The Gift of Conversation
The early morning stillness was unbroken but for the steady rhythm of the Miller’s van tires, and an occasional early-bird vacationer.
“I wonder what the people will be like at this church,” Lorissa thought out loud, after being reminded of their destination by a sign for the town to which they were going. “I hope they’ll be friendly.”
“Oh, I’m sure every thing will be fine,” Father spoke for the driver’s seat. “Mother and I were here once before, and the adults were very kind. I imagine the children would be the same.
“I surely hope so. Especially since we’re thinking about moving here.”
After some time, Carl exclaimed, “We’re here!”
Lorissa unbuckled her one-year-old baby brother, lifted him from his car seat, and waited for the rest of the family to get out. Glancing with interest at her surroundings, she saw a girl of about her age jump from the black van which had followed them into the parking lot.
Being fairly outgoing, Lorissa smiled and waved.
The girl smiled wanly, and disappeared behind her van.
What?! Lorissa thought with surprise, following her family toward the church, I hope the other girls aren’t like that.
In time the service was over, and Lorissa looked around hopefully for the girls that had been in her Sunday school class. Seeing a group of them toward the back, she notified her mother as to where she was going, and headed in that direction.
As she neared the group, a few of the girls glanced in her direction, but made no move to welcome her.
That’s strange, Lorissa thought, hesitating. Don’t they greet visitors? Maybe they were looking at something else, and didn’t see me. With this encouraging thought, she slipped into the group, in a place where she would easily be noticed.
She waited a minute, sure that they would at least acknowledge her presence. A few looked up, mumbled a weak “Hi,” and continued to talk among themselves.
“Did Steve tell your brother about that .22 he bought last week?” she happened to hear.
“No. Did he really?”
“He’s been saving up for the past year or two. Yesterday he hunted coons out in our forest, but didn’t get anything.”
“Oh, I see.” Then all was quiet until one girl had to leave.
“Oh, bye, Mabel. See ya tonight.” Then silence reigned again.
Finally Lorissa, tired of the quiet, ventured to speak.
“Hello,” she greeted the nearest girl, “My name’s Lorissa. What’s yours?”
“Amy,” came the barely audible reply. Then silence.
Mustering her courage which was fast ebbing away, Lorrisa tried again. “My family is thinking about moving here, and I’ve been wondering how close the families live to the church. At our church they’re spread out over quite a distance.”
Amy stirred herself, stretched her arms in a semi-embarrassed motion, and replied, “I’m not sure. Maybe five miles. I guess I never really thought about it.” She ended with a small smile.
Little progress, if any, to be sure, Lorissa thought ruefully. I certainly wouldn’t want to live here. I’d have to start a speech revival, or something. Maybe I just picked the wrong person to talk to.
Making her way toward the other side of the circle of girls, she happened to glance in the direction of where her family had sat. Her mother was engaged in a conversation with perhaps three other sisters, and, yes, her father had found someone with whom to speak, but her two middle siblings were wandering forlornly about, and Carl was standing, as she had done at first, on the outskirts of a group of boys, having received perhaps less response than she.
Doubly disheartened, Lorissa scraped the last of her courage together, and addressed another girl, changing her tactics slightly, for fear she had been a bit too forward the previous time.
“Hello,” she said, trying to sound as positive as she could.
Another monosyllabic reply. How could they stand it to sound so uninterested? What more is there to try? Lorissa thought to herself. Nothing, that I can think of. I wonder what the women are talking about? I’m sure it would be better than nothing. She smiled ruefully, and, in accordance with her thoughts, headed off in the direction of her mother.
Arriving at her mother’s side a few moments later, Lorissa saw her glance surprisedly in Lorissa’s direction. But then, one of the women asked Mother a question, and the unspoken subject was dropped for the time.
After a brief time, Lorissa heard her Father’s voice, and jolted herself from her daydream (the women’s conversation had turned out not to apply to girls).
“We’ve been invited to the Marlin Hershbergers for dinner, and they left a while ago,” Father announced.
“Oh, that’s nice,” Mother replied, “I guess we’d better be going then?”
“If now’s a good time for you to leave.” Seeing Mother’s nod, Father relieved her arms of the sleeping one year old and carried him to the car. Lorissa followed, and was surprised at first to find Carl all ready there, for at their home church, he was usually the last one to arrive.
“Oh, did all the boys leave?” Father inquired of him.
“No… I guess they just weren’t the talking sort,” Carl replied, “So I came out here.”
“Were the girls that way, too?” Father directed the question at Lorissa.
“Well, it seemed that way. That’s why I was standing near Mom.”
