My husband and I were hanging art in the windows of downtown businesses for the first Art in the Heart of Downtown Tifton. I wiped sweat from my face and watched my husband whose shirt was soaked. I told him I was leaving to purchase a couple of cokes. While walking to my car, I bumped into a man with a bow tie.
I said, “Oops. I’m sorry.” Or at least I said something similar to that. He laughed and made a remark about a head-on collision. I knew him, of course: the bow tie, the smiling face, the belly laughter. If you’re from Tifton or Ashburn, you know the man with the bow tie.
I started to walk on, and he said, “The art downtown is beautiful. It’s something else.” I thanked him. He said, “I know how much work you’ve put into it. I really appreciate it.” And at that point, I knew he loved Tifton. He told me again and again how much he liked the art and how much he appreciated the work and all the artists who had contributed.
Several years later I saw him in the Administrative Building. As I stopped to talk to him, a young boy, maybe four or five years old, with a caramel-colored face, walked by with his fingers in his mouth. He saw the child before I did and recognized his fear. He touched my arm and said, “Wait a minute.”
He leaned down to the boy’s level and asked, “Are you looking for somebody?”
The child whispered, “My mama.” The man took the boy’s hand, asking me again to wait. He told the boy they'd find his mother, and he proceeded to escort him down the hall, a large white hand holding a small dark hand.
A woman stood in line at the Tax Commissioner’s Office. The boy called out, “Mama.” He let go of the man’s hand and ran to his mother. The man turned back to me, a huge smile on his face. He said, “Cute little boy.” I agreed.
Before we could share another complete sentence, a woman walked in. He spoke to her, asking about her family. She said something about her husband and he roared with laughter. I watched them both, so full of life, the man's energy and charisma sizzling around us.
As she walked away, the man turned back to me and asked if I was still handling Art in the Heart. I told him I wasn’t. We shared a few words, and I left, carrying a smile that had jumped from the man’s face to mine. He had that kind of power, that kind of goodness, that kind of laughter—the kind that spreads from one person to another like a grand, glorious bee spreading pollen. I carried that smile with me all day, drove home with it still spread across my face and shared it with every person I met.
The man with the bow tie will be missed. He shared that smile with so many of us.
In memory of Rob Reinhardt
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