Hello SOTGC community,
I have a love of traveling … anywhere. Mostly, I love the thought of having a journey with an unplanned ending, and finding the lesson in the destination. To drive down old country roads and come upon an old structure that is no longer occupied. I like to close my eyes and imagine the stories it could tell, the life it once lived, and the memories still held inside. I experienced such a day last summer as I was coming back from summer camp with my daughter. It was a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon, and my daughter was in the back seat sleeping. The car was quiet except for the sound of my tires on the hot pavement, and I was surrounded by miles of farmland. I found myself being hypnotized by the warmth of the sun and quiet hum of my car …. I needed a break!
I took a turn off of the highway on a country road and drove for about five to ten minutes. Then I came upon a beautiful little welcome sign and small flower garden for a town of 48. I continued to drive, and the road curved to the right. There sitting at the end of the curve was a small country store and filling station. At first glance the store looked run down and unwelcoming, but, as I looked at it a little longer, I started to feel a presence about this quaint establishment. In the front of the store was a bench and a couple of chairs that sat under the overhang, giving shade from the hot sun. Behind the bench was a beautiful window with security bars covering it. They seemed to say they were there to protect the charm of that old window. After looking closer, I could see that the name of the store was hand painted, perhaps by the owner years ago. Something touched me about this place, so I parked my car and decided this would be a nice little stop before finishing our journey home.
As my daughter and I walked into the store, I had this overwhelming sensation of memories past. I felt an immediate connection, feeling the presence of people that crossed the threshold throughout the years. In the old store to the left was a big wooden kitchen table with eight chairs waiting for friends to gather round to share the happenings of their day. In the center were four rows of shelves were neatly organized, holding anything from a box of crayons to light bulbs to dish soap to food. To the right was the checkout stand, and the person working the counter was talking with a customer. It was obvious they knew one another as they were talking and laughing about a story that was being told. My daughter and I continued to the very back of the store and found a single bathroom that had not been updated in years. The mirror had been decorated with someone’s favorite childhood stickers, and it had been repainted many times. On our way back to the front of the store, we walked past what had been a deli station at some point in the past. You could close your eyes and almost smell the fresh bread, deli meats, condiments, and the hundreds of sandwiches that must have been assembled over time. The history of this store, the memories it held, all started coming to life: the lives it helped sustain with nourishment, gasoline for travels, a cold beverage on a hot day, the many stories shared over the years; it was the heart of this small little town.
As a treat, I took my daughter to the refrigerated section and found a selection of ice cream. She analyzed the choices available while I grabbed a bottle of cold water and paid for our items. Compelled to take in one last opportunity to enjoy the treasure of the country store, we sat on the bench outside, tucked neatly under the window, while she finished her treat. After attempting to make conversation with her, and she not having anything to do with me while ice cream was in her control, I sat back on the bench and enjoyed the peace and quiet. During those moments, several people came and went, each having a familiar exchange with other customers. This town seemed friendly and caring of one another.
The moments seemed to stand still as I reflected on this unplanned stop and the lesson I learned, which filled my heart. The store was a reminder for me to never judge what I see on the outside until I take time to explore the inside. I made a promise to do more than walk in, get what I need, then leave. I promised to take time to learn about my surroundings and those that I encounter. I promised to live a life full of graciousness, kindness, compassion and empathy for others. As a society, we too quickly move to assuming the worst in others. I am no different; I am and have been guilty of that. Instead, we should stop and look around, cherish our friends, and take time to put others’ needs before our own. We need to remember the kindness of others and use that as a guide to the endless possibilities we are capable of. We should not let people discourage the goodness in our hearts and the love we have to give.
As I drove away from that small town, I started reflecting on the parallels between the small country store and friendships. With the development of each, there is a desire to create something. For the store, there is a desire to serve the needs of a small town … and with a friendship there is the need to share life experiences and the comfort of knowing that the other person will always be there, no matter what. The dedication it takes to create both, and the patience to build and sustain the life of each, is not for nothing; there was and is a greater purpose. For me, it would be my kismet moment. There is a commitment given to each, a sense of selfless giving. Over time, the shell of each may start to look tired and worn down, but inside there is still life, still purpose, waiting for that special someone to look beyond the surface and see what is truly inside.
Every curve of the road, every mile that passes, only builds on the memories and the life lessons shared. As lives get busier, and we are faced with more conveniences, remember to stop. Stop for a bottle of water the next time you see a small country store. Sit on the bench in the front to reflect on your friendships. Find the similarities between the two, and take a moment to remember why your friendships are important. You are not judged because a true friend takes the time to look inside to know what you are truly made of – your strengths, your fears, your vulnerabilities. Friendship is the assurance that even when things are not going well, the other person just “knows” what’s wrong and offers a word, a gesture, or even a simple smile that has an insurmountable positive impact. It is being able to cry one moment, laugh the next, and to know that a shoulder is there when you need it!
When I have a bad day, I think about that country store, and I think of the possibilities of having such a person in my life while at the same time knowing I can be that very person to someone else. May your life journey keep you focused on stepping through the thresholds to keep you moving forward. Cherish the stories shared, celebrate life, hold dear the memories, and treasure the immeasurable gift of your friendships.
If this post brought back a happy memory for you, please share this with someone you have memories of and with that make you smile.