Isn’t it funny how the best comedy and the most intriguing fiction usually write themselves? The more I visit the old general store, the more fascinating I find the people-watching there to be. That’s because I’m getting to know the people who habitually turn up. Makes sense.
So it was one day that I was sitting around the store with some of the friends there. I don’t get in to BubbaDoo’s just every day. Fact is, some weeks come and go without a visit because I don’t really live near there. It’s in the next community over, about a 20-minute drive away for me.
However, once you do get to the old store it’s never dull. One never knows what will happen at this country crossroads where locals meet visitors and regulars interact with random stoppers. Rich and poor, young and old. You’ll see them all at BubbaDoo’s.
As I was looking out the front window, I felt an elbow jab me. I turned to Ralph, who had sat down next to me. Why in the world had he prodded me? Or, maybe it was just incidental contact. Sure enough, I saw him nod toward one of the booths over in the diner area of the store.
“We got cats and dawgs at that table,” he observed.
As you may recall, BubbaDoo’s is a large country store with a little restaurant inside. Kind of one-stop shopping for all of your gasoline, hardware, horse feed and hamburger needs. It took me a minute to do the relational calculus and get up to speed on why Ralph pointed out the gathering over in that one booth. But once I got it, I got it. He murmured, “What you reckon is goin’ on?”
I whispered to him, “I can connect any two of those three people with each other. But the fact that all three of them are having lunch together catches my attention. That’s an unlikely alliance.”
Let me acknowledge that what we were talking about was neither of our business. Technically speaking, three adults are perfectly free to have lunch anytime they please. Now that I’ve taken care of that bit of commercial interruption, on with our story. Because once something causes your head to make a figurative tilt to either side, you’re hooked. I was bona fide hooked. Staring, you might even say.
“Let me acknowledge that what we were talking about was neither of our business.”
Here’s what makes all this even more fascinating. The booths at BubbaDoo’s were probably built in the 1940s. I know Americans were generally a little bit smaller back then. But like an old church bathroom, these booths just never were big enough to start with. Nowadays at 1.5 people per side, these tables are about full.
So to see three of them crammed in there and talking, it was an attention getter. That wasn’t half the issue though. It was well known that a couple of these folks simply don’t like each other. And that some of them don’t trust each other. They have history that I probably only begin to understand.
“I doubt they’re talking about Georgia winning the championship,” Ralph offered.
“No, I don’t think that’s it either,” I said. About that time, my phone dinged at me. I recognized the text alert tone. Glancing at it, the message read “I know. It probably looks weird to see us all here.” One of the three was actually texting me from the table we were trying not to stare at.
Hitting the reply button, I thumbed “It’s none of my business.” But of course, as a human I was actually yearning for it to become my business.
“You think they’re bickering?” Ralph asked? “No, that’s not the way I’m reading the non-verbals,” I said.
“Say whut?,” Ralph responded. Then, he said, “Oh … you mean the body language and the eyes.”
“Exactly,” I said. “This doesn’t feel like conflict. I tell you what, Ralph. We ought to give them a little space and let whatever it is just be. What say?”
“Well, I guess you’re right, pastor. But it don’t mean I’m not interested.”
“This is what retirement’s for. My eyes got no conscience.”
“Understood. As much as I could sit and act like I’m taking the high road, you know I’d love to watch them for hours. Instead, I’m going to probably get up now and pay for my drink. Then, you know, actually take the high road,” I told him.
Undaunted, Ralph said, “This is what retirement’s for. My eyes got no conscience. I’m gonna stay put and watch them a little longer.”
“I’d be lying if I said I blamed you.” With that, I left.
In my house only about an hour later, my friend from the group in the booth texted me again. “Like I said, I’m not going to ask. It’s none of my business. But yes, you all were an odd group,” I responded.
“I can tell you the deal. The announcement’s going public soon.”
“Really? What announcement?”
“A location of Perky Park Coffee and Donuts is about to open up right here on the highway. We were doing some of the government and business spade work to help the project along.”
“My goodness. That’s huge! A real shot in the arm for the community,” I said.
“Yep, we have a good bit of traffic here on a daily basis. We’re the sweet spot in between two of the larger cities. Some people will want something to eat or drink. Others will need a restroom. Transportation studies suggest that even without a local following, the road traffic can sustain their business. Whatever brings them inside, the Perky Park people figure the aroma will get them up to the checkout counter.”
“How cool is that?!” I cheered. “This is going to be big news.”
“You know, I think more than just that happened today though. I think we may have broken the ice a little between us all today.”
“Tell me more,” I offered. Which admittedly was the most pastoral thing I had probably said since earlier when I wandered inside BubbaDoo’s and got sucked into the gossip.
“It felt like we were working together to help something really good happen for our community.”
“I’m not sure people really change all that much. Agendas make themselves clear eventually, and so does who you can trust and who you can’t. But it felt like we all had something unique that this business transaction needed. And it felt like we were working together to help something really good happen for our community.”
“How did that feel?” I asked. Now I was back in pastoral mode, for sure. At least until my frail soul gave in to the fascination of all the weirdness again. Which surely would happen any time now.
“It felt good. Felt like it mattered. Felt good to see them in different ways from what I normally see them. To hear each other talk about what’s good for this area, and about other possibilities that might follow this business one day. Whatever our differences, we all love this community. We love the people. Want to do the right thing.”
“What do you think it will be like moving forward with you all?” I asked.
She replied, “Now, that I don’t know. One of them, I still don’t trust as far as I can throw. But if we can learn to work together, that’s progress. If we come to understand each other differently, all the better. Time will tell. We’re going to try to focus on what we share in common and see where that leads us.”
“You never know what’s possible between you and someone else until the story is more fully written.”
“Do you think this project could be transformational with you three? You think you all might become better friends?” I asked. I suppose I already knew the answer. But I wanted to see how she would respond.
“Maybe for now, we just work together on this. Then, we can see how things go. Maybe we’ll build some trust. Maybe we won’t. But we’ve got this in common. We listened to each other and realized how much we all love this place. You know, the people here have our hearts. Something good’s got to come of it. I sure hope anyway.”
We may be skeptical that people truly do change. Then again, our God built in at least a little bit of wiggle room so that we could adjust from our original factory specs as we live. You never know what’s possible between you and someone else until the story is more fully written.
Martin Luther King once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Love for another human. Love that emanates from Christ. Love for a community — whatever the source of love, seems like we are better off with it than without.
Charles Qualls serves as pastor of Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Va. He is the author of eight books.