Sunday, November 4, 2012

Free Hugs

Garrett and I recently discovered a wonderful farmers market nestled behind a quaint French restaurant just minutes away. I've taken to meeting him there after finishing my Saturday lessons at the barn; I, my hair astray and Ariat boots covered in manure, meet my beautiful husband, hair perfectly coiffed and Allen Edmonds loafers shined to a T. We come together, our different worlds joining, to enjoy something we both love mutually.
It's a tiny farmers market, but plentiful. Bushels of fresh vegetables and tables of handmade soaps, jams, and honeys line the sidewalk. Vendors offer the most delicious lunches: savory crepes, Panini sandwiches, pizzas, etc., all cooked to order right in front of your eyes. A local bakery has a stand that offers perfect coconut macaroons and raspberry muffins, both of which I've made a weekly habit of buying and bringing home.

It isn't just about the abundance of amazing local produce, though; it's also about the atmosphere. The stucco buildings with terracotta rooftops and earthen-red walkways place me somewhere that feels far off, perhaps a tiny Tuscan village or a quaint Provencal town. It doesn't matter which, it only matters that for about 60 minutes on a Saturday afternoon, I'm delivered from my life in the desert.

So, I think that you get that I love the farmers market. It's peaceful, plentiful, and delicious. It's a nice escape for Garrett and me, a gathering of things we love so well. Nothing disturbs the peace of our farmers market. Except...

Yesterday, there were women walking around with signs reading "free hugs". Hippies, I instantly thought to myself. What are you guys doing here? Why? This is weird. Don't make my farmers market weird. That seemed to be the general initial response to these "free hugs" sign-bearing women. There were three of them, and they looked like pretty regular women; middle-aged, not attractive but not unattractive, ordinary. Except that they were smiling and offering to hug everybody. People were taken aback, and at first nobody wanted a free hug.

But then something happened: the mood changed. People started taking advantage of their free hugs. Yes, there were those who politely declined (my favorite came from a young ASU student with short shorts and a high pony tail that sneered she didn't like to be touched by strangers), but for the most part, people accepted.

I watched the people who so readily accepted this rare affection from these unknown women, and they were all happy. That's nice, I though. But then the women started getting closer. I had nowhere to hide; Garrett and I were waiting for his crepe to finish cooking. I started sweating. I really didn't want a free hug. I get free hugs from Garrett all the time. Really, I do like hugging. I probably average on 5 hugs a day. But not from strangers. What to do here, what to do? I didn't want to be like the snotty ASU student. I wanted to seem open to this free love, even though it was freaking me out on the inside. She got closer.

"Free hug?" she offered with a smile.

"Okay," I said nervously. And I went in for the hug, half-heartedly. I went in with a stiff, angular approach. Hug the woman, look friendly, get out of it; that was my plan. But she held on for a few seconds too long. I went from stiff mode to awkward mode to giving in mode. She was really soft, and her arms around me felt nice. Her boobs were kind of big and low and rested on my stomach, just like my mom's do (is that weird to admit?). She squeezed a little longer and then she let out a relieved sigh. I was comforted.

"Thank you," she said, and moved on to Garrett. He, of course, went in with full intention of a good hug. I looked at their hug longingly. I wanted her to hug me again!

"You give great hugs!" Garrett exclaimed after her.

"Your hugs aren't too shabby either," she replied. I could tell that part of her wanted to hug him again (he gives really good hugs), but she moved on. She had to deliver more free hugs.

We returned to our waiting in line, a little more relaxed, a little more comforted.

When we left the farmers market yesterday, I had my usual gooey macaroon and raspberry muffin in tow. The trip and my bounty are usually enough to satisfy me, and will be next week, but I got a little extra this time. I got a little bit of comfort that came from opening myself up and allowing myself to receive a free hug from a complete stranger. Who would've thought?

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