My father and I have a very close relationship that began when I was in diapers and (I am told) he would take me quail hunting on his shoulders. On one occasion my father, who is now 83 years old, and I were returning home from a deer hunting trip to Camden Alabama, where I spent many a weekend and holiday as a young boy following my father through the oak and pine wooded hills of Wilcox County. Being a little tired we stopped for gas and a cup of coffee at a filling station out by the Interstate highway in Evergreen Alabama. My father, who has never met a stranger, struck up a conversation with the store clerk, a black man, and somehow the clerk caught my father's last name and asked him if he ever lived in Arkansas. My father said, yes but that was back in the 1950's and we have now lived in Florida for the past 50 years. The man then smiled and said your Mr. Alford... the same Mr. Alford that used to come pick me and my brother up each morning to pick cotton.
As someone who grew up in the Old South where calling someone a “Cotton Picker” was a racial insult, I was not sure just where this conversation was headed. I needn’t have worried; for it was like both men had stepped back in time. These were two different men from two very different worlds, one black and one white, whose lives had intersected but briefly in the cotton fields of Arkansas many years ago… yet it became clear very quickly as they embraced that this brief intersection of two different worlds during the “Cotton Picking Days”, now long past, had left loving memories that both men cherished for a lifetime. They sat and talked like old friends for over half an hour, as I tried to absorb as much as I could.
As we were leaving, the clerk (I wish I knew this man’s name) embraced my father once more and ask him to stop by and see him again the next time we came that way. A few weeks later we stopped for gas and coffee on our way back from Camden again, but he no longer worked there and the new clerk did not know him. Over the years we stopped at the same filling station many times, but we never saw him again. Life is like that I suppose, our lives intersect but for a brief moment in time and then moves on.
I am reminded by this story that as I travel through this life of the importance to take time to make friends along the way. "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24 NIV)