We got the money back! The drama is over and the lesson is learned. And after this last couple of weeks of heartache and doubt, I think we need a feel good story. I wrote this after a recent trip back home and re-reading it has reminded me that there are still good and loving people in the world. I won’t lose my faith in humanity just yet.
She hugged me as if she’d known me my whole life; as if she’d watched me toddle around the yard making mud pies and trying to catch fireflies in the fading light of a late summer afternoon; as if I’d gone and come home again. And I had. I had been gone from the South for many years. I moved away after college and hopped around the country – D.C., Portland – finally settling in Spokane, Washington with my husband and children. But I had returned again for a reunion weekend with my sister and my high school girlfriends.
The streets and buildings of Atlanta were foreign to me now. Driving around town, I had trouble recognizing where I was. There is a bank billboard on Peachtree Road that tallies the city’s population and just before I went away to college, there were around 2 million people in this city that I loved. But after the Olympic games came to Atlanta in 1996, the city exploded. Now there are close to 6 million people, with the accompanying increase in high rise buildings, businesses, restaurants, housing and traffic. I almost felt like a stranger back in my hometown.
But a stroll around the neighborhoods of Buckhead helped me recall the city in which I grew up. The majestic homes with their expansive, well-manicured lawns, the trees – oh so many trees, their canopy offering dappled shade on a hot day, the smell of Tea Olives and Honeysuckle, and the ease with which strangers greeted each other on the street welcomed me home again.
And then there was Yvonne.
My sister and I had run across the street from our hotel to grab some breakfast. We went to a little place called the Corner Café, situated right off of Peachtree in the heart of Buckhead. It had a lovely outdoor patio area and we rushed to place our order so we could find a table outside to catch the morning breeze and rays of sunshine. That is when we met Yvonne. She was our server that morning. “Ooh, are y’all twins?” she crooned as she brought us our food. She proceeded to dote on us like a mother hen on her chicks. We reminded her of her nieces, she said. She hugged us around our necks, as if we were family.
As we sat and ate our breakfast and watched Yvonne work the patio, we remarked how she did this with every single person who sat down. Some she obviously knew but most she did not. These were strangers whom she welcomed as if she were welcoming them into her home. She fussed over babies and children. She stood at each table a while and visited with folks. Even now I get a lump in my throat and a warm, fuzzy feeling just thinking about it.
As I said, I’ve been away from the South for a long time. I always knew I’d move away and sometimes I’ve felt like a false Southerner. When people find out that I grew up in Atlanta, they always say “But you don’t have a Southern accent!” And, I don’t. The little bit of one that I had went away a long time ago. My sister says I have more of a Midwest accent now, and that is probably true. My in-laws are from North Dakota and Minnesota and I sometimes find myself talking about hot dishes and saying things like, “Oh, fer sure” and “Yeah, you betcha!” But when I get around people from the South, particularly those with a graceful drawl and a welcoming way, my “y’all” comes back. I speak more slowly. I put a “miss” or a “mister” in front of people’s first names. I say, “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir” when speaking to my elders.
That day, Miss Yvonne reminded me of what it felt like to be a Southerner and she reminded me of the positive impact that one person can have upon another, just with a smile, a hug, and a genuine interest in how that person is doing. As we left the restaurant, I gave Miss Yvonne a note to say thank you – for being a bright spot in my day and for reminding me of what I missed about the South. She hugged us and kissed us on the cheeks and said she’d look forward to seeing us next time.
When I find myself back in Atlanta next, you can bet I’ll be stopping by the Corner Café to see Miss Yvonne. She represents everything that I miss about the South and it is people like her who make the South still feel like home to me, even after all these years.