(continued from June 12)
We called roadside assistance and were relieved to talk to a human being, a nice woman, it sounded like, whose job it was to fix predicaments such as the one we were in. She was matter-of-fact, in control, reassuring. Fear suddenly seemed so out of place I could not remember why we had been afraid in the first place. We would be rescued without delay – or would we? “They’ll be there in three hours.” Three hours? Did she just say three hours?
We looked around again, and again we saw fields and more fields (was it grass?) as far as the eye could see on both sides of the road. With less than two hours of daylight, we got out of the car to stretch our legs and consider even darker versions of our imminent dénouement. It was then we saw someone move towards us, indistinct at first, and then more clear though we could not tell whether man or woman, young or old. Whoever it was moved slowly, taking the time. The whole thing felt too much like the scary movies of women stranded on the open road. Going back into the car was an option but then, why would we do it? The car was not going anywhere; the windows were not bullet-proof.
We continued to stare as if our lives depended on our ability to tell early enough as much as possible about whoever was coming. At some point we could see it was a woman carrying something with both hands. What could it possibly be?
A tray, we thought, and we were right. On the tray there was something that sparkled in the evening light. A pitcher, it seemed. A little later the cups on the tray became visible and then her voice traveled the remaining distance, “Hi there! I fancied you could do with some home-made sweet iced tea while you wait.”
She put the tray on the car trunk and stirred the golden liquid with a large wooden spoon. We really wanted to ask where she had come from but were wary of the answer. “Where do you come from, then?” she asked, wasting no time. I began to give a thorough explanation but she stopped me on my tracks. “You’re not from around here, right?” It wasn’t a question. “I bet you’re from fancy Rock Hill, hey?” she added. Fancy is not a word we associated with Rock Hill but there was no time to think of an answer, as she went straight to the next question, which was – guess what – “What do you do for a living?”
Now, as easy as it should have been to say what we do for a living, it suddenly felt awkward to speak of research, art history, “and stuff like that,” as we put it, in an attempt to sound as un-intellectual as possible. Part of me wondered why I was acting this way. It wasn’t long, though, before I felt the punch. “I guess I made iced tea for two liberals, hey? A nest of liberals the place you work at is, I bet.” There was no stopping her now. “Colleges! I bet that’s where you work, right? I bet that’s why your car’s ready for the trash. Liberal and poor go together good, hey? Can’t afford the right kind of car.”
And with that she let out the biggest laugh, and we couldn’t help but laugh along with her. We laughed so hard I needed to visit nature’s rest room right there behind some bushes. When we had finally settled enough to look at each other again, she said, wiping her eyes, “That’s alright. You’re God’s creatures too. I bet you can do with some of this.” She let the iced tea and cubes fall loudly into three large clear cups. She knew we’d be there a long time and meant to keep us company. We raised the cups to our lips and drank. This was the South, then: cool and sweet, strong, refreshing … with a sprinkle of humor.
P.S. And the friend in this story sent me this comment:
Yes! It was sweet tea, don’t forget — a very important distinction. And I remember short light hair – grey? And the southern version of your Maria, capris and a sleeveless tank top, all in soft cotton.