“A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you’re at home.” ~AnonymousHer name is Judy, and she’s definitely at home. I met her that first day as I have met her many days since, across the counter at the Chevron station, where she handed me my receipt and woke me up by starting an actual conversation, as if she and I were friends leaning across the back fence, with all day to shoot the breeze. There was interest in her face, in the smile lines around her eyes, in the friendly way she really looked at me, as if seeing an honest-to-goodness person and not just another debit card paying for beef jerky and a tank of gas. It reminded me, all at once, that she was a real person, too, not some robot behind the cash register. It made me see her—and not just her, but everyone else who entered my sphere as I went on my way.
That first time, it was the sign outside the Chevron that brought me to my favorite corner convenience store. It said “FREE POP WITH FILL UP”. I had an empty tank and an empty 52 ounce 7-11 Extreme Gulp keg just begging for cubed ice and Diet Coke gurgling and fizzing up to the rim, so I stopped. But it was Judy and her particular brand of cheerful solidarity that kept me coming back.
That was six years ago.
My Extreme Gulp cup (affectionately nicknamed “Big Red”) eventually developed a terminal leak, so I bought another one, this one an all black model with OC Choppers on the side that makes me feel a lot cooler. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Judy in hundreds of five minute increments, and my first impression of her only grows more indelible. She calls me Kat, the only person in my life who does. And it’s not just me she treats to those amiable smiles and flashes of warmth. Judy’s “regulars” are many; I’ve seen her greet a steady parade of them by name as they come through the swinging glass doors. She’s bought gas for a stranded motorist, shared her lunch with a hungry friend, and listened to more hard luck stories than a bartender. She remembers them, too, asking after husbands and children, checking to see how the job interview turned out, noticing new outfits and lost weight. Judy has her own stories, as well, and if you hang out long enough or often enough you’ll probably hear some of them, and appreciate the smile she usually wears even more.
This past year, for my birthday, Judy bought me a scratch-off lottery ticket, my first. Using a nickel, I scratched it off there at the counter with her looking on. (“You’re not supposed to scratch it in front of me, Kat! Think how I’ll feel if you don’t win!”) It wasn’t a winner, as it turned out. But looking up at the smiling stranger-turned-friend standing in front of me, I couldn’t summon up any disappointment at all.
The world could use a few more Judys.