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When a Car Ride Led to Friendship

This is how a friendship started. 

Paige Chargois was picking up her newspaper at the Independent Living community where she lives in Richmond. That’s when she met a woman who appeared to be lost. The woman was a new neighbor, and she needed to get to a bank to cash a check.


“And I was a little leery, because I didn’t know a person, I wasn’t gonna cash a check for them,” Chargois said, now sitting next to that neighbor, Sharon Gaunt, outside the American Civil War Museum in downtown Richmond. “So finally we continued to talk. And I said, well I’ve got a car, I can drive you to the bank you want. And that’s how it happened. We’d never seen each other before.”


In the car, Chargois and Gaunt started talking about their backgrounds—as you do in car rides with strangers. 


“Her family comes from Berryville, Virginia,” said Chargois. “My family background is Southhampton County, so we couldn’t be more different from each other than those backgrounds. Her background was a part of the Civil War, the Confederate side, and my background is a part of Nat Turner, which was the slave rebellion leader, which took place in Southhampton County, so that’s a long journey for either of us with the happenstance that brought us together more recently.


But it wasn’t just their histories that bonded them. It was something Gaunt said about the future.


“She said ‘my family is buried and they had slaves, up in Berryville, they’re buried on the farm, and they buried the slaves there somewhere too but at a distance.’ She said ‘and when I die, I want to be buried in between.’ I wanted to just throw on breaks in that car—I’ve driving down the street—and just jump out and run around and pull her out of there and just give her the biggest hug that I could give her, because she was doing in death what so many folk could never have achieved in life, and I captured that in her words, and it just meant so much to me.” 


“When we were in the car,” said Gaunt, “I remember the first thing that she said, ‘You don’t know my name, you don’t know anything about me, and we were in God’s car, and I don’t know that it would ever happen again, but I’m blessed that it did happen.”


What Gaunt didn’t know when she told that story was that Chargois is a theologian and former pastor whose work has been focused on racial reconciliation. So Gaunt’s words had special meaning for Chargois, who decided then to plan a visit to the former Museum of the Confederacy, which includes the former Whitehouse of the Confederacy. That’s what brought them here today, to what is now called The American Civil War Museum.


“She just set up the whole trip, and oh what a glorious experience,” said Gaunt.


“If we can have a few more Sharons, to say, ‘this is my history, and I don’t have to use my history to hate you with it. I can use my history to celebrate who I am; therefore that allows you as well to use your history to celebrate who you are.’ I mean, out of many, one. That’s who we are,” said Chargois.


Chargois and Gaunt toured the museum together. They were once strangers who now call themselves friends.