I would have despaired unless I had believed that
I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
This thing called life, I must get round to it.
Today, I did a little getting round in Dickson, TN.
Hundreds of times I have driven through Dickson, always on the way to somewhere.
Today, I stopped to wander. I am glad I did.
It was not by accident that I found myself in Dickson. I have a kindhearted and generous friend whose family lives there. A cellist, she and my son are driving down to Arkansas where the two of them will be working at an orchestra camp at Harding University from which she just graduated and where he will attend in the fall.
I drove to House Blend, the coffee shop where we agreed to meet.
As I drove into downtown, I was captivated. This was small town America--tall facades, fanciful shops, families out and about. Sigh.
I packed my man-boy off and set out strolling.
I love the big city. Born and raised in big cities, I adore city-centers and lots of people.
Yet the romance of quaint, small town Americana is not lost on me.
Today, I knew I had found it.
Every place has its problems. Behind every facade lurks at least a modicum of darkness. But for today, I decided to enjoy this oasis of Eden and explore what of the goodness of humanity I might find.
For the most part I strolled aimlessly. The air was warm, but not hot. A storm was brewing in the distance. I smiled and greeted folks that passed by. Crossing the street, cars patiently waited even as I slowly and mindlessly ambled. I even got a few surprising compliments on my dress.
People saw one another. We looked about. We noticed. It was lovely.
Up and down I meandered, until I was caught up by one very small but meaningful sign.
Established in 1962, Ragan's Friendly Neighbor Store offers a public restroom and water fountain.
Urgently, I had to meet the people who, in 2018, offer anyone and everyone free use of their restroom and water fountain.
I walked into a delightfully eclectic space filled with furniture, appliances, old dishes, and framed photos and news clippings.
Most delightful were the two people I met!
First was Brenda. She called herself "just another fixture," but having worked there for about 48 of the store's 50 years, I insisted on getting rid of the just in her phrasing, as did owner Dale Ragan as he walked in on our lively chat.
Mr. Ragan told me a bit about his establishment before sending me upstairs to ensure I saw everything.
As he pointed out particular photos covering the walls, one drew my attention with its familiarity. It showed the inside of the auditorium the church Mr. Ragan attends--Walnut Street Church of Christ. Laughing, I shared with Mr. Ragan that I sat in that very auditorium worshiping one Sunday a few years ago when my older son, also a recent graduate of Harding University, had come to visit the young woman now heading down to Arkansas with my younger son. Of course, Mr. Ragan had known her and all her siblings since their infancy!
In my meandering through a lovely town I previously drove through hundreds of times on Interstate 40, I met a kind, caring, generous, and good neighbor with whom I worshiped God a few years back.
Upon first meeting Mr. Dale Ragan, I told him that I came into his Friendly Neighbor Store because of his modest and unaffected sign inviting strangers to make use of his restroom and water fountain. So accustomed to signs stating the opposite, I told him I needed to meet the people who would welcome the thirsty and needy. I wanted to meet the ones so friendly.
Mr. Ragan remained unabashed throughout our relatively lengthy visit. He seemed to not grasp that his un-ordinary hospitality was extraordinary. To him, it simply was the thing you do.
Mr. Ragan eagerly invited me to return anytime and often to his store and to worship alongside him and his church family. He loaded me up with his "palm pilot for old folks," a business card-sized notepad with his store's information on it (I doubt he has updated his print ads in decades--I doubt he needs to) and his church's business card on which he wrote his name.
I will be back to Dickson, TN.
I will, of course, drive through it hundreds more times.
But I will also stop to meander.
I will visit the Friendly Neighbor Store.
I hope I will see Mr. Ragan and Brenda again.
More than that, I hope I will be a more friendly neighbor. I stopped in today because I was struck by the simplicity of the sign hanging above the door of a simple store. Struck by the simplicity of a grand gentleman living his holy calling every single day for 50 years on a quiet street in a small town in the U.S.A.
Today, I saw the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
It was grand and glorious.
Today, it's name is Dale Ragan.