Monday, May 23, 2011
I learned the fine art of talking to strangers from my grandmother.
My grandmother lived in the city and didn't drive a car. She rode the bus.
I lived in the country and the only bus I rode as a little girl was the big yellow school bus. So, when it was my turn to stay at my grandparents part of the adventure was the riding the city bus downtown.
I was a shy kid. I had a stick-like figure, a mop of hair and big eyes that I used to stare at people rather than talk to them.
Grandma (pronounced gramma) was also shy. She was just the right size for hugging. She had grey hair and glasses so thick that there was a blur to the exact color and shape of her eyes. She did not stare at people. She would, in her quiet voice speak to the person closest to her.
As we rode the bus she would comment to the person next to us about the weather or the economy or how a recently reported tragedy in the news was, "a shame". These openers were usually enough to get folks talking. Grandma had a good eye for who to leave alone and who to speak to. It was only occasionally that she would get a curt but polite response. For the most part, people had something to say, as if they had been waiting all day for someone to ask their opinion on the subject.
When we got to the shops she would talk to the fellow shoppers about the quality or price of the products or about how it was impossible to find clothes to fit her skinny grandkids. These weren't long conversations. They ended by the time a passenger got to their stop or paid their bill at the store. The brief encounter would usually end with, "It has been nice talking to you".
These little discussions rarely led to life-long friendships. The words exchanged didn't solve any great debates of our time. They were merely a brief connection, a small reminder.
We are not alone.