The humidity hung in the air like a greenhouse. My volume-less hair was sticking to the nape of my neck. Waiting out the rain at a baseball game with over two thousand other baseball fans required that I continually hold my daughter and my back was starting to ache.
I had just ran back up to the concourse for the third time in one inning because the fickle weather simply could not make up her mind. As I came to the top of the steps of Section D at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo, North Dakota, I was greeted by the sweet smile of a couple about the age of my parents.
Needless to say, I was in no mood for small talk.
Because they’d witnessed my third ascent to the concourse, they smiled and asked, “Getting tired yet?”
Thankful for a friendly face, I returned the smile admitting, “My little family just can’t catch a break with Red Hawks games! The last time we were here we got rained out, too! But, we’re from out of town, so we make the best of it!”
“Where are you from?” the kind lady asked me.
“We’re from Oakes,” I said never really knowing whether that would mean something to the person I’m speaking to.
“Oh! Oakes?” Her face was curious.
Her husband chimed in, “You wouldn’t happen to know any Hankels there, would you?”
For me, this is not even remotely a strange question. This is one of the reasons I adore living in a small town and a small state. We always ask the question because well, you just never know if there might be a connection, or at a minimum, a familiarity.
I couldn’t hide my smile. “I sure do,” I said. “Which Hankels do you know?”
The gentleman stopped a bit short as if he wasn’t sure how to continue and finally said, “Well, we knew Lyle. Did you know him?”
My heart leapt with the knowledge that these people were asking about the man who in his life, and even after his death, I referred to as my “Fun Dad”.
“You’re kidding! You knew Lyle? He and his wife were my parent’s best friends. He was a huge part of my life!”
He proceeded to tell me how he knew Lyle.
“I haven’t seen Lyle for years and I was so devastated to read of his passing in the Fargo Forum. I remember him being so healthy and strong. Lyle and I were in the service together. We did our basic training together at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. I credit finishing basic training to Lyle. During one of our long, difficult drills, I sat down on the ground and told Lyle I couldn’t go any further. I told him I was done. I wanted to quit.” His voice caught a bit in his throat.
He continued, “Lyle took my pack and all my supplies and he threw them on his back, telling me, ‘No, you’re not quitting. I’m not going to let you quit.'”
I put my hand to my heart as my eyes filled with tears. “That sounds like Lyle. I called him my “Fun Dad”. Our families were so close growing up and they had three boys so Lyle always had a soft spot for me.”
“I met a lot of great men in the service, but none of them brimmed with goodness like Lyle. He was just a really good man.”
“He really was,” I said.
So much for our small talk being “small”.
We exchanged names and before I left, I told them to head out to my blog and read the article I wrote about Lyle shortly after he passed away. It was my personal testament to this great man that meant so much to so many.
Before I left to return to my seat with my daughter, I thanked them for the wonderful chat. I even felt compelled to hug them as I told them I couldn’t wait to share this story with Noreen, Lyle’s wife. Amazingly, neither of them seemed put-off or uncomfortable with a hug from a relative stranger with a toddler on her hip.
I returned to my seat, feeling truly blessed and thankful for that brief and totally unexpected interaction.
I could have gone up to the concourse, crabby and irritated that our outing was, once again, wrecked by rain.
I could have averted my eyes, bowed my head, and kept my thoughts to myself.
Think of what I would have missed if I had.
I would have missed an incredible opportunity to meet a complete stranger that was positively influenced by someone that I knew and loved.
I would have missed out on a gift.
Small talk matters.
Take the time to make small talk as you go about your day. Take each opportunity to talk to people around you. Chat about the weather, ask people where they’re from, what they do for a living and take a genuine interest in their responses.
You just never know what kind of a connection you’ll make.
Never before has it been more clear: there is nothing small about small talk.