The first job I had, outside of lawn and farm work, was at Food World in Fort Payne, AL. Right before I graduated from Plainview High School, I put in an application, hoping to get summer employment before going to Berea College in September.
My interview was with Steve Horn, who was one of the managers, and the interview was brief. Basically, he looked at the application and then at me, and asked if I could start the next week. I said that I could and was hired.
I was hired as a ‘bag boy’, which was something I’m not sure exists anymore. At least, we no longer have paper bags and most cashiers won’t place the bags into your cart. Anyway, that was my job, to bag groceries, place them into the cart, and retrieve long trains of shopping carts from the parking lot when the rush at the cashier lines settled down.
After a month or so of working, I noticed an elderly woman who came into the store once a week. She’d buy a couple of bags of groceries and then stood outside the store for several hours waiting to get a ride home. She usually did this during the extreme heat of the day. She didn’t appear to have much money, but she always wore dresses. From what the cashiers and managers said, she was in a Holiness church in Fort Payne. She’d stand outside, smiling, staring off into the distance, and despite the heat, people generally avoided her. She never begged for a ride or asked for money. She simply stood there for hours on end. Eventually, someone that knew her would give her a ride home.
One day, she stood outside the store during the entire time I was at work. The humidity was horrible that day. The front of the store where she stood was also where the afternoon and evening sun focused its energy. I’m surprised she had survived through the horrible heat. When my mother came to pick me up from work, this church lady was still there. I told my mother how long the woman had stood there and if we could give her a ride home. My mother agreed, so I asked the woman if she needed a ride.
Her first response was ‘no’, but my mother insisted, as she could see the fatigue on the woman’s face. Her hair was matted down with sweat and even my mother didn’t want the lady to continue with the madness of waiting. By this time, the sun had already set.
Now, as I mentioned, the lady went to church and would eagerly say that she was a Christian. I won’t argue that she wasn’t. But, the trip was odd.
We left Food World’s parking lot and took I-59 North to the other Fort Payne exit at the time. I sat straddled in the backseat and let the woman ride up front with my mother. From the time we got onto the Interstate, this woman began talking about how evil the world had become. This was 1985, and if we were to believe her, the world was soon to be over.
Mom’s car was an old four-door Datsun with bucket seats and no seat belts. As the woman talked, she’d lean toward my mother across the divider, almost touching her. While I would have expected she’d try to persuade us to visit her church, she didn’t. All she talked about was the devil and the evil that was prevalent in the world. I noticed a shift in the car’s atmosphere, like a cloud of oppression had settled over us. The night seemed darker, and both my mother and I became uncomfortable being in the car with her. She spoke and dominated the conversation, seldom allowing us to get a word in. Nothing positive came from this lady, and strange as it were, I found myself wishing we hadn’t given her a ride. Every now and then, my mother looked into the rearview mirror to catch my gaze, and she was very uneasy.
At the next Fort Payne exit, my mother turned right. In 1985, that end of Fort Payne wasn’t as developed as it is now. The intersection had a flashing yellow light and not a full traffic light setup. The North Y didn’t have all the restaurants or stores that occupy the area now, either. Just the rundown building that had been Jenny’s Bar-B-Q near where the old drive-in used to be. Few street lights were even there. It was a dark part of the city.
The woman continued to lean toward my mother still babbling about the evil things in the world and the way she leered while she talked distracted my mother. As we rounded the sharp curve near the Y, the woman said to turn left, almost at the last minute. My mother slowed down and was turning when a car came right at us. It happened in an instant. The headlights approaching weren’t seen until after she had crossed into the other lane. Police would later estimate the other car’s speed at close to 70 mph in a 45 mph zone, so my mother had little time to react anyway.
The oncoming car struck ours with such force that the motor of our car was shoved partway into the front seat. My mother was knocked unconscious and the lady struck her head on the windshield, suffering a gash on her forehead. I hit the two front seats, my head hit the overhead light, and I was thrust back against my seat. The top of my head was wet so I ran my hand across my hair. The liquid was red but after a few seconds I realized it wasn’t blood, but the impact had burst the tops off of the two gallon jugs of fruit punch in the floor between my legs.
The woman was leaning in her seat, holding her head, and speaking in tongues. My mother wasn’t moving. I leaned up and called to her several times. I thought she’d been killed. I got out of the car and rushed around to my mother, opening her door. She opened her eyes and groaned. After she became more alert, she noticed the woman was bleeding. I took off my shirt and handed to the woman to press against the cut. Mom was shaken up and barely able to move, but said that she was okay, other than her knee.
I walked to other car to check on the passengers. The driver was severely dazed, as was his passenger. Neither got out of the car right away.
Understand that this was before cellphones. No phone booth was nearby. How the police and an ambulance arrived so quickly was beyond my understanding. I returned to my mother and waited with her. I was the only one uninjured.
The police were baffled that my mother had survived, pointing out how far the engine had been shoved into the car console. He asked about seat belts and my mother mentioned there weren’t any. He indicated that had she been wearing one, she’d probably have been killed as the steering wheel would’ve crushed her. The impact had slung her against the door instead. Luckily, it hadn’t come open.
The ambulance placed my mother on a gurney, and the lady refused treatment. Officers said that they’d find someone to get her. As they loaded my mother into the ambulance, I asked if I could ride along since the car was totaled. At first, they had said I couldn’t because they didn’t realize I had been in the car, too. They thought I had stopped to help everyone.
My mother had to have her knee bandaged and was told she might later need surgery, depending on how it healed. Luckily, she had full coverage insurance on her car, which paid for her hospital treatment and actually enabled her to get a better car.
A few days later at work, the woman was again outside Food World with a buggy of groceries and a large bandage on her forehead. A day or so passed and a lady I’d not seen before approached me in the store. She apologized for the accident and said that she went to church with the lady. I told her that she didn’t need to apologize, as she had no involvement in the situation. That’s when she told me that the woman actually owned property and was fairly well-off financially. And even though she’d asked the woman countless times not to stand outside the store like she did and to drive (apparently owning her own car), the woman refused to do so. I was stunned and a little angry that she posed to be someone needing a ride and having little.
I’m not certain what image she had been trying to portray, but what bothered me worse was the aura that surrounded this woman. Regardless of her or anyone’s religion, I was more disturbed that she wished to talk only about the negative things (or evil, as she preferred) instead of the more positive aspects in one’s spiritual path. Had we not given her a ride, I’d have never seen this side of her. In my mind, based upon what others had indicated about her, I held a preconceived idea of this woman. One that would’ve been much more positive and uplifting, at least that was my take on her. But, not once during that short trip did she say anything positive.
You cannot live an abundant life if your focus is in on negativity. Negativity weighs you down. It eats your ambition and kills one’s want or drive to do more for the future. You’re surrounded by hopeless despair. Because if the world’s destine only to get worse, what’s the use in trying, right?
“From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”, is true. What is abundant on the inside will eventually show on the outside. So consuming negativity instead of positive ambitions is equal to the saying, “You are what you eat.” Eventually, the negativity consumes you and spews out to all you come in contact with.
Sometimes bitterness shows on peoples’ faces. Not always. So, it’s never good to base quick judgmental labels on those you meet from appearance alone. People like me, who unfortunately have a natural Grumpy Cat face, are often thought to be mean individuals. My size doesn’t help my situation, either. I’ve had students in the past who were intimidated by me on the first day of class until after I began lecturing and they realized my personality was far different than what my face shows. This has been the case with many of my jobs. People think I’m angry all the time.
It’s far better to try to see the positive things in life and share those than to capitalize on the misery of negativity and trying to bring others down.