An older white woman slows her car to a stop and wants to know what I’m raising money for. Her crunched face assures me my answer doesn’t compute.
“Oh – I thought you were the man I saw on the news,” she says. “The Black man walking across America with a lawn mower. Mowing folks’ lawns along the way to build community.”
I apologize, tell her that’s not me.
“But that there’s a great idea!” I say.
She holds a ten dollar bill out the window. It blows in the wind.
“OK then. Well, here, take this $10 anyhow,” she says.
She’s Norma. Her family has been in Virginia since before the Civil War. She grew up nearby in the Mount Crawford area. It’s where her mom and husband are buried.
“Now I live in Charlottesville,” he says. “But I don’t like even saying the name of that place because I’m disgusted by the violence that happened there last year.”
Norma says she refuses to add to her local economy and instead comes here, back home, to do all her shopping. But besides that, today she’s also in town for her cousin’s eighty-sixth birthday.
“But whenever I come here, I think of mama,” she says.
Her words trigger tears.
“All the good memories come flooding back,” she says.
Norma says she just stopped to get her cousin some Cracker Barrel to-go.
“And where that Cracker Barrell is used to be a place where people’d go to have parties and weddings,” she says. “But it’s gone. All those good times covered up by a restaurant with no soul.”
Norma takes off her glasses and wipes her face with the back of her hand.
“I’m sorry for this. Sheesh,” she says. “But it really gets me. I hate going to that part of town. The whole thing’s being taken over by places that don’t make me feel anything good. There’s no charm. No character.”
I take a step closer to Norma’s car. She looks up at me with tears in her eyes and I ask if I can give her a hug. She nods. I maneuver through the open window and she squeezes me hard. I apologize for being so sweaty and she disregards my comment with a shrug. Norma then looks out her windshield and wipes her eyes.
“You know…” she says. “Just because you leave a place doesn’t mean your heart leaves, too.
She turns to face me. Her teary cheeks shine in the setting sun. She reaches out and grabs my hand.
“I wish you good luck, Tom,” she says. “Please don’t forget these days.”