When I started writing this story a few weeks ago, I thought it would be a short one, but that didn’t happen. As I wrote, I remembered more and didn’t feel like I could leave out one detail about the fascinating person I met.
As you will see from reading this final installment, Fran left her mark on me, as I hope I did with her.
Fran the Angry Lady. I met her at the check-out line. We had a conversation. This is Part Three of the story.
The day before I met Fran, a police shooting had become the talk of the nation. Many people were furious about what they saw as a race-motivated killing of an innocent man. I did not watch the video that was passing through the Facebook community, but I did read about the incident. Years may pass before I have an “Oh, that’s right! I’m black!” moment here in Santa Barbara, but the focus on skin color was back to high alert in my life.
[Click here to read my story about a scary “Oh, that’s right! I’m black!” encounter I had a few years ago in Montecito.]
As I stood in the parking lot with Fran, it occurred to me that she must have read and reacted to the same event. Black people. White people. Citizens. Law Enforcement. Innocent. Guilty. These lives and those lives. Yet here we were, with opposite skin colors, and the subject never came up during the entire conversation.
“My husband is one thing,” Fran said, “but his family, well…” She drew out the word, wrinkled her nose, and did that “So-so” gesture with her hand. “They’re all so coddled.”
Coddle: Treat in an indulgent or overprotective way. “How so?” I asked.
“It’s a very wealthy family, Donna.They get handed whatever they want. Not me. I worked for everything I have. Not these people.”
“But they welcomed you, yes?” I gave Fran a thumbs up, hoping to bring the conversation back to a positive.
“Yes, they did.” she said. “They’re nice people. Very nice. Four daughters. And he has three siblings. All coddled. But I won’t go for that. They don’t get any coddling from me.”
“And I would expect nothing less from you, Fran, but now you have a chance to show them another way of living. Seize the opportunity!”
“Humph.” Fran didn’t seem so sure of my suggestion. “Anyway, I opened a little shop so that I can stay busy.”
While Fran described her business, I imagined her yelling at her employees and throwing vendor invoices into the trash because none of them could do anything right.
“I hate to cook!”
Not being quite sure from where that outburst came, I could only answer, “What?” The woman was starting to remind me of the Energizer bunny on four cups of espresso.
“Cooking. I hate it. Do you like to cook?” She had a look of disgust on her face.
“Not really. Only for family gatherings. Frozen dinners are my best friends. I don’t think there is any food in my refrigerator right now. Maybe corn tortillas.”
“But I do like to clean. I’m a neat freak! Drives everybody crazy. Are you married?”
I froze. Ugh. I hate that question. Ask me anything else: “What is the meaning of life?” “Your hair is SO cool — can I touch it??” “How did your colonoscopy go?” Anything.
“No, I’m not married.” I thought about ending it there, but something about Fran’s expression caused me to continue. “Unfortunately, I’m divorced.”
And there was silence. The first real pause of our conversation.
I looked away from her so that I could collect myself. To this day — seventeen years after the fact — hearing the word “divorce” still stirs up within me the shame, humiliation, and sadness of my failed marriage.
Fran leaned in towards me and said, “How in the world did you ever handle something like that?” She asked this with such wonder, care, and concern that I almost hugged her.
“Not very well, Fran. It was not my choice.”
She stared at me for a few seconds. I sensed that Fran was struggling with something herself. And then she said this, so softly, so gently: “I asked if you’re married because I think you would be a great person to live with. That good attitude and all.”
I cannot describe adequately how I felt at that moment. It was a combination of things: Knowing full well that “great” does not describe me, accepting the sweetness of her words as a gift, and realizing that I was seeing a Fran whom I never would have seen if not for a bit of patience at a check-out line.
Fran. Compassionate Fran. Only a short time ago you were a nuisance to all who were in your presence. And now? You’re the giver of a soothing gift to a hurting soul. I wish I could have had those words to say to her then. (Of course, she may have slugged me for the “nuisance” part, but I would have deserved it.)
“I don’t know about that ‘great to live with’ part, Fran. I’m just Darla McDavid. Nothing special about me.”
Right then, I saw Anne and Lillian, two elderly sisters, one in her late 70’s and the other just starting her 90’s, whom I’ve known for years. “Hi, Darla!” they each shouted. I waved back to them and we exchanged the usual pleasantries.
“Are they your friends?” Fran asked.
“Yes. We attend the same church.”
Fran stepped back and looked at me curiously. I’m still wondering if that is the point when she realized she had my name wrong. Maybe it was my mention of “church.” Whatever it was, she kept it to herself.
“Well, I gotta go. Time for my Spanish class!” Fran walked back to her car and took hold of her cart.
“And I have to get back to my gardening.” I felt a twinge of sadness as she walked away, as if I was letting go of something precious. “I hope we run into each other again soon.” I turned to my car and lifted the heavy bag of cat litter into the back.
“Me, too, Darla. Here. Let me take your cart back for you.”
Fran came back for my cart and pushed it into her own. Her huge smile showed how pleased she was with her act of kindness as she rolled the carts towards the grocery store. But before she could get too far, a couple approached Fran and offered her the same favor.
“Yes! Thank you!” She turned to me. “See, Darla?! I was going to help you” — she pointed at me — “and then they” — she pointed wildly at the couple — “helped both of us. Isn’t that great how it works?”
I nodded, speechless. Yes, it is, my friend.
And there it was. The circle was complete.
“Good-bye, Fran.” I really want to give you a hug.
And she got into her gorgeous, luxury sedan and drove off.
Fran the Lovely Lady. I will never cease to be amazed by the ways God teaches me about who he is and what he wants from my life.
I sat in my car and thought about the transformation I had witnessed — an ugly, angry lady becoming as lovely as an orchid. Patience helped reveal a gem. If I ever see her again, I will not hesitate to give Fran that hug.
Your turn. Go out and let a Fran find you.
Note: Fran is not her real name, and I also changed some of her personal details.
Orchid Image: Aren’t those orchids amazing and beautiful? “Two Orchids” is a pair of 30- and 33-foot sculptures of white flowers made from cast aluminum and stainless steel. The sculpture, seen here in New York’s Central Park, is a 2015 creation of German artist Isa Genzken.