A Friendly Face in the Storm

We were sitting at a table outside a downtown restaurant when the sudden, if not completely unexpected, rainstorm hit. The pellets of rain were accompanied by gusty winds, which seemed unusual for noon in the middle of a summer day. One of the gusts lifted the large umbrella from the center of our wrought-iron table and sent it tumbling down Hay Street.

Of course, I’d left my own umbrella in the car.

Of course, I was wearing precariously slippery summer sandals despite still being in recovery from the effects of a gimpy hip.

I headed for cover under an awning as my husband first helped corral the umbrella then set off to retrieve our car. He pulled up as close as he could without driving on the actual sidewalk. And then, as I gingerly made my way toward the car, a tall figure = appeared out of nowhere holding a large umbrella.

After he escorted me safely to the passenger seat, I learned his name was Jonathan and thanked him profusely. I would later learn that Jonathan Wigfall is a parking officer with the company that manages downtown parking. To me, he was a guardian angel in a raincoat and bright neon.

Not for the first time, I’d encountered one of the many kind and considerate faces of Fayetteville. I’ve grown up in this town, a place that often has been maligned over the years, and in recent weeks, my hometown certainly has faced a new crop of serious challenges.

I left here for college more than four decades ago, thinking I would likely never return to live here again. I made good on that intention for all of four months after graduation, taking a job right out of school as a sportswriter for a little newspaper in Danville, Virginia. Surely, it couldn’t be that much longer before “Sports Illustrated” would be calling.

Instead, the voice on the other end of the phone that September belonged to another of those kind and considerate faces of Fayetteville, the beloved sports editor of the local paper. I came home, took a job I loved and still thought I would eventually leave before meeting a cute guy with perpetually mischievous blue eyes, brown hair and a boyish Fayetteville face. That face, now topped with close-cropped gray hair, is the face that has kept me here all these years, given me a chance to come to appreciate all that this town offers and blessed me with the faces I love best.

I’m grateful to have finally lived long enough to appreciate that in the end, your dreams need not be realized in some faraway big city. The best of times need not await at some nebulous point in the future. My town, my family, my life are really quite like those that exist anywhere else. We all have shortcomings. But it’s the faces that make all the difference. This town has the best faces in the world.

Over the years, I’ve forged memorable friendships with people who live in other places, and I cherish those friends. But the faces of my friends here in Fayetteville are the ones who are there day in and day out. They are the friends who share the good times, the bad times, lunch dates, happy hours, birthdays, special occasions, quiet moments and, as a special delight in these later years, battles on the courts.

You find out who your friends are, as the song goes. I know who mine are. My go-to girls. But then again, here in Fayetteville, sometimes a friend in need will appear out of nowhere wielding an umbrella at just the perfect time.

Another beautiful face, right here on the streets of our own home sweet home.