I’m by myself in a crowded place. It’s a perfect time for people watching. There are so many interesting faces, clothes, hair, accents.
It’s a Friday night so the place is hopping. This is a really large strip mall and there are many people walking around. Lots of folks just hanging out. I’m seated right by the window. I've got my notebook open.
It’s warm for the first time in months so people are showing more skin than in a while. Earlier this week it was so cold that we had to take in plants from outside so they wouldn’t freeze. But now it’s balmy. There is a late afternoon breeze that is one of the first true harbingers of spring. It’s an hour before sunset so there’s this reddish orange glow that just makes people look… beautiful. Most folks just seem happier. It’ll get cold again, we know it, but for now it is the perfect time to get outside, to celebrate the weather, to go to the mall.
Girls wearing low risers (Is that the term? We used to call them hip huggers). Young guys with sagging pants, their hands reaching back to hoist them up like windshield wipers on intermittent. Young families with kids in tow or kids in strollers. Military men and women wearing the new sort of small-checked design camouflage fatigues. I guess they just haven’t had the chance to change from what they wear to work. They’re not camouflaged very well here.
Two lovely young African American teens with the most beautiful braids and twists. Those two care about hair. They are both smiling broadly. Beaming. A mom and daughter wearing matching cutoffs – probably for the first time in months. Their legs are pale. The young girl, maybe 12, has almost white blond hair. Long and straight. Bright blue eyes. Mom’s eyes are the exact same color. Her hair used to be authentic blond. You can tell. They make each other laugh. Then they tilt their heads together and the mom suddenly looks about twenty years younger.
The next pair that walks by has been fighting I think. Her head is down, her blackish-red hair covers her face. Low risers. Shoulders slumped in a shuffling sad walk. Sandals. Her arms are crossed over her chest. She has a name tattooed on her sleeveless triceps. Adam. She looks like she might be crying. Adam (I presume) looks nonchalant, like he couldn’t care less, like he doesn’t have a care in the world. The young woman says something I can’t hear. He answers. I can’t hear him either, they’re on the other side of the glass. But I can read his lips easily. It isn’t pretty, what he says. They walk on by.
My attention is drawn to an older couple who walk in slowly and carefully. I’m not eavesdropping but I can hear. They are close to me. They approach the booth next door. “You always like a booth,” says he. They are holding hands.
“And you always let me have the booth,” she says. And I'm thinking, how many times have they said that? “Thank you, dear,” and it sounds like she says ‘dee–uh’ her voice is so soft, so southern.
They are old. Eightyish, maybe older. The woman has on rouge and lipstick and eye shadow. She is well put together. But she moves into the booth slowly. She has a limp too. Maybe a bum hip. Her man helps her as much as he can. And he is gentle. So gentle. He scoots into the booth across from her. Their eyes shine for each other. They put the little pager on the table between them, the one that buzzes and lights up when their food is ready.
Then it strikes me that this beautiful woman looks a lot like my Heidi – at least how Heidi might possibly look in 30 years. This gal has had her hair dyed, Heidi probably won’t do that, but her eyes are clear and she has that kind of natural beauty that one doesn’t outgrow. She has a beautiful presence as well. She doesn’t just look at her man when they talk, she looks into him. I know that look. I am in love with it. I have been for 33 years.
Their table buzzer goes off and sort of startles them both. He slides over to the edge of the booth and stands up slowly, a little creakily. He makes two trips and when he returns with both of their food trays, he slides back in. They get everything adjusted in front of them, drinks, silverware, sandwiches, napkins. Automatically, as if they have done this countless times, they reach their hands across the table and lace fingers. They bow their heads and close their eyes. They sigh identical long sighs. And I’m thinking, how many times have they sighed that sigh?
Man says, “Lord we thank thee for this day you have made. Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and our souls. Lord, let us pause before we eat and think of ones in need of food and shelter and of love.” Pause. “And Lord thank you so much for the love of this beautiful woman.”
Eyes closed, they smile. Not so much at each other now. They’re smiling at God. And I’m thinking, how many times have they thanked God for each other?
Then they unlace their hands and look at each other with love. Quietly, slowly they begin to eat.
And I’m thinking how I forgot to bless my food – Hey, I am in a restaurant - Hey, this is a public place. But then I close my eyes and I sigh and I take a moment to give thanks once again for my Heidi. And I am grateful for that little moment. After a hectic day, a long week, it wasn’t just chance that led me to sit at that table, in that restaurant, with my notebook and eyes open. I am grateful.
I get up and bus my table and look back at the couple before leaving. They have eyes only for each other. It is so sweet, so God.
Then I head back to school and Don Knotts and "Mr. Limpett".