By Amanda Cleary Eastep
I had settled into a comfy writing spot at a tiny coffeehouse & bookstore in Fairhope, Alabama when two older women toddled in pushing a stand just like the one Lucy uses in the Peanuts comic to dole out “helpful” advice.
They asked if they could take one of the chairs at my table, and then rolled the stand into place near the bench seat across the room. There they sat, side by side, looking expectantly out the makeshift window. The board above their smiling faces read “Friendly Advice 5 cents–Sonya & Nancy’s.”
How could I not take them up on that offer?
I looked guiltily at the nearly blank page on my laptop. Sonya and Nancy were more distracting than the Internet, but hey, the doctors were in. Abandoning my work, I walked over and took a seat on the stool facing the women.
Both of them were white-headed, wrinkled, and bright (almost Christmas song lyrics). From their warm welcome and perky introductions, I could already sense a well-rehearsed bit coming on.
I eyed the two decks of cards they had set out on the shelf between us and thought, Oh, here we go, psychics. But I’ll bite for now.
“So how much is your advice really?”
“You’re on a scholarship,” Sonya said, “because you let us borrow your extra chair when we were setting up.”
I dropped a quarter in the cup anyway.
They shuffled the two small decks that I hoped weren’t Tarot cards that they then, with shocked expressions, would dramatically flip over to reveal I was going to hell.
Sonya fanned out the first deck for me to choose from.
I quickly realized they weren’t Tarot cards, but cards from some Dr. Wayne Dyer self-discovery, spiritual-development fun pack.
I gingerly pulled a card that said something about “listening to my soul.” (The one going to hell.)
“Ooooo,” they cooed approvingly.
The next card I pulled had the word “detachment” at the top and warned me to not let my emotions rule me. Thanks, Universe, I could have used that advice 30 years ago.
I still wasn’t sure what to seek guidance about, so I was glad when they asked me where I was from, exclaiming together: “Tell us about Chicago!”
However, their story was more interesting.
As a writer, striking up conversations with strangers and hearing their stories are some of my favorite things to do when I travel. (I know, not exactly margaritas on the beach.)
Sonya had come to the Baha’i* faith decades before, and 12 years ago moved to Fairhope, home to an early settler of the town and a Baha’i follower named Paul Dealy, well-known in the late 1800s for speaking out against prejudice (In. The. South.). Sonya had been greatly influenced by Dealy and hoped to eventually locate one of his great granddaughters who supposedly still lived in the area.
Sonya searched for three years with no luck. One day, she was attending a community meeting at the bookstore (the very same) where she met Nancy. They struck up a conversation at which point Sonya shared her quest to locate Dealy’s great-granddaughter.
Apparently it was in their cards. Nancy (nee Dealy) was that person.
The two have been friends since and are active in various community groups, one that works to integrate Fairhope, and others that allow them to practice their faith’s tenets of the abolition of prejudice and inequality.
I shared my faith with them, saying I agreed with some of the basic tenets but not many paths leading to God.
That was OK by them. At least we all agreed “Trump doesn’t trump friendship” and that change happens in independent bookstores and over coffee.
“Lay it on us. Ask us for some advice,” Nancy said, finally. “We have 140 years of experience between us. She’s 100, and I’m 40.”
I asked something I knew the answer to because I had already gotten more than my quarter’s worth.
“How do I commit to the book I’m writing?”
Sonya said she was a writer too and shared advice she had once received from local author John Sledge: write at the same time every day, early in the morning.
“He starts at 4 a.m. . . . without coffee!”
I thanked them both and asked if I could take their picture for my blog.
Back at my table, I listened in as two men visiting from Baton Rouge asked for advice as they ate their ice cream.
The first wanted to know how he could meet his wife’s emotional needs. He pulled the “thoughtfulness” card.
“Oooo,” they cooed again on cue. . .and the light-hearted jabs and comedic interplay started all over again.
I had to admit the card was spot on with the man’s question. He began to relate some of the ways he believed he had acted thoughtfully toward his wife.
Sonya chimed, “Ding, ding, ding!”
Apparently, the man knew the answer to his question before he asked it too.
We are all searching for answers. I find them in faith in Christ as well as through the process of writing.
Sonya and Nancy find them in their beliefs and in the cards. I suspect they find answers too, as much as they offer them, in friendly conversations with strangers.