But the only time I spent in Bowling Green was at the Food Lion (supermarket) or the laundromat. I did have a memorably sweet encounter one washday, watching clothes tumble in the dryer alongside an 87-year-old man who seemed hungry for conversation. He'd been married for 64 years, he told me, and in all that time he'd had to do the wash only a handful of times. His wife was tending to their terminally ill daughter, thus the domestic chores had fallen to him. He seemed to want to talk about family -- understandably so -- and I spent a poignant half hour listening to his reminiscences of growing up on a small farm ("We grew all our own vegetables and we had plenty of chickens and pigs and a mule."), of building their first home (in which he and his wife still live), of raising five children and seeing all of them graduate from college ... and of the loss of one and impending loss of another of those children.
In speaking of his life's low points I detected no bitterness or regret; in speaking of the high points there was no immodesty or false pride. "She's never seen me drink liquor nor utter a curse word," he said of his relationship to his beloved wife. I thought him a remarkable and admirable individual, and now and again my thoughts stray back to him: as a person who'd spent his entire life in Tidewater Virginia, he'd witnessed a lot of change ... and even more so because, as a person of African descent, he would have to be the grandchild or perhaps great-grandchild of slaves. How I wish I could've spent more time learning from him!
Need I say that it was the best washday I've ever experienced?