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After leaving home for college, I learned that my mama and I were referred to as "the widda woman and the kid" by folks along Cane Creek where I was raised. I guess the fact that she wasn't a widow mattered not. "The deevorsay'd woman and the kid" didn't have the same ring to it.

It was also after I headed to college that I realized more fully what folks meant when they said we didn't "get out much." I thought we got out plenty. We went to the Walmart and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Big Star like everybody else. We even spent one weekend as a family at Opryland in Nashville, Tenn., which turned out to be the weekend my father left and made us "the widda woman and the kid" -- so "gettin' out" seemed overrated to us.

As I entered the University of Arkansas, it became apparent that I had a limited knowledge of the world outside my tri-county area. But I was scrappy. I worked hard, and I garnered a reputation as a smart, no-nonsense country girl who took no lip from anyone. For those who looked closely, they also saw a first-generation high school graduate desperately trying to make her way as a stranger in a strange land.

I landed a part-time job at the Criminal Justice Institute in Little Rock, home to retired FBI agents and law enforcement officers who taught for the university. They taught me much about life, both inside and outside the classroom.

Special Agent-in-Charge Don Kidd was a hard-smoking, tough-talking graying redhead who wore starched white dress shirts with his initials embroidered on the cuffs. When a team was assembled for trainings across the country, Kidd told the group they needed a college kid to come along and work the computers and run errands. He nominated me.

"Baker," Kidd rasped, "ever been on a plane?"

"No, sir," I replied.

"That's about to change. You got any luggage?"

"Sure, I got a duffle bag and -- "

"Good Lawd, Baker, I don't mean a duffle bag. I mean a suitcase. You own one?"

"No sir, but -- "

"No BUTS," he interrupted. "Ginger and I want you to go to the department store and pick out a set of luggage. And I do mean a set, with pieces to check and carry on. You hear?"

"I don't know what to say."

"Hell, Baker, you say 'yes' before I change my mind! I'll send you with the money. It'll need to last you to Knoxville, Omaha, Salt Lake City and Kennebunkport, so don't skimp."

My heart swelled as I walked onto the plane clutching my gray floral Jordache suitcase. Their unmerited kindness opened the world and fostered in me a love for travel and for people in regions outside my own. To this day, I still exchange Christmas cards with Don and Ginger Kidd.

And I told the widda woman all about it. She said she thought it was fine, but she'd just as soon go to the Walmart. They give you bags there, too.

NAN Our Town on 10/10/2019

Print Headline: Bags recalled as carriers of kindness

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