Shadow of a gondola on a ski slope

The Joy of Finding Home Folks Away from Memphis

“Sorry, y’all.” Six other people were already on the gondola, but the worker in charge of moving the line along insisted I join them. I apologized for cramping the cabin.

“We heard that ‘y’all.” You must be from the South!” said one of my fellow passengers. “Where, exactly?” I told them, and the whole gondola erupted in delight. Their group was made up of a combination of Memphis and Nashville natives—three adults and three children. Here we were in the middle of almost nowhere, floating over God’s good creation in a little glass cube—with fellow Tennesseans! It was wonderfully mind-blowing for all of us.

We shared some basics about ourselves: jobs, kids’ schools, neighborhoods, potential overlap people, etc. I raved when I found out the 9-year-old boy had skied one of the hardest slopes as we passed over that part of the mountain. They showed interest in my writing. We talked about how the woman in their party had calculated the cosine of the difficult ski runs, which I found amazing. (I am more a words person than a numbers person, so I had to look up how to spell cosine just to write this sentence.) We laughed and talked and felt that thrill that comes with meeting new people in a faraway place who, on some level, speak your language.

Candace and Jim Echols. Photo courtesy of Candace Echols

I remember when I moved abroad and met my coworkers for the first time. Before then, ‘Memphis’ had always been the name of my hometown, but it was just a word. Two syllables that worked together to communicate a location. However, when I found myself on soil that was decidedly not American with people who were decidedly not Southern, I found that the very sound of the word ‘Memphis’ had the same effect in my ears as the sound of my own name. It was a bizarre moment. I remember trying to explain this sensation to my boss.

He was befuddled.

He had moved around a lot as a kid and didn’t really identify with any particular city. But to me, those seven letters strung all in a row in that particular order sounded not only like my home, it sounded as familiar to me as my own name. It took moving thousands of miles away to discover that Memphis was a part of me down deep in my DNA. After all, as far back as the records are kept, my family has been here.

This afternoon, warmth filled that little gondola because, even though we were strangers, we were also home folk. Had you seen it from afar, I feel sure the atmosphere around our bobbing cable car would have had a slightly golden tint to it. Not that the conversation was extremely out of the norm and not that we made some connection that will last forever. But for a moment, in a far-off place where people are a kaleidoscope of beliefs and accents and styles and norms (which has its own felicities), these people looked like my people. And that feels like a small, sweet gift. Like chicken pot pie on a rainy winter day. If I wanted to find those folks again—in our wildly connected world—I could probably dig around and make it happen.

But I don’t think I will.

Someday, maybe, I’ll run across them by accident, but I’m not sure I would recognize them if I did. I think the men had beards, but I can’t exactly remember. (Men always seem to grow beards when they come out West—at least Jim does.) There’s a beautiful thrill that comes with meeting people, sharing a few minutes of fun and warmth, and then never seeing them again. It’s one of the things that we’ve lost in our ironic world of connectivity. It’s a vintage experience, and I hope my children and their generation will get to encounter it in spite of our world becoming increasingly technologically interwoven. When path cross briefly, the essence of a person or a group can fill the air and then evaporate in a moment, leaving nothing but the feeling of hospitality behind. There is a sliver of the sacred in every human being because God made us in his image. Just the way a dad loves to shower his children with good gifts, God does his own version of that,* and moments of merriment with both friends and strangers are something to thank him for—especially these days. My gondola friends and I spoke the language of our shared hometown, and for today, that was enough.

Because—come to think of it—we never even thought to exchange names.

*Matthew 7:11- If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Candace Echols is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine, and now writes a column for The Daily Memphian.

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