At the front doors, the second you walked in, there were sign-in sheets, one for each state, and with the crowd pushing in behind me I had written my name under OHIO, since that is where I “hail” from. Then, after handing over my offering to tonight’s potluck (last names A-F were assigned “desserts”), I had been ushered along to the nametag table. Now, understandably, there is no escaping certain aspects of public gatherings, the necessary evils of things like these paper peel-off nametags, but am I the only person in America who DETESTS them? And, it is as if my body repels them, too, because no matter what kind of fabric I am wearing I cannot stop the nametag from curling up at the edges and rolling onto itself so you cannot read my name anyways.
Then taking a deep breath I smiled back at personable Nanna from Nebraska in her red jeans and matching vest and dove into summarizing the main details of my life—as that is how these things progress--grateful that she had taken the sting out of the sixty minutes of social hour we were to pass before the 6:00 pm dinner bell because I swear to you it was like a huge colony of bees in there and all the bees knew one another, except for me.
An older woman (I guess that judgment is relative) was sitting on the approximation of a platform that was to be the “stage” for the evening, and she was the “entertainment” the flyer inviting us to the event had mentioned. Softly amped, she sang slow country or folk songs I occasionally recognized, accompanying herself on the acoustic guitar.
I listened enviously as Nanna told me about her and her husband’s trips to China, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Russia (2x) as four local ladies--dressed in wildly painted salon nails and all the Texas glitz and red-white-and-blue sequined vest-type styles—pinned down the last details like taping ripped strips of paper to the ends of each table so each had a number. Then an area businessman, “Just Jay” his nametag said, arrived, unseasonably tan with thin hair dyed a sort of brown, squeezed in at the end of our table and in the flash before dinner was served in a buffet style, BANG! BAM! BOOM! he'd handed out his business card as fast as any Vegas dealer could fan out kings & queens. He reminded me of the first television fitness guru (before anyone exercised regularly or jogged), Jack LeLanne. And I would know because my mother used to love him. He was her Gene Kelly.
Just Jay, with a black shirt tucked into black slacks that were neatened up with a black belt, held the scarf wrapped around his neck and shared that he had throat cancer, a diagnose he had received 9 months ago, having opened his personal-training business only 7 months ago. He had been a body builder and fitness expert on the West Coast and had relocated to this small town in Texas when his now “ex-’’ needed rehab down here. --I cannot say I was overjoyed to hear his salespitch--"30 pounds or 30 inches in 30 days" as he handed me the card, five minutes before eating, and as the conversation shifted focus, I was sad that this mini-glimpse into the traveling RV and Snowbird world had ended.
Dinner was quick--the usual fare of baked beans, oriental coleslaw and green bean casserole--and then the local merchants’ raffle began; lots of car washes, local shampoos and lunches were given away to the lucky ticket holders, but the grand prize was a hand-carved cedar chest one of the Winter Texans had donated, a second year in a row.
Nanna and her husband said that they had been wintering in this part of Texas for ten years but one of the other couples next to her (from Minnesota) had been coming twenty-five years! They suggested things to do and places to go (mostly restaurants--so maybe I will be giving Just Jay a call;-), many of which I'd already found, but the warmth and the openness of their hearts made the evening fun for me as we shared the paths we had taken to meet at this junction in our lives.
With a semi-full belly (remember, I was sitting across from a body builder who pretty much told me I needed to lose 30 inches) and a happy heart, I ended the night with another first. Once again, I had flown solo, venturing into a new arena, and been able to break bread and share a piece of the road with these inviting souls, strangers no more. Bless their journeys and may we meet again!