make as few stops as humanly possible. Who were we kidding? We’re both in the Glorious Fifties so that turned out only to be a pipe dream. Urgency has fresh meaning in your fifties.
“What are you looking for?” Nancy asked me as we barrel down the road?
“You know, nothing really. I mean I know I’ll find stuff, but I’m not really looking for anything,” I answered.
That’s new for me.
I’ve simplified life over the last few years. Gotten rid of belongings. It has lightened my load and freed my soul in a way that makes me feel like I’m at my pre-pregnancy weight. Imagination is the most wonderful thing.
So nothing. I was on the hunt for not one thing.
The very first stop in a tiny town as we headed east changed that.
It was in the little town of Malakoff when we saw it. The first little pink sign that said two simple words.
Observation. Quick braking isn’t quite as easy in a truck pulling a trailer driven by a gal driving a truck pulling a trailer for the very first time. No. It isn’t easy, but it wasn’t a problem for a couple of well-seasoned junkers.
It was almost dusk when we drove up to the old mansion that sat on an expansive corner lot. They were setting up for a sale the next morning and were about ready to call it a day when we showed up. They invited us to have a look anyway. “They” included a woman about my age, her teenage son and a man they’d hired to help. Nancy began to explore the garage and yard and was even invited to treasure hunt in the secret attic above the garage. People always like Nancy.
Then we met Jersey Girl and she wore the title proudly on the ball cap she sported. She was the owner of the mansion– a feisty one in her 80’s who was doing a little bit of “lightening her load” as well. She lived up to the “Jersey” stereotype in the first minute we met. She was tight-lipped. She said very little to us at first, answering questions with short, curt words wrapped up in a strong Jersey accent. Since I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, I began to talk to her about how I’d gotten rid of a bunch of stuff recently. I lamented with her about what a task it was. She then sat down in a lawn chair and started talking.
We had that in common, it seemed. Jersey Girl and Texas Gal drawn together by a single commonality–too much stuff.
So Nancy shopped while Jersey Girl and I talked. She told me how her husband’s health had recently declined and he had to go into a nursing home. She said she sold the family farm and moved all the stuff into the garage in the old mansion there. She was renovating it, she said. The mansion.
Slowly, it seemed to me as I looked around at the disrepair.
She said she’d just replaced all the windows.
Ambitious, I thought.
She told me she also had a house in L.A. full of books and mid-century furniture. She used to live there, she said, telling me that one day soon she was going to sell it all. She said she didn’t want any of it. She was clear about that.
I wondered if she had sad memories there.
I asked her about the two old cars in the garage. A 1942 Packard and a Karmann Ghia convertible. She told me the Packard had been her family car back in Jersey. She told me a story of how her mother worked for the phone company and was going in for the late shift on an icy night when she was involved in a head-on collision. The Packard and her mother barely got a dent, Jersey Girl said.
“It was that well-built.”
She told me she drove the convertible when she lived out in L.A. She said as soon as the garage was cleaned out, she planned to get them both in running condition again so she could drive them.
I loved her spunk. I bet no one ever pulls a fast one on her, I thought to myself.
Eventually Nancy returned from the attic with a few treasures. Jersey Girl carefully and seriously considered them all before she pronounced her verdict–that she would indeed sell them. A bunch of old doors mostly. But it lightened her load a little, and I know how that feels.
I’m happy for her, I thought.
After we loaded the doors on the trailer, we thanked her for letting us shop and we wished her luck with the sale the following day.
It was dark as we drove off, with me wondering if she’d enjoyed the visit as much as I had.
Jersey Girl had a soft side and she showed it to me. She was nice, and she couldn’t hide it from me.
All of the sudden it hit me what I was hunting for! I decided then and there that I would be on the hunt for “nice”. That’s it. Nice. Even if there was a shortage of it–which I wasn’t sure there was–I had it’s very fresh scent and I was hot on the trail.
We didn’t get far before we slowed down as we passed a junky thrift store we thought was closed. At the last second, we saw a woman waving at us as if to say, “Come on in”.
Of course we did, because Nancy will absolutely not pass up such a tempting adventure. Neither wind, nor rain, nor winter’s cold can separate my sweet friend from finding “good junk”. I learned that on this trip. If Nancy was reading this, which she isn’t since she rarely opens her computer, she would know I’m writing about her with a smile on my face.
I’m glad we stopped, because I stepped right into a big ‘ole pile of “nice” when we were greeted by an extremely tan, middle-aged Texas gal who proudly sported a very big and very blonde bouiffant. Her smile was framed by hot pink lipstick and it never left her face the entire time we were there.
