HOFFSTEDT: A brief encounter with a southern lady

I was in Raleigh, N.C., a few years ago. I had driven down to visit my cousin in Durham.
Jan 8, 2013


After our visit, I had some time to kill before picking up a friend at the Raleigh-Durham airport on our way to the outer banks for some sail boating. I decided to go downtown to see how much it had changed since I was stationed at Fort Bragg in the early 1950s. 

I parked my car some blocks away and started meandering slowly toward the state Capitol. It was a Sunday morning, and the streets were almost empty. I always carry my camera with me — and, as I was looking through the viewfinder at the scene in front of me, I heard a soft voice with a very strong drawl say something to me from behind.

I turned and saw a small African-American woman carrying a shopping bag. She was very old with gray, matted hair. And when she smiled, she showed only a couple of spiked teeth. 

On closer observation, I noticed that she wasn’t badly dressed. Her clothes were old, but not dirty or shabby. 

I said, “I’m sorry — what did you say?” 

She again spoke in that soft drawl. “Will you take my picture?” 

I was stunned. “Your picture?” I said. 

“Yes, will you?” she asked. 

I didn’t know quite what to say. “I, I guess so,” I stammered. “Where should I take it?” 

“Over there,” she said, pointing to the steps of some government building with some statues of Civil War heroes.

She moved slowly and climbed a few steps, and turned and looked straight at me. She brushed her hair with her small, gnarled hand and flashed a large, toothy smile.

I snapped the picture and asked her to stay put for a moment so I could take a few extras. I always do this just in case of a bad pose, but I started to wonder why I bothered to do it for her.

When I finished, she walked toward me and again spoke quietly. “Will you send me a picture?”

Again I was stunned. “Send you one? Yes, of course,” I replied. I fumbled in my camera bag for a pen or pencil and something to write on. “Here,” I said, “use this to write your address.”

She walked over to the steps again and began writing. She came back and handed me the paper. It was printed neatly and clearly — her name, address in Raleigh and ZIP code.

Again she spoke softly. “Please send me a picture.”

I was about to reply, but she turned and walked away. I wanted to follow her and ask questions, but I thought better of it.

The whole episode probably hadn’t taken five minutes, but I was deeply moved.

When I was home after my trip, I had the pictures developed, and hers came out beautiful. I wrote a brief note with my address and sent everything on to her. 

I never did hear back from her, but I never really expected to. I’m satisfied that somewhere in Raleigh, N.C., sits a little old African-American woman who found some small pleasure in some simple, little photographs. 

It gives me great pleasure just thinking about our brief encounter. 

— By Richard Hoffstedt, Tribune community columnist



That was a good thing that you did for her. It's really random moments like that in life that add to the overall quality of the life lived.


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