Until a matter of days ago I didn’t even know Lilly; hadn’t met her. I may have seen her working in the background of a retail store where she is employed. She is a supremely attractive young lady of great charm and warmth; one of those people you just know is good inside and out. Among the things I now know about her: like me she is tied to the State of Maine, and looks upon the north coast of Oregon where she now works with a similar love. She was adopted along with her brother as a small child and until recently had never connected with her birth parents. She is a serious, committed and dedicated employee highly valued by friends of mine for and with whom she works. I knew immediately that if I had the power I would adopt (or steal her away) as a granddaughter forthwith. All within the space of a few minutes time and reinforced by that inner voice which whispers a confirmation of “first” impressions’
Because I am at heart a writer and storyteller, I confess to seeing (or thinking I am seeing) more in the people, places and events around me than might meet the casual traveler. (If this is only a dream, I hope never to awaken, for it is a source of unmitigated pleasure.) Sometimes I even allow myself to believe it is a communicative attribute – that we leave something behind as we “celebrate” brief encounters as we travel and connect meaningfully and thoughtfully when confronted by such fleeting “gifts” of chance.
There comes to mind an experience I had when returning to one of my favorite haunts in Cannon Beach after an absence of several years. I am fascinated by the art of glass-blowing, and when I have the chance, I pay a visit to ICEFIRE GLASSWORKS. It was late in the day, but I hoped for a few minutes of happy gazing from the viewer’s booth. The time ended all too soon, and as I headed for the closing door, the owner held me back. “You’re welcome to stay; we are just closing for the public.” I must have looked up questioningly. The two people behind the desk explained: “We remember you from your last visit. You made us all feel good.” I tried to explain that I hadn’t been there in two years. “Could be”, they agreed, “but we haven’t forgotten; you bring something special with you.” I hope what they were detecting is my love for people and my interest in what makes them tick. But maybe they were just imagining something.
As we traveled westward through the incomparably- beautiful Columbia River Gorge several days ago, we stopped for an evening meal at Pietro’s in Hood River – another favorite way-marker – we staked out a booth amid a Saturday night crowd that filled the popular establishment. Returning from an exploration of the salad bar I found that my thoughtful family had changed my seat to a more comfortable chair. My reaction was immediate as I changed back to the wall-side original selection with the words “This will not do at all; I can’t see the people!” I’m sure that to my loved ones it seemed just another confirmation of my growing eccentricities, but for me it was an important teaching/learning moment. As I travel, food is somewhere down the list when it comes to the magic of everyday adventure. What I noted that evening on the banks of the mighty Columbia were the families enjoying one another; families of many colors and ethnic trajectory. Except for one blonde –haired teen-ager (whom I was quick to forgive) I did not see a single person texting or even holding an electronic device. The diners were too busy talking, looking at each other and having fun; there was a lot of “love” going on. My heart was nourished more by what I was seeing than by one of the best pizzas anywhere around.
As my family moved toward departure, I scooted over to the nearest booth where an extended family of ten were laughing and sharing a meal honoring octogenarian grand –parents. I asked them if they were seeing what I was seeing. That began a conversation which spanned their three generations
and a total stranger from another. A two-or-three-year-old grand-daughter with curly hair attached herself to me like an old friend and chattered away while her mother and I shared family genealogy and thoughts on the importance of family. We found much to talk about and she seemed genuinely sorry that I had to leave.
But there is another side to this attachment to the people “of everyday” we meet by chance.
When still westbound, I suddenly departed at an off-ramp from I-84 along the Columbia River Gorge. We didn’t really “need” fuel, I had never stopped there before and it would slow our journey. The young girl who came to pump gas, (in Oregon you don’t get to do-it-yourself,) had the same kind of friendly glow and “sweetness” as Lilly, but I sensed immediately a deep darkness not quite hidden behind her friendly spirit. She was most certainly underweight and most of her front teeth were so damaged as to need a lot of repair work. I thought about her all week and couldn’t ignore a deep sadness each time I recalled that very brief encounter. One week later to the day when returning homeward our car insisted on getting off at that same unaccustomed exit. The young girl was not on duty, but working my way through some close-mouthed co-workers to the manager who took pity on me, I learned Jennifer’s sad story, left a note to let her know I was not going to forget her and began making plans.
As I finish this overlong column, tired and glad to be home, I am listening to Louis Armstrong singing “Oh What a Wonderful World” and formulating an email of thanksgiving to Lillie for touching my heart in such a beautiful way, and a letter of hope to another sweet, girl-of-promise named “Jen”.