The store was a mess, but it didn’t seem to bother her at all. She was all about hospitality in the midst of the mess. She with right in the middle of eating a late supper of shrimp when we walked in, but she happily wiped her hands and put it aside to show us all the great finds in the store. She was larger than life as she told me about the tanning bed her ex-husband had recently bought her.
Clearly he still has feelings for her, I think.
“As you can probably tell, I’m a sun goddess. Girlfriend, I just love the sun!” she said laughing. As she talked, she gestured with her entire body.
In the end, she was happy to give Nancy some good prices on books and a few other treasures before we said goodbye.
“I like y’all”, she said, indicating that was the reason she gave us her best prices. As I glanced at her as we made our way through the maze of junk to front door, she was enjoying her shrimp once again. I wondered how many more folks she’d welcome into the store before she called it a night.
I got the idea from a few things she said that she was a little down on her luck. Funny though. She didn’t act “down” at all. I mean, who puts on pink lipstick when she’s down? This gal–the sun goddess–she just seemed plain old nice.
I kind of wanted to be more like her, except maybe minus the tan.
The next morning we turned that truck and trailer rig around in the middle of a highway because we’d missed a yard sale sign.
We are fearless in pursuit of junk. And niceness.
That’s where we met Dee and Dennis.
We followed the signs way back into those east Texas woods until we came upon their old house. Their yard and a little side house were a picker’s paradise. They had an ongoing sale at their place–just things they found around the property or things they didn’t need anymore. Actually, most anything was for sale. It was how they made a living, they said.
I was intrigued by how loosely those two they held onto things, because God had been dealing with me on that very subject lately.
We walked and we talked. Dennis was quiet, deferring to Dee when it came to pricing and selling. We learned a grandchild would be coming soon. They showed us some old glass bottle they’d dug up in the field behind them that was once an oil field camp. I bought a petrified cedar tree from them that I planned to use as a hat/coat rack. Nancy found many treasures, including an old concrete bird bath.
“Hey,” Nancy said. “I’m looking for a chicken coop. Would you guys have anything like that or know where I could find one?”
Dee answered. “Pete might have one. He’s my old friend who lives down the road a ways. If I can hop in the truck with you, I’ll take you around to his house”.
She is Pete’s protector, I thought.
So off we went to Pete’s house–farther and deeper into the woods. I’ve seen so many scary movies in my life, that my mind just automatically started writing a movie trailer about two junkers going deep in the woods to meet a man named Pete…
Okay Dana. Stop it. You are hunting for “nice”. Remember. Only nice.
Pete is Dee’s best friend. He’s an 80-something-year-old, and when we pulled up to his little old house he was sitting on his front-porch swing. Dee told us he was probably resting after work. He clears property for a living she said. Eighty-something and still doing hard physical labor. I suddenly felt like a slug.
Not wanting to be disrespectful or intrusive, we hung back as Dee went up to ask him about the chicken coop. We slowly approached when Dee waved us closer. He wouldn’t look at us when he talked. He talked to us only through Dee.
His east Texas was thick like the air that morning, and it made him hard to understand at times.
“I ain’t got no coop. They talkin’ about a hen house?” he asked us, through Dee of course, as if we weren’t standing right there. I was amused. He didn’t trust us one bit.
I wonder if he’s forgotten about nice people, too.
He had neither a coop or a hen house though, so we thanked him and started to go.
But I don’t think he wanted us to go.
“What else they lookin’ for?” he asked Dee.
So Dee asked us.
“Well I don’t know,” Nancy said, awkwardly not knowing who to address–Dee or Pete. “But we’ll know it if we see it. Would it be alright if we just walked around with you and if we see something and you want to sell it, maybe we could work something out”.
For the first time he looked at Nancy directly.
“That’d be alright,” he said. As I said before, people like Nancy.
For the next two hours we walked the property with Dee and Pete. Nancy and Dee walked a little ahead of us. I hung back with Pete who was slow due to a bad hip.
“Pete what are these old buggies for?” I asked motioning to a couple of them parked neatly in a straight row.
“Trail rides. I go on trail rides. I’m goin’ tomorrow if it don’t rain. Takin’ my grandson,” he told me.
Every outbuilding on the property was full of treasures–the most colorful tack I’d ever seen. Pete told us he was the son of a sharecropper, and then he showed us some old cotton implements, telling us about the work he’d done to put food on the table for his boy and girl.
Every treasure had a story, and in the end he was asking us if we wanted some of them.
The hunt for “stuff” led us to Pete, but it became inconsequential as the afternoon wore on. He made sure we left with some treasures, though, which he sold us for a fair price–me with a single old flower pot and Nancy with old ropes and parts and pieces of things. He was proud to have had things we wanted. We patted him on the shoulder, thanked him and he looked us in the eyes and shook our hands as we said goodbye. When we drove off, he was already back sitting on his porch swing–waving and watching us go.