“Hmm… well, get in the van. We’ll have to talk about this later.”
Presently Mother reached the vehicle, and they were soon headed toward the Hershbergers’. In a few minutes they had arrived, and Marlin hurried out to ask them in.
“Dinner’s not quite ready, so why don’t you all come into the living room to visit awhile,” he invited. “Marla’s in the kitchen.” He directed the last statement to Mother as they neared the front door.
Lorrisa followed her mother to the kitchen and was soon put to work preparing a salad with several younger girls.
After a few moments of silence, Mother spoke. “Would you happen to have any girls around Lorrisa’s age? She’ll be fourteen next May.”
“Well, that’ll be nice for you,” Mother commented to her daughter.
“That remains to be seen,” Lorrisa quickly mouthed to her mother. “I surely hope so.”
At that moment a girl, whom Lorrisa took to be Karen, slowly descended the stairs, passed Lorrisa without a word, and gained her mother’s side. In a moment she was gone again, through a door which Lorrisa decided led to the basement. Well, Lorrisa thought, meeting Mother’s eyes with a “that’s what I meant” look, I guess that’s all I expected anyway; but it would be nice to get a proper greeting. The girl was back again quickly, and this time Lorrisa undertook to make the first move.
“Hi,” she began, “Are you Karen?”
“Um-hum,” came a reply similar to what Lorrisa had come to expect. Karen began peeling some apples she had brought up from the basement, and said nothing more.
A few minutes passed in which silence was king, besides the scrape of peelers of vegetables, and an occasional comment from one of the women. Then Lorrisa heard the crunching of tires of gravel, and looked out the window besides which she was stationed. A wood-grain station wagon had pulled into the Hershbergers’ driveway, and out piled four children and two adults.
Good, thought Lorrisa, That one girl looks about my age. Of course, based on my other experiences here, I shouldn’t get my hopes too high.
Marla ran out to greet the family and it soon grew evident that they must be either relatives or close friends of the Hershbergers. The wife and her two daughters soon reached the kitchen, escorted by MarIa, who introduced them thus:
“This is my cousin Jane, and her two daughters, Eliza, 15, and Lydia, 10. They’re on a trip to Oregon. I don’t suppose you’ve met?”
“No, actually, we haven’t,” Mother replied, and then addressed Jane. “Have you come a long way?”
“Just about five hundred miles so far,” Jane replied. “We started last Wednesday, but we’ve been trying to see as many interesting sites as possible, so we’ve been stopping a lot.”
Watching to see if a second cousin would get the same reception as she had, Lorissa saw Karen approach Eliza with a “Hello,” and the conversation virtually stopped there. Taking the opportunity to find out what Eliza was like, Lorissa approached her with a smile and a cheerful greeting.
“Hello,” came the pleasant response, “What’s your name? I suppose you heard mine?”
“Uh, Lorrisa,” she stumbled, not prepared for the reply she had received.
After a few moments of silence, during which Lorissa remained quiet, not exactly sure what she should say, Eliza spoke again, “How old are you?”
“Thirteen,” Lorissa replied, and, having regained her composure, began to add equal weight to the conversation.
“Have you enjoyed your trip so far?”
“Yes. It’s been one of the best I’ve had, Eliza answered. “I guess I enjoy sight-seeing a lot.”
“So do I,” Lorissa said. “What have you seen so far?”
“Oh, most of the points along the Oregon Trail, like Independence Rock, Soda Springs, the remains of a few forts, and… I don’t remember the rest. Actually, we’ve been trying to follow the trail, as best we can. It’s been very—”
“Girls, dinner’s on the table,” Eliza’s mother broke into their conversation. “Sorry to have to interrupt you, but we don’t want it to get cold.”
“Okay,” both girls acknowledged as they headed for the dining room. What a vast difference! Lorissa thanked God inwardly for sending someone to talk to. I never knew what a privilege it is to have someone to converse with—until now.
In the passage of time dinner was over, and Lorissa headed for the kitchen with a stack of plates. She was soon commissioned to wash the dishes, with Eliza drying.
“To end that sentence I had started when we got called to dinner,” Eliza began again, “I was saying that the trip has been educational.”
“Hmm. Have you been keeping a journal?” Lorissa asked. “It sounds like the kind of thing someone would write about.”
“The three oldest children in our family have been,” Eliza responded. But I don’t think mine, at least, would make much of a book. I can show it to you when we’re done here, if you want to see it.”
