The man heard us talking and leaned over toward the little table at which we were sitting in the famed Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
"Where y'all from?" he asked, punctuating the question with a big grin.
We three were all Southerners. John, a native North Carolinian, had moved to the west coast years earlier to work for former President Ronald Reagan after he left office. He had stayed to write a biography of the actor-turned-politician's film-making years. Kim, another friend, hails from Winston-Salem and I, in the beginning and for now, rise up from the North Georgia foothills.
I answered. "They're from North Carolina. I'm from Georgia."
Handsome and well-dressed in a coat and tie, he stuck his hand out. "Birmingham," he said, shaking my hand and smiling. "Sure sounds good to hear a Southern accent in Los Angeles."
His name, he said, was Hatton Smith. He was in L.A. on business. "I sell coffee," he explained, handing each of us a card as we reciprocated with ours.
"Royal Cup coffee!" Kim exclaimed. "That's my husband's favorite. It's all he uses at his business."
Hatton, who turned out to be president of the company, grinned. "I'll send you all a box of coffee."
We chatted a while longer then the coffee maker left. I never expected him to send the coffee - never gave it a second thought - but three days after I returned from L.A., a huge box of coffee arrived. I opened it and smiled. "Of course, he sent it," I mumbled to myself. "He's a true Southerner and he gave his word."
I called to thank him and as Southerners will do, I promised to send a return gift, an autographed book for his wife. The next day I mailed off the package.
It's sad, though. Too many people don't keep their word anymore. I don't understand it. But I don't approve of it and I don't practice it. If I say it, I do it. In recent times, I have turned down speaking engagements for more money because I already had agreed to one for much less. And every time I have done that, I didn't have a contract. But I had given my word and that's all that mattered.
One time a company cancelled an event on me after months of agreement. I had turned down other opportunities so it cost me money.
"Is there a contract?" the inexperienced girl asked when I protested the unfairness of the cancellation.
"There's a letter of agreement and, most importantly, there's our word of agreement. I kept my word to you. You should keep yours to me."
My friend, Stevie, and I were once wandering aimlessly through the streets of Rome, Italy when we ran across a tiny, little leather shop on a side street. You couldn't have swung a cat by the tail in there without hitting one of the four walls. It was miniscule. The owner, 40ish and darkly handsome, chatted as we shopped. Stevie decided to buy a hand-made leather photo album for a wedding gift and have the couple's names burned into the leather.
"It take me while," he said in heavily accented English. "You shop, come back."
"Okay," Stevie responded, smiling. "Do you want me to pay now?"
"No, not necessary."
She knew that once it was personalized, it couldn't be sold to someone else. "Let me give you a deposit."
He shook his head. "No deposit. Just your word you come back."
"Just your word," I repeated softly as we left. Stevie, misty-eyed, nodded. His trust had warmed our hearts.
In Rome, Italy, we found a stranger willing to trust the word of two foreign strangers. It sure felt good.
Because a word given should always be a word kept.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)" and "The Town That Came A-Courtin'."