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