“That would be interesting,” Lorissa replied, and the conversation continued on from there. In time, the dishes were done, and she wrung the dish rag and draped it over the bridge in the sink. Karen, who bad been putting the dishes away, started for the stairs. Eliza followed, so Lorissa, not knowing what else to do, followed. Reaching what appeared to be Karen’s room, Lorissa leaned against the dootjamb, waiting to see where Karen wanted her to sit, while Eliza, evidently more at home than Lorissa, went in and sat down on Karen’s bed. When she didn’t receive a welcome, Lorissa began to feel uncomfortable and soon went downstairs to sit with her mother.
Lorissa hadn’t been there long before Father notified Mother that they should start home.
After obtaining permission from Mother to get Eliza’s address, Lorissa mounted the stairs softly and peeked in the bedroom door.
“Oh, hi, Lorissa,” Eliza noticed her immediately, “For a while I was worried you weren’t coming back.”
“Well, actually, we’re leaving soon, and I was wondering if you might like to be pen-pals?” Lorissa stated.
“I’d love that,” Eliza replied without hesitation. “I just lost one of my other ones.
“You can write your address on the back of this,” Lorissa handed Eliza a quarterly. “And here’s mine.”
“I have another copy of my address if you’d like to write, too,” Lorissa addressed Karen as she waited for Eliza to finish writing.
“I think I’d better not,” Karen made excuse. “I’m not very good at getting letters out.”
“Here you are,” Eliza handed the quarterly back with a genuine smile.
“Have a nice trip home, wherever it is. I guess I never asked you.”
“We live in Pleasantville, about three hours away. Have a nice trip yourself. Bye, girls,” Lorissa called over her shoulder as she quickly descended the stairs.
Reaching the bottom, she thanked Marla for the meal and ran out to her waiting family.
The van was soon making its way towards home, and Lorissa settled down to an embroidery project and day-dreaming. The rest of the family began various other occupations, with Father at the wheel, and for a span of time no one spoke, aside from an occasional remark about the scenery.
At close of this silence, Father addressed Mother, “So, what were your impressions? Or, rather, did you enjoy yourself?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Mother, “Certainly. The women at Orange Grove were a little less outgoing than what I’m used to, but they also seemed very spiritual. How about you?”
“The same, but Carl and Lorissa didn’t receive any welcome at all.” A look of half surprise and half remembrance crossed Mother’s face.
“Okay, so that was why you came back to stand by me, Lorissa?”
“Uh-huh. I don’t want to complain too much, but…” came Lorissa’s reply.
“Of course you don’t,” Mother agreed. But we need to make a decision about moving there, so that kind of information is important. You say they didn’t even come up to say, ‘Hi’?”
“Well… yeah, I guess not,” Lorissa responded. “But maybe they’re just extra shy. Of course, they didn’t talk among themselves, either, except for maybe on short conversation, and greetings among themselves.”
“Same here,” agreed Carl, “I sure don’t want to move there.”
“Actually, I kind of feel sorry for those girls,” Lorissa inserted. “Perhaps they just haven’t been taught how to treat visitors, and themselves. I’d be worried that I’d end up that way, too, if we moved there. It would be hard to be not forgetful to entertain strangers without the support of others.”
“Yes,” commented Mother, “That would not do at all. We’re also commanded to be hospitable in. It doesn’t make sense to me why they are like that. I personally think children should be taught how to converse, but guess that’s just not how they do.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about moving right now,” Father added with a smile. “It sounds like we wouldn’t fit in very well.”
“Good,” Lorissa said aloud, feeling vastly relieved. “I’m going to be sure to teach my children how to talk.”
—Written by a sister who wishes to have her name withheld.
Note: Although we feel that choosing a church to fellowship with should not be totally decided by the friendliness of the people, this article was an eye-opener to us on how we look to new acquaintances. Many people do decide where to fellowship on the basis of how friendly the people are. Surely we do not want to come before God with the charge that we turned some people away, who might have been saved, by our reserved, unfriendly manner. Please don’t get us wrong; we don’t feel you should go chatter to them about everything. Young ladies, especially, need to always have a reserved manner that God would be pleased to have us wear.
Many times we may feel intimidated when meeting strangers—but what a different light it puts me in if I think of myself as someone who has the opportunity to either turn away or draw people to the Lord. By God’s grace, dear sisters, let us look to the Lord for a warm and gracious spirit to welcome others as God would—as He welcomes us.
I am reminded of how a smile, or a word in due season, can encourage the heart and bless others. I have experienced many situations where I have smiled and said a “hello” to (especially) elderly folks, and it just seems to brighten up their face and make them feel loved. Oh, let us pray that we may have the loving, caring, friendly attitude that our Lord had!