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Dixie Divas: Collecting stories from people during routine chores
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Southerners tend to collect stories. And, we tend to talk to anyone who will talk to us. The latter tends to lead to the first.

“In New England, we don’t strike up conversations with strangers,” Tink said. “We mind our own business.”

“That’s boring,” I replied to this observation after a 15-minute conversation with two sales clerks while my husband paced nervously, his hands thrust deep into his pockets.

He doesn’t like to be impolite and my questions, he thought, were bordering close to being — get this — nosey.

But we were in Nashville, a proud Southern city, so the young ladies thought nothing of it. In fact, they participated enthusiastically.

It started this way: It was spring, ambling toward Easter. I, as usual, was trying to find a hat.

Now, this is a chore every year, but I recently came up with a rather smart idea. If you live long enough and learn enough, you can figure out how to solve a repeated problem.

“That’s beautiful,” said the sales assistant as I tilted my head from side to side, closely examining the broad-brimmed natural-colored, sheer straw trimmed in deep fuchsia pink with a matching flower. It looked remarkably like a Derby hat. I smiled and turned to her.

“I think this will match one of my potential Easter dresses,” I said.

That was the leading line into a tale of all the years I have picked one dress in one color and tried to find a matching hat.

“But this year, I have three dresses in three colors,” I said. “So when I find a hat in one of those colors, that will be the dress I choose!”

She agreed I was rather smart, so that led to deeper conversation.

Soon, another sales assistant joined us and, before long, we were talking about their colleges, what they majored in, what they hoped to accomplish in their careers and how one grew up in Nashville but one had moved there from Mississippi.

I paid for the hat, finished the conversation and then trailed behind my husband who was rolling his eyes and shaking his head.

“What?” I asked, unperturbed, as I stopped to look at lip glosses.

“Was that all necessary?” he asked, leaning against the glass counter as I dabbed a pretty pink on my hand.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because, first, I like to talk. Second, I am a storyteller so I need to collect stories. This is how you learn about people. Their stories, their journeys. It’s all so fascinating.”

He shrugged. “Well, it must work. You certainly have a lot of stories to tell and they’re all pretty good.”

A grin spread from ear-to-ear.

“Stick with me and I’ll teach you all I know about being nosey.”

Several weeks later, I went over to the backside of the Rondarosa to meet someone who was going to do some work.

“I’ll run over there and open the gate,” I said.

Two hours later, a worried Tink showed up to check on me and discovered the two of us sitting in the shade, talking. He walked toward us, an anxious look shading his face.

“Is everything all right?” he asked with his brow furrowed.

I laughed and made the introduction.

“Yes, it is. I’m just listening to some great stories.”

And, terrific stories they were. That night, I told a couple of them during dinner with Tink and my friend, Debbie. They laughed at one and was awed by the other.

I was triumphant.

“See?” I said to Tink. “I was working. Gathering some story gems.”

He just shook his head. What was there to say?

Southerners know all good stories have an end and most of them have a good ending of some sort. So, with that mind, here’s how the first story ends: The hat matched the dress perfectly.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com/ronda.

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