some years ago i was hired to drive a busload of folks to columbus, georgia. on the way there we stopped in selma, alabama to see the bridge that was the site of probably the most famous civil rights march of the 1960’s.
driving into selma, i saw what appeared to be a sleepy little town, with narrow residential streets of lovely old two-story southern-style homes with wide porches and huge trees, their canopies overhanging both the porches and the streets. the road we drove in on afforded no parking whatsoever and the side streets were all residential.
with the aforementioned overhanging trees, low electric lines, and parked cars along those narrow streets, there seemed to be nowhere to put a forty-foot long, ten-foot high bus. i pulled to the side of the road and turned on the bus’s flashers to drop my passengers off and further survey the area. my only choice seemed to be pulling into one of the residential roads, then to pull over immediately, in front of the only beautiful old home without tree branches long enough to overhang the street.
fortunately i was born with a flair for driving in my Ddna, since i was going to have to back the bus out of this street, with my fifty or so passengers, across two lanes of traffic, to get us back to the direction we were travelling, toward columbus. by the time i finished a general safety check, some of the passengers had returned. they had found a small civil-rights museum that everyone wanted to visit, but it was closed and their disappointment showed on their faces. off they went to join the others, who had decided to walk across the bridge for a “feel” of the history there.
a couple of minutes later a small car pulled up and parked in front me, it’s driver gaping at the huge vehicle parked in front of her house. i climbed down and as she walked toward me, i saw a beautiful black woman who struggled to re-form her gaping mouth into a broad smile. “hello,” she said, “i’m joanne. i was closing up at work when a neighbor called to ask why a bus was at my house!”
after explaining who we were and why we were there, i reached out to shake her hand and she let me know that we could leave the bus there as long as we wanted. i was immediately drawn to joanne’s charming energy and welcoming manor. we chatted amiably for awhile and i mentioned the museum my passengers had been interested in visiting. “well”, joanne declared, “you and your visitors shall have the grand tour of the museum! that is where i was closing up, when my neighbor called. i run the museum!”
something beyond luck had obviously played a part in depositing me and the bus directly in front of joanne’s home, at exactly the right time. she invited me to walk with her and we talked and talked. this lovely woman postponed her dinner and post-workday unwinding and reopened the museum just for us.
on our private tour, we were lead through room after room steeped with history. joanne had been a child in the 60’s and had walked with family in that famous march. she answered every question asked and showered us with the “inside-stories” beyond the photographs, artifacts, newspaper articles, and personal accounts that filled nearly every inch of every room, then gave us time to peruse it all on our own.
viewing photographs and reading some of the stories about and by people like sojourner truth moved me to tears, and at times i fought to keep from sobbing. i learned so much that no history class had ever taught me. the entire visit was a remarkable and beautiful experience.
walking with joanne back to her home, and our bus, i expressed some of my thoughts to her. we had yet another lovely conversation, sharing many personal thoughts and feelings. and then there i was with a busload of happy folks and a bus to somehow remove from a neighborhood of obstacles.
joanne and i walked to the end of her block and around that block. she thought that we could make it out that way; i thought she just might be right, if no one else came home and parked on the road. we were quite a sight! joanne walked along in front of us, checking overhead wires, stopping folks who were about to park there, and directing me when to zig and zag around obstacles. neighbors came out to greet us and some joined her march around the stately old neighborhood.
i enjoyed every minute of this wonderful, friendly, unusual experience. i drove along following these sweet people and couldn’t stop smiling. when we were ready to pull forward onto the main road to head to columbus, i stopped and pulled on the bus’s airbrakes. when i stepped out to express our gratitude and say goodbye, joanne was waiting with a giant hug and we exchanged phone numbers. i was happy to be able to stay in touch with this special woman. we already had a strong sensation of having known each other for a very long time. as i stepped back up onto the bus, i noticed that we were all headed to columbus with the glow that results from a very special day.