I think there could never be enough of that kind of nice in the world.
So I found more.
Like Linda, who was locking up her store when we drove through the parking lot. She invited us to shop her parking lot where things were set up. After we passed a little time with her shopping and laughing, she told us she liked us and she unlocked her store and invited us in for a fun, junk-talking time.
A few doors down, a jovial Stacy Moon sold Nancy a mounted deer she’d named “Buck”. She was glad it was going home to live on a ranch.
It was a hot and humid morning when Martha and Jeffie sold Nancy a bunch of furniture. They didn’t have to help load it on the trailer, but they did. Happily so.
On the side of the road where people were selling, I admired a painting depicting a rainy day with a girl in a street with a red umbrella. A young woman approached me and asked if I liked the painting. I told her I was drawn to it. Then she told me she painted it. Her name was Sherrie. She was very pleased when I bought the painting. I was surprised when she told me it was only $20.
Perhaps an hour later–as Nancy and I were tying down some of her larger things–Sherrie found me again and told me she needed to tell me something. The painting I bought had been passed over by many for a few years, she told me. That very morning she said a gust of wind caught it and blew it off the easel.
“I told myself that was it and I decided to paint over it. I was imagining what I would paint when you walked up and asked me about it”.
She went on to tell me that she painted it right after her father had passed away and that was why it was kind of dark. She told me that when she paints she knows she’s painting for a specific someone and she told me how happy she was that this one was for me. Then she hugged me, said goodbye and thanked me for encouraging her.
How kind of her to tell me this. In that moment, “nice” seemed everywhere.
Rhee and Tracy–a girl and her great aunt–helped us load some more finds. Tracy’s mom had passed when she was a little girl, and her Aunt Rhee and filled her mom’s shoes. There “thing” was selling and junking, and they hoped soon to take a similar trip like the one we were on. We invited them to our little town and told them we had plenty of room to put them up.
I think they’ll come one day, those two.
Our last day on the road, there was so much left to see. Many miles to cover. We’d hoped to leave the hotel and get an early start.
That’s when we met Deb, the hotel manager, who was cruising the breakfast room. We watched her making the rounds to greet all the guests, knowing full well that she would eventually make her way to us. Now I’m not saying that Nancy and I were 100% grumpy that morning, but we might have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 70%. We were quietly sipping our first cups of coffee when Deb approached our table. Clearly she had already had a whole pot of coffee, and was locked and loaded and fully engaged when she sat with us.
She was living on site temporarily, until she could find a suitable place to live. She’d moved down from Pennsylvania recently, and before we said our goodbyes we knew she was on the hunt for a pair of second-hand cowboy boots to wear the next week for the local rodeo. We knew that her daughter had dealt with a drug issue for which Deb had doled out her life savings for the very best rehab in upstate New York. We knew she handed down a family heirloom bed to her grandson. We knew she owned a handgun and would not hesitate to use it. We knew she watched her security cameras at the hotel closely and would personally investigate anything suspicious. We knew she was anti-smoking.
I liked “take-charge” Deb. I liked her a lot.
I liked how she talked about an amount of money. She would call fifty dollars “Fifty Smack” and as she said “smack” she would simultaneously clap her hand a single time.
In our conversation, she must have done this at least four times. Talking about the cost of boots, the cost of a bus ticket, the cost of rehab.
I loved her exuberance for life. I loved how she took every opportunity to make guests feel welcomed. I loved her laugh and how after chatting with her for about an hour, Nancy and I felt like her best friends.
We hit the road late on that last morning, but there wasn’t enough good junk out there that could’ve been better than the morning with Deb.
And all the others we met. Before and after.
On the way home, Nancy and I asked each other a question we always ask each other after a junking expedition.
“So what was your favorite find?”
This time the answer was easy for me.
Like Deb. And Dee, Dennis and Pete. Like Jersey Girl and Sun Goddess. Like Rhee and Tracy, Linda and Stacy Moon. Martha and Jeffie too. And all the others
They are everywhere. There is no shortage of nice people. They are out in plain sight. If we don’t see them, it’s because we don’t take the time to look–the time to see something in everyone.
Everyday, thoughts are planted in our brain telling us there are more mean people than nice people; that just about every other stranger we meet is likely a terrorist, or a thief, or a liar and a cheat. Or just a regular old run-of-the-mill axe murderer. The idea is planted as a seed at first, and we’re only subliminally aware. Eventually though after being fertilized by the evening news and social media, the idea climbs up in the front seat to ride shotgun.
dee and pete
But that’s not truth.
This is truth.
People are nice. Most all of them.
One weekend in early spring, Nancy and I thought we’d go out collecting some junk. And we did. But mostly we collected stories of nice people.