It’s been so long since I’ve traveled anywhere, I’ve almost forgotten how to pack. Thirty years ago, on April 23, 1991, my first column was published in a newspaper where I worked as a reporter.
In future columns, I planned to write about “Life,” and all the things, good or bad, that come along in it. I never dreamed of all the places it would take me. Speaking requests soon followed from local women’s clubs and Rotarys and other groups always on the lookout for a free speaker who would (1) show up on time; (2) answer questions; and (3) above all, never talk longer than allotted.
I aimed to please on all three. Especially number 3. It made up for my lack of material. Usually, I knew, and was known by, most of the audience. I wasn’t famous. I was one of them. The town was not as small as the railroad crossing where I grew up but it was small enough that most folks knew most of their neighbors. Especially if the neighbor wrote for the local paper and was married to a local high school basketball coach.
I remember getting dressed for my first speaking gig. I tried on a few going-to-church outfits and finally decided on what seemed the most fitting, so to speak: Black pants suit, black shirt and black flats. As I hurried out the door, I saw my 12 year old shooting baskets in the back yard.
“How do I look?” I said, turning in a circle.
“You look great, Mom!” he said, grinning. “Just like that singer — Johnny Cash!”
It was not the look I hoped for, but I knew the boy meant well, and I try to take compliments wherever I can get them.
Then the column was syndicated and, to my great surprise, I began being invited to speak in places I’d never been. This meant packing, flying for hours and staying a day or so to speak for an hour or less.
I absolutely loved it, going to a town that carried my column to meet a roomful of strangers who had read my columns and would treat me like long lost kin.
My opening line was (and still is) “I’m so happy to be here! It feels just like a family reunion — without the fist fights!”
For 30 years, it’s been my pleasure and honor to speak to people, near and far, who actually listened to what I said. My children can hardly believe it. I don’t blame them. I can hardly believe it myself.
My last speaking event was in March of last year, in Wichita Falls, Texas, at a fundraiser for Hands to Hands Community Fund, a wonderful group of “neighbors helping neighbors” in times of need. Nearly 800 smiling Texans showed up.
I wish you could’ve seen us.
I think a good time was had by all, most especially by me.
I flew home the next day just in time for life, as we knew it, to shut down for the pandemic quarantine. That was the last time I boarded an airplane.
It has been, for so many, a long, hard year. But lately, instead of dread and despair, we’re beginning to sense an old familiar feeling called hope.
Last week, for the first time since my last trip to Texas, I got my hair done. Hallelujah! And my daughter said, “You look great, Mom, just like one of those Country singers!”
I hope she meant Dolly Parton, not Johnny Cash.
I am praying for the day (please, Lord, soon) when the quarantine will be no longer a way of life, but a memory that taught us to cherish our loved ones and our freedoms and the friends we’ve yet to meet.
Soon I hope to pack a bag and board a plane to go speak to people I’ve never met (except maybe once or twice) who will treat me like long lost kin.
I won’t dress in black. Or care which Country singer I look like. And it will feel just like a family reunion.
Without the face masks.
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Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or at www.sharonrandall.com.