I was in line at the grocery store checkout behind a man wearing a Korean War veteran cap. He had some questions about his credit or debit cards, which the cashier was answering. He selected a card and tried — but failed — to get it into the reader.

Since the hat was a clue this veteran was at least in his late 80s, I felt there was only one thing to do.

“I can try that for you, sir,” I said.

People have been nice to me all summer. It was time to pay it back.

I have been amazed and delighted by pleasant encounters I have had on day trips to coastal towns and state parks, the Kennebec River Rail Trail and doctors’ offices. Last summer, we were still keeping our distance outside. I was putting off all medical appointments.

The predominant mood in this country right now is hatred. Bumper stickers featuring the “F” word have become popular. Angry drivers abound. Screeching parents threaten school board members over mask mandates.

Jan. 6. Need I say more?

And yet, a woman stopped on the rail trail and said to me: “Your hair is lovely. If I thought my gray would come in like that, I’d stop coloring.”

Male readers: Take my word for it. That is the highest compliment one woman can give another. She made my day.

I discovered this summer I have several items of clothing and accessories that people will comment on favorably: A jersey top patterned with pink cheetahs; a simple blue T-shirt adorned with the motif of a white starfish; a pair of Keen water sandals in pink and purple; and my Pura Vida cord bracelets.

For example, I was at a Dunkin’ in Augusta in my cheetah shirt (and a skirt) and waiting for my iced coffee when one of the associates suddenly called out, “I love your dress!” A random stranger on Main Street in Belfast: “I love your big cats!”  A receptionist at my doctor’s office: “That is the best shirt!”

I leaned forward and said, “Reny’s.” That produced an even bigger smile.

I am shy, so it would take a lot for me to compliment a stranger, or even someone I do not know well. So I applaud these people for their bravery and joie de vivre.

My husband, Paul, and I enjoy day trips. In June, we were up on Mount Battie in Camden. Just for fun, I like to post a picture of myself from each excursion on Facebook. Paul was using my camera to snap a photo when a woman said, “Would you like me to take one of both of you?”

Last year, a man asked the same in Belgrade Lakes. I said, “No, thanks,” because I did not want anyone touching my phone. This time, I said, “Sure.”

We then got into a prolonged conversation with the woman and her husband, who were from Connecticut. They were retired and thought they might like to move to Maine. They would be among several strangers this summer who asked us, “What are the winters like here?”

It is an amusing question because there is not that much difference in weather between central Connecticut and southern and central Maine. But as a native of southern New England, I know how to answer that question.

“I was surprised to see the rivers freeze over,” I said. That’s an eyebrow raiser.

A bit later, we were engaged in discussion with a couple from Georgia. Coming to Maine was a bucket list item for her, and she had an itinerary that hit all the tourist hot spots, from Kennebunkport to Bar Harbor.

I thought of last summer, of walking on the beach at Popham, my mask slipped up onto my arm, in case I could not avoid being near someone other than Paul. Outside. On the beach. In the fresh, blustery sea air.

As we sat on a log back then and wiped our sandy feet, a family with two adorable boys, perhaps 3 and 5, were gathering their things together near us. The smaller of the children came up to me, too close for comfort. I stood up, alarmed and even said, “Please don’t come any closer.”

We are by no means out of the woods yet, but at least I do not run from tiny tots anymore.

Last year, I would not have offered to handle a stranger’s credit card. This year, I did not think twice, and was amply rewarded. The card went through. The veteran thanked me several times. The cashier thanked me several times.

She sent him off with a hearty, “And you have a wonderful day.”

When it was my turn, she thanked me again and shared part of her life story. Then she complimented me on my shirt, the one with the starfish. Finally, she pointed to her wrist. She was wearing a couple of Pura Vida bracelets, too.

“I guess we have the same tastes,” she said.

Haters are going to hate. But I am gratified so many people are reacting to the months of social isolation by connecting with others — striking up conversations, complimenting, just saying, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”

And whenever somebody tells me they love my “big cats,” it truly is such a day.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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