Growing up a preacher’s kid in the deep south, I learned to always carry a book everywhere I went. In fact, I may have become an avid reader simply because we’d bump into folks on every family outing and there was plenty of time for me to read while the grownups talked. My parents knew to come find me somewhere lost in the pages of a book in a nearby quiet space when they finally wrapped it up.
My childhood of learning to patiently wait prepared me for being married to a county commissioner. Same life, different books. People want to talk, and my husband is an agent of creative change, a focused listener, and an innovative problem solver. He can talk the ears off a billy goat along with the best of them. We don’t go anywhere that people don’t want to bend his ear, and I’m good with that – the extreme extrovert in him is skilled at people-ing in a way that his equally introverted wife is not.
That’s why a rainy day a few years ago found us meandering through our local bookstore so I could stock up on some waiting material. It’s a cozy place, right up on the town square, in a historic building with creaky wood floors and giant windows in the front, and just like its big-time successful counterpart cousin bookstores, it beckons customers to its coffee bar. The owners keep those spectacular front windows festively decorated for the seasons, and there’s nothing that warms my heart in autumn more than standing on that front sidewalk looking at the glow of warm light in the windows, with yellow, red, and orange crunchy leaves at my feet.
My favorite place in the whole store is the circle of mismatched sink-down-into-softness chairs in the back by the fireplace. There’s a large round pillowy ottoman in the middle, where you can drop your purse and throw your feet up with a big stack of books to peruse. If you didn’t know you were in Zebulon, Georgia, you might think you were in some little European village. Those chairs were right where I was headed when I overheard the familiar conversation begin with a woman introducing herself to my husband and sharing her two cents.
Since they were just a couple of aisles over, I could hear the problem she was describing, about the cemetery just two tenths of a mile down the road on the back side of the bookstore, tucked off in acreage that truly has everything that resting in peace could ever offer. A marbled statue of Jesus is there to bring peace and comfort those who are grieving.
“We go walking every day in that cemetery. Every afternoon. And it’s always the same thing. Something needs to be done. There is poop everywhere. I mean everywhere. All over the headstones. These birds. They’re even pooping on Jeezuz!” And on and on she went in her dramatic southern drawl.
I fought back tears of laughter, imagining my dear, sweet listener trying to keep a straight face and to assure her that he would do everything in his power to……to……to what? Meet with the birds, explain the situation, and assign them a designated pooping area?
I never made it to the sink-down chairs that day. I paid for my book, staving off laughter, and found my extra car key so I could slip out the back door onto the iron-railed porch and let it all out before dashing through the rain to the car.
I managed a straight face, though, as if I hadn’t heard a thing when my husband found me reading in the passenger seat.
Without cracking a hint of a smile, I pretended to keep reading as I mustered a serious voice, feigning frustration, “You know, if you commissioners would get off your asses and do something about the weather in this town, we might could have some sunshine this afternoon.”
We took a necessary moment to enjoy the best medicine, and off we drove down the back street to the cemetery to check out the newly-registered complaint and talk with Jesus.