Poor Blanche Dubois. Always depending upon the kindness of strangers. It is a dangerous thing, depending upon the unknown. Much better (if one must depend at all, if one cannot be left to one's own devices) to depend upon the kindness of friends.
This past week – in a five-day trek that took me to Macon, then to Kennesaw, then to Powder Springs, then to Lake Blackshear and, then, back home – the kindness of friends accompanied me like a shadow.
It began with my visit to the English professor father of one of my oldest friends. It is a matter of both satisfaction and trepidation that he reads what I write and a matter of genuine pleasure to spend time with someone who, nearing ninety, still writes himself. Toward the end of our visit, he leaned forward and extended his hands toward me, palms open and facing each other, the gesture of someone intent upon making his point. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “that you should get a dog. A big dog.”
I felt a grin spread across my face. The writer had turned paternal on me. All my musings about wandering in the woods and rambling down dirt roads have made him worry for my safety. I assured him that I was careful, that my brother and my parents lived nearby, that I was, in fact, considering getting a dog. He sat back in his chair, content for the moment that I was in no danger and when I left a few minutes later I did so feeling well-tended.
Just a couple of miles down the road was Wesleyan and Alumnae Weekend where there would be no end of hugging and smiling and reminiscing. The friend in whose home I was staying had just experienced a significant loss and was in the midst of a major home renovation and, yet, she managed, as always, to be the quintessential hostess. “You know where the Diet Coke is,” she said. “Manage the thermostat to your liking,” she said. “Make yourself at home,” she said with every word and gesture. And I did.
On Sunday morning I drove to Kennesaw and had lunch with my niece Kate and her husband Kirck, a lunch that included an up-close look at the two of them teasing and laughing at each other with a sweetness I dared not mention to either, but which made my chest expand with happiness and which concluded with a purposeless and unhurried visit to a nearby Barnes & Noble. I left the store with four books to add to the stack at home and the giggly delight that there is someone, some two, in my family for whom wandering around a bookstore is as much fun as it is for me.
In Powder Springs I drove into a cul-de-sac, parked my car on the edge of the yard, and took out my umbrella. It is never easy to extend condolences and the wet gloom felt appropriate. Sandra and I have been friends for 50 years and it was the death of her mother that had brought her from Indianapolis and me from Sandhill. Bad taste or not, we had one of Sandra’s grown-up daughters take a photo of the two of us and looking at that photo later all I could see was the little girls we used to be, the little girls who were so different from each other, but recognized the seeds of loyalty and faithfulness.
The final stop was Lake Blackshear where the talk went late into the night, some of it significant and some of it frivolous, where I told the story of how my mother used to save the biscuits from supper and turn them into breakfast by slicing them in half, slathering butter on them, and toasting them under the broiler, only to wake up the next morning and find that my friend had done exactly that on the morning of my departure.
Back at home and sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, I can take a deep breath and absorb the gifts of my trek around the state. The hospitality and the tenderness. The laughter and the tears. The questions and the answers. I can depend upon those things. Those things and the fragile human beings through which they came, not one of whom is a stranger.