When I was a child, my paternal grandparents lived in the little town of Bedford, Va., about three hours away from our home in Richmond. My grandparents literally lived at the town’s limits. I know this because just before we would make the right turn into their driveway, a sign adorned with the insignias of the Kiwanis, Rotary, Ruritans and other civic organizations greeted us: “Welcome to Bedford — World’s Best Little Town.”
I would add “World’s Friendliest,” too, based on an experience my girlfriend M and I had while visiting Bedford recently. I wanted to show her where my grandparents lived and share some of the sights with her, including the beautiful Peaks of Otter and its twin mountains. Little did I know how many friendly people she would meet.
We arrived on a Friday night and found the most happenin’ place in town for dinner, Olde Liberty Station, which is actually in the town’s former train depot. It was so happenin’, in fact, that there was a 30-minute wait for a table, so we decided to eat dinner at the bar.
Now, bar folk are usually friendly to begin with, but I have never had an experience in neighborliness like I had at this bar. A middle-aged fellow sat next to me with his date on his other side. We chatted as we waited for our meals and he seemed nice enough. All our meals arrived about the same time: M got a salad, I had the shrimp fettucini and my new friend got the salt-and-pepper catfish, which was quite good. I know because he shared it with me.
“Here, you gotta try this catfish,” he said as he scooted his plate toward mine. “It’s real good.”
“I can’t take your food,” I replied, hoping to avoid a food swap with a total stranger.
“Go on, it’s the house specialty,” he insisted. “Usually I don’t like catfish ’cause they’re bottom feeders, but this is good. And here, dip it in this butter too.”
I have to say he was right. The melted butter added something special.
M and I thought we’d had quite the welcome to Bedford until two days later when once again a complete stranger sought friendship with us by offering us a sniff of soap.
We were in a gift shop perusing the souvenirs when a man who had eaten breakfast at the table next to ours suddenly stuck a scented soap wrapped in a cloth under M’s nose. “Here, smell this.”
She had no choice but to do as he suggested.
“Mmm, nice,” she said. I could tell by the look on her face that she was hoping an affirmative response would put a period on the encounter.
“Yeah, and it comes with a wash rag, so you can just rub it all over and you’re done!” he added.
Unusual as their interpretations of “friendly” were, M and I decided that the world would be a better place if there were more people from more places like Bedford.